I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
My parents have two Norwich terriers, who are, according to my very biased opinion, some of the most adorable creatures on the planet. Their names are Duncan and Dylan. Duncan, 4, is round-bellied and irrepressibly affable, sidling up to you at every opportunity. Dylan, almost 11, is ornery — if you try to move him when he’s sleepy he’ll emit a strange roarlike noise, and sometimes he’ll poop in the house out of spite. And whenever I see their eager little faces, one song will pop into my head: “God Loves a Terrier” from the 2000 comedy Best in Show.
Christopher Guest’s mockumentary satire of the dog-show universe invents a series of kooky characters to demonstrate just how obsessive people get about their canine friends. Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock are Meg and Hamilton Swan, uptight Starbucks-drinking yuppies who have passed their neuroses down to their Weimaraner; Guest himself is the country-dweller Harlan Pepper, who seeks glory with his bloodhound and a ventriloquist’s dummy in tow.
And then there are Cookie and Gerry Fleck, played by Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy. Cookie has had a lot of boyfriends, who keep popping up at inopportune times; Gerry has two left feet, literally. From the beginning, the Flecks are the ostensible protagonists of this narrative, their weirdness registering as more endearing than off-putting. They are put through hell, but they persevere because of their affection for each other and for their little Norwich named Winky. They are sort of like Norwiches themselves: Perky, persistent, and not to be underestimated. (Norwiches, terriers bred originally for catching rats, are small but have fierce personalities.)
Before they embark on their road trip to the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show, Gerry and Cookie throw a party where they perform in his honor. Winky sits peacefully in Gerry’s arms — tongue out, not giving a single shit — as they screech:
God loves a terrier, yes he does
God loves a terrier, that’s because
Small, sturdy, bright, and true they give their love to you
God didn’t miss a stitch
Be a dog or be a bitch
When he made the Norwich merrier with its cute little derriere
Yes, God loves a terrier.
“God Loves a Terrier” is clearly something Cookie and Gerry have rehearsed to death, nailing the piercing, discordant harmony. I like to imagine the scene of them dreaming up this ditty, sitting on a couch with Winky between as they try to think up anything that rhymes with “terrier” and deciding whether or not “bitch” is appropriate to use in a song that also references God. (In real life, Levy was the brains behind it.) The melody and its nursery-rhyme cadence seeped into my brain and are now triggered every time I see a panting canine tongue.
Now, here’s where I have to disclose something: My family only ended up getting terriers because we fell in love with both Best in Show and Winky, who — spoiler alert! — ends up the victor when the movie ends. Cookie and Gerry parlay the victory into an entire cassette of terrier-themed music. I was 10 when I saw the film and it was the first time I remember feeling my sides hurt from laughing. For years afterward the three of us fawned over Norwiches whenever we’d see them on television or encounter them on the street. About seven years later, Dylan came into our lives. Duncan followed after another seven. So for as much as “God Loves A Terrier” is an irrepressible earworm, it’s also our personal theme song.
Best in Show hit theaters around 15 years before dog culture took over the internet. Currently we’re living the heydays of social-media phenomenons like WeRateDogs and Dogspotting, but the comedy was a portrait of fanatic dog love before pretty much everyone became a fanatic dog lover. It predated the vocabulary of large bois and doggos and floofers who give borks and get pats. The show scene Guest and his crew were satirizing is still filled with a rarefied type of aficionado — the kind that cares about breed standards and grooming techniques — but the fervent devotion his characters have for their pets seems to have spread far and wide. In this way, Best in Show looks downright prescient.
I find that these days I identify with the likes of Gerry and Cookie even more as I lose countless hours perusing photos of my own dogs, friends’ dogs, acquaintances’ dogs, famous people’s dogs, and completely random strangers’ dogs. As a fairly agnostic Jew, I don’t really think about God very much, but I do think about how God loves terriers and corgis and Shiba Inus and dachshunds and beagles and sled dogs and pitties and labradoodles and rescues and, let’s face it, literally all dogs. I’m not ascribing to any one belief system, just the notion that there’s some higher power that put these precious creatures on this planet. If this all sounds a bit cloying, well, so is “God Loves a Terrier.” But, like the tune, it’s also something that’s totally goofy and pure.