Op/Ed

Clippings by Karl Lindholm: They’re just dogs — or are they?

THE BLACK RESCUE Rocco is described by his owner Karl Lindholm as a “good/bad dog” — flawed but full of personality.

I tire at times of people who rhapsodize about their dogs, posting pictures on social media and making every conversation dog-talk.
“They’re dogs,” I grumble. “Animals. Not people. They lick their genitals, in public. They live to eat and poop and hump. They pee in the house if you’re not vigilant. They’re dogs!”
I can be hard on people who tell me not that they have a dog, but identify it only by its breed, as in “I live in Ripton with my wife and kids and two Goldens.”
A wise guy, I say, “Goldens? You got chickens?”
Or they say, “I live in Weybridge with my husband and our Lab.” So I ask, “You’re scientists? What do you do in your ‘lab’? Is it legal?”
I mutter quietly to myself when I hear about a “Doodle this” or “Doodle that.”
It’s a dog.
People with “Rescues” (like us!) are almost as bad. We have “Rescues,” we say smugly. We are thus … of the people.
I have told people for some time we have two dogs. They ask what kind of dogs, and I say, “a black one and a brown one: the black one, Rocco, is a big dog, and the other one, Bailey, is a little yippy bark-all-the-time brown dog.”
I like big dogs, I would explain, so I really like Rocco. He’s big, about 70 pounds and pretty tall, but not St. Bernard enormous. But Rocco’s a lot of work, I’d tell them, a Huckleberry Finn dog, a so-called “good/bad dog,” an anti-hero dog, with flaws, big time, but a ton of personality, fun to be around: bad as he is, his intentions I think are largely good. He would be played by Paul Newman in the biopic.
“Good dog, Rocco.”
I can’t tell people I have two dogs anymore.
Rocco got sick in his innards a couple weeks ago and had to be put down. So we now have just one dog, the little brown one. We thought at first Rocco’s problem was orthopedic: arthritis, aches and pains, aging dog stuff. I could relate.
But he wasn’t eating, or sleeping, wouldn’t come in the house, wanted to be outside though it was cold. That last day or two it looked like Rocco just wanted to slip into the woods and lie down, forever.
He whimpered, and Rocco was never a whimperer. Wimp, in any form, did not apply to Rocco.
My wife, Brett, who is better at all things dog than I am, was away, on a trip, a long way off. So it fell to me to manage this crisis.
The kind vet and I concluded that sad sick Rocco wasn’t going to get better — he was miserable, so we ended his life, we euthanized him, we put him to sleep, we delivered him to his maker (choose your favorite euphemism).
And I’m sad indeed.
Rocco was named by a friend, a Red Sox fan like me. His family had a bunny named “Trot Nixon.” We were quite at a loss for a name for our cute little Rescue pup. Outfielder Rocco Baldelli, from Woonsocket, R.I., had just signed on with the Sox. “Why not name him ‘Rocco,’” he suggested. So we did.
He nailed it. This raggedy pup became more Rocco-like every day. Perfect name. He was a cur, we all concurred, but we have long shown an affinity for lively problematic creatures.
Rocco liked to sleep on the bed with us. Bailey too, but he doesn’t take up much room. I would prefer the dogs not sleep on the bed, but if I said, “It’s me or the dogs,” I’m pretty sure I would be sleeping on the couch, or in the garage.
When Brett says at night, “Move over, Sweetie,” she’s not talking to me.
Rocco loved people but not other dogs, alas. So he had to be on the leash even on long sylvan walks with Brett around the edges of town. He didn’t often get to run, which was too bad as he was quite an athlete.
When excited, Rocco on occasion would run and run in tight circles on his long tether, darting here and there, really fast. He also performed this circle game inside, spinning round and round on the bed. Very amusing.
We bought and installed around our ample yard one of those electric dog fences (cost a million dollars!) in the hope of giving him a little freedom of movement. We attempted to train both dogs to the fence protocol: it took for Bailey, but Rocco chose to ignore it if there were something of interest outside the perimeter, a squirrel perhaps, or people walking on the street.
He would bolt through the fence, yip a bit at the shock, and look back at us as if to say, “Seriously? That’s going to stop me? C’mon, man!”
Rocco was a talker. Perhaps his most distinctive and idiosyncratic trait was his enjoyment of conversations with humans.
He had many different tones and timbres: if you talked warmly to him and scratched his nose or ears or backside, or his belly when he was lying on the bed, he emitted a low moan that would increase in pitch and volume and intense satisfaction.
Be late with his meal, and he would scold you and insist on being fed, not barking, but scolding. He complained in the mornings if we preferred our bed to his morning walk. He got up at first light and was ready to roll. His face was right at the same level as our sleepy ones and he appealed to us with a guttural AAAAAOOOOOOOOOO, somewhere between a growl and a howl. Irresistible.
It’s quieter in the house now. We sleep later in the morning. Our dog walks are much shorter with just the little one, and that will be especially welcome as the weather turns cold.
Brett said this morning, “The house seems empty without Rocco.”
Just a dog.

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