01 August 2006


Dad sent the following "all hands" e-mail (below) to the family and some friends. Rollo was a very friendly, happy dog who made all comers welcome in his home. He was a good guy and we'll miss him. Several of my good friends have older dogs and we all know that even the best-loved pets don't live forever - except in our hearts.

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Hey Folks!

I'm sure that most of you have already heard the sad news but I wanted to include all in this note. It was a sad day last week when we realized that the time had come to do the last right thing for Rollo, our friend of over 16 years. It was even sadder on Friday when we took him to the Vet. I hoped that he would just not wake up one morning but that was not to be.

Poor Ole Rollo has been going downhill for a while. He was almost blind from cataracts. He did not hear very well except when I was opening a cookie package. Many days he chose to sleep late rather than get up and ask for breakfast. Lately he has had trouble getting up and down stairs. His back end was becoming less and less reliable. He fell down the stairs a few time while we were away. But 16 is really old for Golden Retriever-almosts and so he got a full measure of life.

It was a healthy and happy life almost always. He was seldom at the Vet's except for the annual maintenance work. He did get shot in the back way back when we lived on the Farm. The bullet was still there when he passed on because the Vet thought that it was too close to his spinal cord to risk removal . Probably some kid with a new rifle getting a lucky (or unlucky, depending on point of view) hit on a long range shot, probably a .22.

And so, let me tell you about Rollo and his life with us at the Farm and here in Martinsburg. He showed up one day when Bill was visiting before he went to Africa with the Peace Corps. Probably was dropped off down by the elementary school at the end of our lane by somebody who figured that some kid would take him home with him/her. We had two dogs at the time, Topper, a Great Dane, and Sunny II a Great Dane-Doberman mix. Bill named him Rollo and kept bringing him into the house at feeding time. At the time, I was consulting and had a lot of early morning meetings with clients that were impossible to manage from the Farm and so I had an apartment in Rockville that served as both office and sleep-over place. I usually went in on Monday AM and came home on Friday PM. The first time I came home after Rollo's arrival, I asked Audrey about the new dog. We had discussed dogs before that and agreed that two were enough, maybe more than plenty. She told me about him showing up and her trying to find the owners. She thought that he might wander on and not hang around the Farm. I asked her why she was feeding him and she replied that she could not, in good conscience, feed the other two and leave him hungry. I thought a long minute, and seeing the hand-writing on the Wall, I asked her with a serious face and voice, "How much food do you think it will take to drive him off?" I got one of those Audrey looks that suggested my supper might be in danger. And so Rollo had found a home and, in fact, was at home!

He took up residence under the kitchen table where he could be part of the action but never in the way. Eventually Audrey put a small rug under the kitchen table for him. New visitors often looked a bit quizzical on seeing the rug, especially if Rollo was not on it at the time. It soon became a fixture in our kitchen and Rollo spent a lot of time there.

Rollo was a very smart dog and, in some ways, an alpha personality. He wanted to be in charge but, as long as Topper was around, he was Second Banana at best. Sunny II was a shy lady and did not want to run anything more than her own life and sometimes, not that. After Topper passed on, we rescued Chevy Chase, an out-of-control black Great Dane. He ate 150 feet of garden hose at one sitting and committed various other acts of destruction during his early days with us. We tried several methods of training him but none worked very well until we bought one of those electrical collars with the remote button. The first time Audrey put it on him, he ran off like he always did but Audrey, being alert, pushed her button when he was about a hundred yards away. He went straight up, yelped once, and scooted back to Audrey and hid behind her legs. He went from Outlaw to Christian in one fell swoop. It took a couple of other minor lessons but the deed was done. Now Rollo, having been in charge during the time between Toppers death and Chevy's arrival, was not ready to let go his position, regardless of Chevy's size. Besides Chevy was, in his heart, so gentle that he would not contest much of anything. It soon became clear that Rollo was the Big Dog, even though he was the little dog. And all was well in the pecking order.

We always kept a lot of chew toys around the house so that Chevy could have something besides a chair to chew on if he chose to chew. Rollo had never been a chewer at all before Chevy arrived. But now, if Chevy chewed, Rollo chewed, at least most of the time. Besides that, Rollo decided that the house was too messy with Chevy's chew toys scattered all over the place. He would often go around the house, pick up all the toys, one at a time, carry them into the dining room, make a pile of them, and sit on the pile. Chevy would cry and whine until somebody would take some off Rollo's pile and give them to Chevy. But after Chevy get tired of chewing, Rollo would go get them and put them back in his pile.

One day we were sitting in the kitchen, Chevy was chewing on some toy and Rollo decided that he wanted that toy. So after trying to snatch it away a few times he went off and sat for a bit. Then he jumped up, ran to the front door, and barked enthusiastically. This was the usual signal that somebody had driven up to the door. And so we, Audrey, Chevy, and me, went to the front door to greet our guests, whomever they might be. As soon as we were on the way to the door, Rollo turned and dashed past us, grabbed the toy in question, and hauled it off to a corner for his own chewing pleasure. He was settled in the corner before we got the front door open and saw that nobody was there. We saw immediately that we (all three) had been had. He did the same thing again a few days later so we were sure that it was planned, not random.

Rollo always tried to do what he thought we wanted him to do. If we could explain what we wanted he was more than happy to do it. When I used to go road-walking in the mornings after I left full-time work at MITRE, there were lots of cars on the road. I taught him "Car-Sit!" which meant that a car was coming and he was to sit where he was until I called "Car Gone!" He was smart enough to add the first part which was "Get out of the Road" if appropriate although he was seldom in the road when we walked. He loved to roll in the snow and would seek out the remaining snow piles as the weather warmed up after a storm. Chevy ate snow but Rollo just rolled in it and used it as a back-scratcher. He also never saw a creek that he did not want to get into and stand belly-deep. Not a problem with that but getting out usually meant a fair amount of mud coming with him. I could not find a sandy bottom creek for him to wade in. Audrey's view of creek-walking might be a tad different from mine.

He also had a thing about groundhogs. He went after every one he saw and actually killed quite a few himself and a few more with Chevy's help. I did not attempt to dissuade him because groundhogs dig holes, in pastures, that break horse's legs. One time we were walking through the peach orchard and came across the granddaddy of all groundhogs. That dude was bigger than a basketball when he curled up against a tree, ready to fight. They fight by getting their teeth going like a buzz saw and anything that gets near their mouth gets ground up like a hamburger. Well, Rollo was ready to go after him because it was right there in his job description, "Kill all Groundhogs!" I grabbed his collar and pulled him away, explaining that there would not be any honor to be gained in that fight, that if he won all there was to win, he would still come out poorly. As we moved away (not a retreat but an advance in another direction!!), Ole Groundhog scooted for his hole and we never saw him again. I figured that we surprised him and he was too far away to get into his hole and would not entertain the idea of a running fight with Rollo. So he put his back to the tree and got ready to do or die right there. After I explained the cost-benefit relationship to Rollo a couple of times he saw the wisdom and agreed that there would be better opportunities later on. He said that ties go to the guy who has a nifty collar to wear.

The only exception to him doing what we wanted was barking at trucks, particularly red pick-up trucks, which, for some unknown reason, were anathema to him. They say that dogs are colorblind but Rollo knew a red pick-up when he saw one. This trait dissipated when we moved to Martinsburg, at least largely. Two of our frequent visitors drive red pick-ups and those did not bother him. Don't know what happened to him early on to cause his dislike of red pick-up trucks.

He always got sad when we got the suitcases out for a trip. We tried to pack when he was asleep because he moped around so much after he saw suitcases. He was also exceedingly happy when we came home. The time we were away in England and Africa for five weeks, he was beside himself when we packed. On the day we got home he almost turned cartwheels, he was so happy that his people were home where they belonged and he could keep an eye on them to keep them out of trouble. His Job Description again!!

As he got older, Rollo became more sedentary but even in the past few months, there were times that he ran and frisked like a puppy. He learned which of our visitors could be mooched for a biscuit and, as soon as they walked in, they became his "very best friend" of the moment, at least until he got his biscuit. Then he would pick out his next target. He was a help to me when I was trying to lose some weight because, if I got a snack, he would come sit in front of me with those pitiful eyes asking for a share, his share of my treat. I sometimes skipped the snack just knowing that he would beg, beg, beg and Audrey had convinced me that people food was not good for him, said the Vet.

The last few months were hard for the old gentleman. He had good days and bad days. He couldn't catch biscuits anymore because of his cataracts. However, he did not appear to be very upset when he missed, he just set out to find the biscuit on the floor. He never seemed to be embarrassed when he was unable to perform, he just tried again until he succeeded and then went on with whatever he was doing. Rollo was always a gentleman in every sense of the word. We all could do a whole lot worse than to take him for a role model for how to live a gracious, elegant life. We will all miss him very much and I hope that he has found a fine kitchen table to lie under where he can be involved with the action but never in the way, a place where doggie biscuits and people snacks can be found in great abundance, where there are toys to stack and guard and friendly dogs like Chevy, Topper, and Sunny II to trail around with, and where snow lies in piles to roll in and get his back scratched. Maybe I'll find him again some time, some day!

Love to All of You,


Hjalti said...

Wow! What a nice email. He sounds like a great dog. It's hard to loose a good friend. It took several years after Chaska's passing to be ready for a new dog, but we bit the bullet this summer.

Vig said...

That's the most beautiful tribute I've ever read.

Debbie said...

This reminds me of Shlapak's tribute to his cat, Rocky-Bear, and the loss of my Rockie cat in June. We're still not sure if Ollie will remain an only-kitty or get a roommate in the Fall.