If you want a friend in this town ... get a dog

Molly Estrich turns 2 today. We rescued her from a pet store. I know: Pet stores are the enemies of dog lovers. They buy dogs from puppy mills. They treat them badly. You hear about what happens to the ones who get sick, the ones who don't sell. So why give them business? It only supports all the bad things they do. Except, what about Molly?

The pet store was located right next to the escalator in our local mall. Every time we went to the mall, my kids would drag me inside to visit Molly. I'd do anything to avoid it &

rub cream on my face at the beauty store next door, look at rings I couldn't afford in the jewelry store across the way.

But the clerk wouldn't let Molly out unless I was there, an adult, a person with a credit card, pretending to be interested in the scrawniest, sickest looking dog in the place. So when my kids would inevitably fail to meet me outside in five minutes, or 10, or whatever the agreed upon time, I'd go in to find them, and they'd say loudly, "Here she is," and out Molly would come, for her only dose of attention.

One day we walked by and there was a big sign: "All Puppies On Sale." And sure enough, on every cage, there was a price with a line through it and a lower price. But there was no sign for the little black-and-white cockapoo.

"What about that one," I asked. The answer was chilling. They didn't bother putting that one on sale because no one was going to want her. "Look at her," said the nice girl showing off the lively dogs with the healthy coats.

My mother was afraid of dogs. Or rather, she was afraid that someday they would die, and that would be too awful to bear, so better not to have one in the first place. Sadly, that was her attitude toward many things. She spent most of her life worrying about bad things, some of which happened and some of which didn't, but the end result was that she never really enjoyed what she had. So she raised me to be afraid of dogs, telling me all of the terrible things that could happen with a dog, how I could get bitten or hurt, how they could run away or get run over by a car, how you would love them and then they would die. I never knew how to be around a dog until my friend Judy taught me.

Years ago, one Saturday, before I got up, before I read the "no pets" clause in my lease, my children made a date with a nice woman in the valley who had a litter of lab puppies for sale.

"We'll just look," they told me, as if anyone could just look at those six yellow labs and the one black runt. We took one of the yellows for my baby sitter and her grandson, and we took the runt for ourselves. I named her Judy, after my best friend.

Judy's dog, Molly, was perfectly trained. She visited Judy in the hospital, waiting at the door to the parking garage for Judy to come in her wheelchair. She waited in the car during chemo. Molly was at Judy's side for every step of her horrible losing battle with lung cancer.

Judy Jarvis Estrich was another story. My landlord went nuts. He would sit in his car across the street looking for signs of a dog in the house. He raised the rent and threatened to evict us. So we moved.

It didn't get better. She ran away twice. She ate most of my shoes. She pulled so hard during a walk that I fell and ended up in the emergency room. I sent her to a fancy training camp I couldn't afford, where she swam in a biscuit-shaped pool (this is LA) and learned to sit to get a treat. What else she learned I don't know; she promptly forgot it all. Then Judy turned 2 and became the perfect dog.

I had just started buying shoes again when we found Molly in the pet store, dying during the sale. "I'll take her," someone who looked and sounded just like me said. Even my son was shocked. Did you just say that? Did I? I whipped out my credit card. "Would you like her in a box?" the cashier said. A box? A member of my family in a box? My son carried her home.

You know the end of the story. We took her to our vet, who asked me where I got her. I lied, sort of. "We rescued her," I said. "She's a lucky dog," he said. "She might not have made it without prompt medical treatment." She weighed in at just under — pounds.

Today, Molly Estrich weighs 12-and-a-half pounds. She doesn't like people so much, particularly large men. We figure they remind her of the villains at the puppy mill. But she loves other dogs, and she especially loves her family. Her best friend is Judy Estrich. The 68-pound lab and the 12-pound cockapoo spend all their time together.

"If you want a friend in this town," Harry Truman once famously said, "get a dog." I got two. I am doubly blessed. And thanks to them, the spirit of my friend Judy is with me ever.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web site at .

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