Op/Ed

Clippings: Hairy sidekick helps fix breaking news

For 36 years, my job was all about mingling with people.
In their homes or businesses, in coffee shops, schools, office buildings, on park benches, in statehouses, homeless shelters, college campuses and packed meeting rooms.
I was once accorded 10 minutes with the late Gov. Richard Snelling — if I didn’t mind interviewing him in his car while en route to his next appointment. This was, after all, before cell phones.
Sure, the phone works in a pinch, but my preference has always been to look people in the eyes when asking them questions. There’s no real substitute for personal interaction, which almost always increases the comfort level in anyone you’re querying. Greater comfort almost always leads to more candor and thus better interviews, I’ve found.
Enter COVID-19. Suddenly, face-to-face interviews are the exception, rather than the rule, for a reporter. Even in those rare instances when you’re with someone, it’s like you’re not; it must be the (very necessary) face coverings and the need to shout through voice-muffling fabric at the interviewee from a safe social distance. They didn’t warn me about this when I started journalism school at Northeastern University back in 1980.
Needless to say, the pandemic has turned interviewing on its head. Now it’s roughly 10% in-person interviews and 90% phone work and “Zooming” — which is a big misnomer. The technology is doing all the zooming, while you sit there in fuzzy slippers nodding your head while taking notes.
It can make for a sedentary and solitary lifestyle. In my case, no other humans off which to bounce ideas, jokes and the occasional balled-up piece of paper. No editor to remind you that deadline approaches; just the digital clock in the right-hand corner of the computer screen.
And Roxie.
Our almost two-year-old mini goldendoodle has been a true beneficiary of the pandemic. Attached to my wife Dottie and I via an invisible umbilical cord under normal circumstances, Roxie is now my around-the-clock companion. She’s a miniature Zelig, really. First thing I see when I wake up in the morning is her impatient face six inches from mine. She didn’t get the memo on social distancing. If my peepers haven’t opened by 6:45 a.m., she gives me a dose of doggy breath — or worse yet, a tongue across my cheek.
Tough to get mad at a 30-pound loyal mascot with soft auburn curls and a quirky disposition.
My day gets off to a rollicking start chaperoning Roxie into the yard to “do her business.” And unlike me, Roxie doesn’t have a deadline. So whether its 10 degrees and snowy, or 70 degrees and rainy, Roxie takes her sweet time getting her business done.
Hear a dog barking two miles away? She cocks her head and sniffs the air for around two minutes.
See a car rolling down the driveway? She barks and strains at her leash, whether she know the vehicle or not.
Hear backup beeps or a dumpster lid slam shut? She drags me back indoors until she thinks the coast is clear.
Winter is the worst. Every set of animal footprints has to be closely inspected. Roxie submarines her head into each snow-encrusted footprint and hyperventilates in an effort to discern the make, model and likely breakfast food of every animal that has dared cross our lawn.
Roxie then comes in to scarf down her breakfast and stare at me while I have mine. That dog could find a crumb under a pile of brass doorknobs.
Then it’s a quick game of “tug-o-war” with any of her stuffed toys that still has a limb. Roxie can’t catch a ball — they comically bounce off her head — but she can dismantle an unassuming stuffed Bugs Bunny during a coffee break.
Once I clean up her victim’s fuzzy entrails, it’s off to work — about 20 feet away from her stuffed-toy kill zone. And I must give Roxie credit. It’s as if she knows I need to give work my undivided attention. She lays six inches from my feet while I yack on the phone or peck on my keyboard. She springs to her feet if it looks like I’m getting out of my chair, but slinks back down if it’s a false alarm.
She’s a great work buddy, and for that she gets a daily reward — a lunchtime walk. With the temps typically at or below freezing these days, I’m forced to do something that 20 years ago I swore I would never do: Put clothing on our dog. In her case, it’s a sweater (with a hoodie she’s never asked to wear) and a glove-like bootie for each paw, to prevent ice, gravel and salt from collecting between her pads.
Roxie might look like a clown when she’s outfitted, but she’s the warmest — and unintentionally, the funniest — dog at Bristol’s Watershed Center, where we usually take our walks. The hikers we pass get the bonus spectacle of an ecstatic, adorable pup plowing through the snow, her legs moving in windmill fashion.
After her walk, Roxie is glad to snooze for a while in her bed next to my desk as I work into the afternoon. If I have to interrupt to go to the restroom, I find her sitting outside the door, feigning a glance at her imaginary Garfield the Cat wristwatch while shooting me an eye-roll of disgust that I had dared leave her alone for two minutes.
A sense of normalcy returns to the house when my wife returns from work around suppertime. Roxie plays some with Dottie, while also watching me out of the corner of her eye. No fun shall occur without her.
Roxie’s eyelids register “no-one home” by around 8 p.m., and before long, she’s taking her familiar spot in the bedroom to stay close to her humans.
The next morning brings more of the same. And while I wish I could once again enjoy the company of more humans, Roxie seems content with the two she has; we are her world.
And I can’t imagine a world without her.

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