My formal training was always as a writer. Videographer? Not so much. So it’s always a bit of a chuckle when my wife, Susan, and I click on the video I shot of the moment Rocky officially entered into our lives.
It was Aug. 20, 2011, when we traveled to Southern New Hampshire from our home in Quincy, Mass., to pick up Rocky, having adopted him from a foster home in Morristown, Tenn., through Petfinder. In the video, I pan back and forth between Susan and the transport vehicle that delivered Rocky (formerly Theo), anxiously waiting for the door to open and our new little guy to bound out the door.
So there I was, holding my camera phone, when at the last moment, I thought I’d go for the “wide angle” shot by tilting the phone sideways. The result, for all to see, was the frame titling awkwardly sideways with me, as the door opens and Rocky appears for the first time.
Epic fail. And yet, at the same time, it was perfect. Because without question, that little guy turned my life upside down.
I don’t remember now exactly how old I was when it happened, maybe seven or eight, but I remember vividly a day when I was playing with friends out on the street near the house I grew up in and this big, scary-looking dog lumbered over and knocked me down.
Being short for my age to begin with, it was a terrifying, and ultimately scarring, moment for me. For decades afterward, I was afraid to be on the same side of the street as a dog, especially a big one. If my friends had a dog, I tolerated their presence as best I could, no doubt throwing off terrible signals and body language that I would later learn only exacerbated the problem.
In short, I did not like dogs. At all. I grew up a cat guy, and that was all right by me. Then I got married. There are concessions a man must make in married life. Put the seat down. Dishes go in the dishwasher. I want to get a dog. Two out of three ain’t bad, right?
Nope. Susan, who never had pets to speak of as a child, was determined to adopt a puppy. After months of a hardline stance against it, not willing to confront my fears, I finally relented in the summer of 2011. After months of searching, we saw the winning ad on Petfinder. His tiny black face, with a trace of milk on his mouth. His tiny white paws and white-tipped tail.
Susan fell in love immediately, and we started the adoption process. Which led us to New Hampshire and me holding the camera phone. And in that oddly tilted moment, in that very instant, everything changed. Fear transformed into love. I became a doggy daddy.
Suddenly, I was teaching Rocky how to fetch a tennis ball. Suddenly, I was plastering Rocky photos all over my Facebook wall (and I still do). Suddenly, I let this four-legged friend sleep on (and tucked under) my head. No more fears. Rocky had cured me.
Now, when I see unfamiliar dogs on the street, I stay on the same side and let them sniff me and give them pets under their chins. When we go to the local dog park, I have as much fun as Rocky, surrounded by some many happy dogs. When Rocky poops, I don’t mind at all scooping it up!
And like any protective parent, when we go away on trips, I’m always worrying about Rocky, even though I know he’s safe with his daycare “mom.” When Rocky begs for a treat with his sad face routine, he knows to go to his bleeding-heart daddy first because he always gets one, no questions asked. He’s gotten very good at this over four years. When the Red Sox won the 2013 World Series, Rocky was right there to give me a high-five.
Heck, I love dogs so much now, I even write stories for a dog website!
They say you can learn a lot from your pets. I have to agree. Rocky taught me to open my heart and let dogs in.
Good boy, Rocky! Good boy!
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About the author: Jeff Goldberg is a freelance writer in Quincy, Mass. A former editor for MLB.com and sportswriter for the Hartford Courant who covered the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team (Huskies!) and the Boston Red Sox, Jeff has authored two books on the UConn women: Bird at the Buzzer (2011) and Unrivaled (2015). He lives with his wife, Susan, and their rescue pup, Rocky, an Italian Greyhuahua/Jack Russell mix from a foster home in Tennessee, hence the name Rocky (as in Rocky Top).