Although I am definitely a cat person, there's a special place in my heart for poi dogs. My childhood pets included three turtles and dozens of guppies, but only one dog, a Christmas present from my parents. I was 9 years old and it was actually a couple of years after I'd written to Santa asking for a baby brother or a puppy, but it was worth the wait.
Jingles was a creamy white terrier/poodle mix. I picked her out of a litter of six because she was the first puppy to leave her mama and prance over to me. When that quivering wad of fluff licked my outstretched hand, I fell in love. And then I noticed that she was the only one in the bunch without a long, wagging tail, and I knew I'd found my doggie soulmate. Up until then, I'd always felt a little out of place among the other kids; not enough to keep me from being a happy child, just a tad . . . different. Probably all 9-year-olds feel that way. In any case, I could relate to this little oddball, and the feeling was apparently mutual.
Being an only child and attending school on a district exemption - which meant all of my classmates lived miles away from me - I felt more than a best-friendship with Jingles; I saw her as a furry sibling. With her shaggy coat covering the little stub where her tail should have been, she looked like a bedraggled baby polar bear, clumsy but oh, so cute. And because she had no tail to wag, her whole butt wiggled when she was happy.
Jingles was around 2 years old when I entered her in the Maui Humane Society's Poi Dog Contest, in front of the grandstand at the old Kahului Fairgrounds. We trained for weeks, hoping to win the Most Talented Mutt trophy with her jump-through-the-hula-hoop trick. We'd start off easy, with the hoop just 6 inches off the ground, and then I'd raise it higher with each pass until her bottom-heavy bear cub body was barreling through the air at an altitude of 2 whole feet. She was so good at it, I considered lighting the hoop on fire for added drama. Good sense prevailed; besides, I wasn't allowed to play with matches.
When her big moment came, after a little warm-up hop through the hoop, Jingles studied the raised target, approached it eagerly . . . and trotted underneath. Daddy said it just proved that Jingles had good sense too. We didn't win Most Talented or Best Behaved honors, but we did take home the trophy for the Mutt with the Shortest Tail. It's a real trophy, too; I still have it, stored away with my other small-kid time treasures.
Sadly, Jingles the dog outlived Jingles the best friend. Like Puff the Magic Dragon, my loving companion became less relevant with each passing year. By the time old age sent her to the happy hoop-jumping grounds, I had moved on and Jingles had become my father's adoring pet. Of course, my dear mother, who is definitely not a dog person, had always done most of the care and feeding, even when it was supposed to be my responsibility.
I've been thinking about digging out that old trophy ever since visiting the Poi Dog exhibit at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Featuring Maui artists Pat Masumoto, Darrell Orwig, Nancy Skrimstad, Michael Takemoto and Sidney Yee, Poi Dog is a marvelous exploration of "local" identity, an eclectic celebration of diversity and unity. The brochure describes it as "a sort of visual pidgin . . . revealing a wealth of individual experience as well as shared quests for belonging and permanence in a land we have all come to from somewhere else." The exhibit is itself a poi dog and it reminded me, so am I. Just like Jingles - butt-wiggling happy to be just a tad different. After all, that's what makes us poi dogs special.
The exhibit runs through Aug. 20 at the Schaefer International Gallery. Regardless of your bloodline, I'm willing to bet you'll find this Poi Dog irresistible. Hopefully, you'll walk away feeling pretty special yourself.
But wait, there's more! The Maui Humane Society and local pet stores are joining with the MACC for a Poi Doggie Contest this Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m., in front of the gallery. I don't know whether talent or tails will count for more points, but the flier promises a variety of canine-centric categories and prizes.
Now, I'm no dog whisperer, and time is short, but for the right amount of chocolate I might be persuaded to resume my poi dog training career. Of course, times have changed; we'll have to step up the act. You supply the hula hoop, I'll bring the matches.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.