Back in 1989, when Dik Browne, the cartoonist who created Hagar the Horrible, fell ill, his son Chris took in Dik's Scottish terrier puppy, MacDuff. In what Chris calls "a miracle of bad timing," Dik had acquired MacDuff right before he started chemotherapy, and the puppy-who was teething and loved to bite Dik's toes as he lay in bed-was too much for an invalid. After Dik died, Chris took comfort in the staunch little Scottie-and in working on his father's comic strip. Both, he says, kept him connected to his father and as it turned out, both also helped him to develop his own creative voice. Several years ago, Chris told Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, that he was thinking about doing a sci-fi strip set on Mars. Schultz winced and said, "Too gimmicky! Don't you have something near and dear to your heart you can write about?"
"I thought about my wife, Carroll, and MacDuff," Chris says, and Raising Duncan was born. The nationally syndicated strip is about a Siesta Key couple, modeled on Chris and Carroll, and their Scottish terrier, Duncan. Gentle, deliberately simple, and like his father's work, springing straight from life, the strip captures the tenderness-and uncanny understanding-that can develop between people and their pets.
Last year, MacDuff died, and a few months ago we asked Chris if he'd write about the dog and what he'd meant to him. You'll find his ode to his Scottie-illustrated with Chris' charming sketches-beginning on page XXX, and we challenge even the crabbiest curmudgeon to finish it without a few tears.
There's a MacDuff in most of our lives-and in our office, too, here at the magazine. Our chairman Dan Denton drives up from Naples most Fridays, with his hyperactive Australian shepherd, Mattie, strapped into the back seat (she usually wiggles out of her harness by Punta Gorda) and panting so loudly that she drowns out Dan when he answers his cell phone. When he stops by the office, she comes rocketing in, a black-and-white streak of desperate energy, circling the perimeter of the room and then racing back to leap on her master, paws on his chest and body quivering with adoration. Bob Plunket's eight-year-old pug Peanut is more dignified-or maybe, it's just that like his owner, he's decreased in speed as he's increased in girth-er, stature-with the passing years. He trots from desk to desk, greeting us all and determining if we have any food, then curls up at Bob's feet and waits for him to finish. And now that my daughter Kate is back in town for graduate school, she stops by several times a week with her border collie Mollie.
All this is a bit hard on editor Anu Varma, who is so terrified of dogs that she calls before she goes out on interviews and asks if she's likely to encounter one. We all keep trying to desensitize her, of course. "See," says Kate gaily, as Molly bounds towards Anu's desk, her jaws gaping open, saliva dripping from her fangs, "isn't she adorable? Pet her! Pet her!"
But we probably have only made things worse, especially since we keep sending Anu out on assignments involving animals. Last month, for example, we asked her to cover the roundup at the Carlton Ranch. She seemed uncharacteristically reluctant; I thought it was because the photographer wanted to get there at 5 a.m., but later she confessed it was because she was picturing a pack of cattle dogs snapping at her heels. So this month, when we asked her to write an introduction to Andrea Hillebrand's photo essay about the polo barns of Lakewood Ranch, we told her she could get the information over the phone.
Like me, you may have been unaware that Sarasota has become a playground for dashing South American polo players and wealthy sportsmen. I was amazed to learn that the Sarasota Polo Club is now the second-largest polo club in the entire country. Andrea's beautiful, richly textured photos capture not only her subjects' love for the game but her own love for horses and the people who make them the center of their lives. And we look at a different breed of love in another story. "The Dating Game" asks five of the city's most eligible singles about looking for love in Sarasota. True love, you understand-not animal passion, puppy love or horses of any different color.