January 17, 2008
I spent the better part of my sixth grade year begging my parents for a dog. It didn't matter how many nos I received, I simply couldn't dismiss the Norman-Rockwellesque images of me and my Golden Retriever. I had it all planned out...we would go fishing together (even though I didn't fish), he would run alongside my bike as we raced through open fields (even though we lived in a busy suburb), and someday, someday, he would save my life on the side of a lonely mountain.
It was a very detailed and hopeful painting in my imagination. But my parents? Not so much.
And then it happened. One morning, in the summer between sixth and seventh grade (when my father was out of town), my Mother uttered the sweetest words I had ever heard: Amy, Katy, today we're getting a dog. My mom had settled on some breed called a Cairn Terrier. "It must be some kind of a variation on a Golden Retriever," I thought.
Well, turns out that a Cairn Terrier is the same breed as Toto from the Wizard of Oz. Not quite what I had in mind, quite a bit smaller actually, but I could work with it. After all, Toto was loyal, Toto rode in Dorothy's basket, Toto bit that damn witches ankles.
When we brought Rocky home from the breeder, he looked a lot like this:
And seriously now, how could a female seventh-grader-to-be not fall in love with that?
Rocky and I had a great relationship at the very beginning. He would happily ride in my back pack, and let me swaddle him up in my A.L.F. towel and rock him to sleep like a baby. I could often be seen carrying him around town in a hot-pink milk crate--that teeny guy was the size of my hand, and I didn't want his legs to get over tired. One day a little girl stopped my family and asked if she could pet our guinea pig. My mom said yes, but the whole time she was petting Rocky, all I could think was "That's a dog...a loyal companion ya dumb butt."
Seriously, what a flaming dumb butt.
Contrary to popular belief, at the beginning of his life, Rocky and I were the closest of all. I was a latchkey kid and my sister was in high school, so Rocky and I spent a whole lot of one-on-one time together. Every day after school I would take him for a walk to the elementary school with my two friends and their dogs, Ranger the Black Lab and Charlie the Springer Spaniel. We'd let them all off their leashes--even though we weren't allowed to--and let they'd run all over the soccer field.
And I'll tell your what--for a little dog, he could sure help me work up some speed on my roller blades.
In my continued effort to mold my Cairn Terrier into the large, loyal, bed-sleeping dog that I had always dreamed of, I signed him up for obedience school at the Elmwood Community Center. I'd say he fell right in the middle of his class--he was a better sitter than Susie the Basset Hound, but never responded to "come" as well as UConn the Husky did.
He was average. Average was good.
When he graduated from obedience school, I proudly hung his diploma on the wall next to his crate. And then, twenty-four hours later, he tore it off the wall with his teeth and ate it. Seriously.
The next thirteen-or-so years of our relationship were rather tumultuous. Rocky was growing into the Cairn Terrier than he was always meant to be--one might describe him as sassy, or scrappy, or spirited--and my oh my, it was all true.
See this picture?
Cute, huh? Well, I can tell you exactly what was going through his little dog brain in that picture..."You'll give me a bite of your sandwich or I'll rip your pants to shreds and bark until next Tuesday. Got it?" And he was serious.
That dog could bark like no other dog I've ever encountered, and it only took a squirrel to set him off. One lonely afternoon in 1995, I decided to time one of his infamous barking spells. He was completely drowning out the sound of Saved by the Bell, so what else was I supposed to do with my afternoon?
Three and a half hours, folks. My dog barked for three and a half hours straight.
Rocky was also partial to running away, and if I remember correctly, it was one such episode that prompted me to swear for the very first time. I was chasing his little eighteen pounds ass through the woods in a pair of flip flops, trying to wrangle him in, when I heard myself say, "What the hell is wrong with this damn dog?"
Well, my mom heard me too and let me tell you, it was a long two weeks in solitary confinement.
It might sound like Rocky and I had a complicated relationship, and at times we did, but I'll let you all in on a little secret...he was my dog, I always loved my dog. Sure I never fed him people food, but he never (literally never) barked at me for people food. I gave him bones and biscuits instead--but never when he barked.
I hated it when he barked.
As the years went on, Rocky started barking less and less. He settled into life as a calm, sweet old guy and really seemed to like Gracie. Here they are this past Christmas, happy to share a pillow:
Rocky was perfectly content to lie in the sun all day, and ride around in my Dad's work van. He like to sit on peoples' laps and be scratched between the ears. He had an excellent coat collection and didn't mind being picked up anymore. He even let the grandkids pet him if they promised to do it gently.
He was my father's sidekick. Those two were always together.
I like to think that Rocky came full circle in his life. He came in as a sweet little guy and left as an even sweeter little guy. Sure he went through a bit of a mid-life crisis, but really now, don't we all?
Rocky's story came to a close yesterday afternoon. My childhood dog is gone. If by some off chance, he's up there reading blogs, I'd like to tell him one thing:
Golden Retrievers are totally overrated.