Monday, April 1, 2013

Beauty and the blonde

As a fairly ordinary brunette, I could never experience nor fully grasp the power that comes from being blonde and beautiful. Of course, I've seen plenty of pretty blondes and always knew they had some intangible advantage over me in life because of their appearance.

But I never actually understood how that power worked -- what it was like, how it changed people, how it could be used -- until the day Elle came into my life.

Oh, you can say she's just a dog. But I have owned many dogs over the years, sweet and wonderful and beautiful creatures all, and none has had the power of Elle. A jaw-droppingly gorgeous golden retriever with light-colored fur and a face that draws you to her, Elle has opened my eyes and my world to the privileged existence that comes from being a blonde beauty.

I knew the day I brought Elle home as a 12-week-old puppy three years ago that she was special. I couldn't help but smile every time I looked at her. Turns out I wasn't alone.

One day not long after she arrived, I was walking Elle down the street of my neighborhood when I heard someone running toward me from behind. Actually running to catch up to me. It was a neighbor, someone who had never bothered to say hello to me in all the years I had lived there.

She just had to meet Elle, she said.

I thought it was sort of odd but funny. And then it kept happening.

There was the woman at the pet store who asked if she could take Elle home -- and held onto her long enough to make me wonder if she would ever let go. And the gruff, burly handyman who sat down on the floor of my house just to let Elle sit in his lap and lick his face. He told me Elle would always be allowed to sleep on the bed if he ever brought her home. Recently, the groomer let me know -- in case I ever had to part with Elle -- that she would be happy to take her, too.

Elle understands every bit of this, mind you. She pins her ears back, wags her tail and prances around looking to make eye contact with everyone she sees. All it takes is that moment's connection and she has you. People just come to her.

And she's a smart one. She uses the power to her advantage. She gets people to pet her and suddenly she's on her back, hoping they'll figure out the hint and rub her belly, too.

Or better yet, she'll manage some treats out of it. That's what happened when I took Elle to a Black Mountain, N.C., restaurant last summer. I sat outside on the patio with Elle laying down next to the table on a warm evening. Suddenly, the waiter came out with dog treats. Not long after that, the chef stopped at my table. That had never happened to me before. But he wasn't interested in me. He had bacon in his hand for Elle.

I don't know if it was because of Elle, but the service was great and the food outstanding. Maybe it would have been just as perfect without Elle. Maybe not.

I've used Elle's charm to my advantage, too. After a family friend fell for her as a puppy, he offered to become an occasional petsitter. He says that when he walks Elle around his neighborhood, people are friendlier to him. No other payment is necessary!

But I am trying to use that power for good as well. I marched with the Golden Retriever Rescue Club of Charlotte in the St. Patrick's Day parade, hoping people would see Elle and be inspired to rescue a dog just like her. Or any dog, for that matter.

So what did Elle do during the parade? She absolutely beamed, soaking up the adoration of what seemed like thousands and allowing many along the parade route to pet her as she strolled by. Hand after hand would reach out just to touch my Elle.

At one point, Elle even plopped down in the lap of a woman who was sitting on the curb watching the parade. The woman gave me a hopeful look. Was Elle up for adoption, she asked?

Sorry, no.

In the last three years, Elle has given me an entirely new perspective and insight into the easier, happier life that the beautiful creatures of this world enjoy. And I can't help but wonder: If even a dog can understand and use the magic of the beauty she possesses, how truly immense is that advantage for humans?

How different would my life have been if I had simply been born blonde and beautiful, too?

You can follow me on Twitter @viv_bernstein

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