Dogs bite paper

This week’s cover story, I’ve learned in my time here as editor, is the kind that invites criticism from some of our more serious-minded readers. I can hear it now: “Boy, that sure was a fluffy waste of newsprint. You guys have gone soft. How can you write something so trivial when there are children in this world starving to death?” Others will say, “Sell out!” But it’s not like we did this to sell advertising. You won’t see a full-page Purina dog food ad in this week’s paper. (Notice, though, that cigarette ad snuck back in.) The truth of the matter is I like dogs—a lot. And since I’m the editor of the paper, I decided the dogs would stay. Besides, this gives me a chance to tell you about two of the more distinguished dogs I have known.

I grew up living in a house in northeastern Ohio where we had our share of both inside and outside dogs. As a rule of nature, inside dogs inevitably want to slip outside, and outside dogs want to sneak inside whenever the back door is opened. This meant leaving the house became an exercise in coordination, timing and patience. First you’d have to kick back to keep the inside dogs—generally small but quick—away from the door. Once that was accomplished, you’d have to spin to meet the advances of the outside dogs, who came running as soon as they heard the creaking hinges of the opening door. Sometimes it took up to a full minute to exit the house. We did it without complaint, though. It was simply part of the ritual—no more upsetting to our schedules than stopping to put on a coat and hat in the winter.

Rocky was an outside dog and, hands down, one of the best in canine history. He was sold to us as a “miniature collie.” Actually, I think he was some sort of border collie mix. He was born and came to us in 1962 and lived five full years before it all ended in 1967 under the wheels of a milk truck. Rocky regularly patrolled our 26 acres of property, keeping it clear of hunters, neighbor kids and other dogs. I can remember sitting at the kitchen table watching Rocky run through the tall grass in the field next to our house. You’d see movement through the tall blades and then suddenly, every 15 feet or so, Rocky’s head would emerge above the grass as he jumped straight up so he could see where he was headed. There was this neighborhood kid named Timmy Smith who, for some reason, Rocky just couldn’t help but bite whenever the chance presented itself. We suspected Timmy had tormented Rocky in some way, throwing rocks, taunting or displaying some other hillbilly habit Timmy had picked up when his family had lived in West Virginia prior to its move to Ohio. Whatever the history, whenever Timmy rode his bike past our house, Rocky would spot him, curl his lips, growl, take off like a panther and nail the panicky boy. Even if Timmy were riding his bike inside a group of other riders, Rocky would nimbly pick his way through the moving bikes like a halfback on a draw play, successfully make it to his target and bite Timmy’s ankle. It made for great theater.

During roughly the same time, Sukie, a toy Pomeranian, lived with us. Sukie, of course, was an inside dog who lived to be 17 and spent most of her life at the top of the dog hierarchy, running things and commanding respect from the many other dogs who came and went during her reign. With one sharp bark, she could have a large Doberman tripping over his feet as he hastily backed away from her pointy little exposed teeth. At a fairly young age, Sukie suffered a bout of bronchitis, which caused her to emit a horrible, racking cough. My mom took pity on her, and whenever Sukie started coughing, Mom would give her some sort of treat in an effort to make her feel better. Over time Mom’s behavior simply reinforced in Sukie’s mind that a good, loud cough led to a delicacy. So, for the better part of 17 years, long after the bronchitis was cured, our every family meal was serenaded by Sukie, coughing and hacking from her little wicker bed that sat under the phone shelf in the corner of the kitchen. After a few years we hardly noticed it. We just increased the volume on our dinnertime conversation.

And so this column is dedicated to Sukie and Rocky, two of the finest friends I ever had.