Connie Newcomb's second book, DOG STORIES WITH HAPPY ENDINGS, is a vivid walk down memory lane for anyone who ever loved a pet. From her earliest childhood pets to her most recent rescues, Newcomb’s dogs have been steadfast companions and the source of family legend. Now she shares those accounts along with family and friend’s memories of their pets in this warm and witty collection that's a testament to the bonds we create with our beloved animals.
When Connie Newcomb brought home her first Chihuahua, she never expected that just a few years later she’d have a Westminster award winner and a house full of dogs… Or that she’d publish her first book about an inside look into the world of competitive dog shows. Today Newcomb shares her home with a pack of ten canines — an eclectic mix of show dogs and rescued dogs that fill every spare minute and keep her laughing. This book is filled with dogs (and a few cats) that left indelible impressions on the families that loved them.
Meet a 120-plus pound Rhodesian Ridgeback Kenya, nicknamed "The Lion Dog," who could steal food from neighbors’ picnic tables without leaving a trace. Learn about a rescued pit bull mix named Garcia whose moonlight madness had her chasing the tides at midnight and living to the ripe old age of seventeen. Find out what happens when Piccolo, a tiny Chihuahua mix who terrorized an entire neighborhood, meets her "soul mate" in a Corgi, named Simon.
When Connie Newcomb brought home her first Chihuahua, she never expected that just a few years later she’d have a Westminster award winner and a house full of dogs… Or that she’d publish DOG SHOW CONFIDENTIAL: Sneaking in the Back Door of Westminster, a hilarious behind-the-scenes look at the dog show industry.
Today Newcomb shares her home with a pack of ten canines — an eclectic mix of show dogs and rescued dogs that fill every spare minute and keep her laughing. But her current life is the direct result of a love of dogs instilled many years ago. From her earliest childhood pets to her most recent rescues, Newcomb’s dogs have been steadfast companions and the source of family legend. Now she shares those accounts along with family and friend’s memories of their pets in DOG STORIES WITH HAPPY ENDINGS, a warm and witty collection that’s a testament to the bonds we create with our beloved animals.
DOG STORIES WITH HAPPY ENDINGS is filled with dogs (and a few cats) that left indelible impressions on the families that loved them. From German shepherd, RinTinTin, dubbed the “smartest dog ever,” to a lucky mutt named Penny Lane who was rescued twice, DOG STORIES WITH HAPPY ENDINGS spotlights pets whose adventures — and misadventures — became part of family history.
Here we meet a 120-plus pound Rhodesian Ridgeback named Kenya who could steal food from neighbors’ picnic tables without leaving a trace. Another chapter spotlights a “force of nature” rescued pit bull mix named Garcia whose “moonlight madness” had her chasing the tides at midnight and living to the ripe old age of seventeen. In this compilation, Newcomb tells the stories of quintessential “bad dog” Piccolo, a tiny Chihuahua mix who terrorized an entire neighborhood, and her first Corgi, Simon, her “doggie soul mate” and earliest introduction to the dog show world. Along with favorite canines, she also writes about a series of cats brought home by her brother over the years, each one arriving with a distinct personality and a mystery that left its stamp.
Uplifting and light-hearted, DOG STORIES WITH HAPPY ENDINGS is a vivid walk down memory lane for anyone who ever loved a pet. Connie Newcomb has handled four champion Chihuahuas, her dog Rocky was an Award of Merit winner at Westminster 2010. Connie’s most recent champion, Bill, was ranked among the top five grand champion point winners in Pennsylvania. Yoshi, her Japanese Chin was featured in Kate Lacey’s Show Dogs: A Photographic Breed Guide. Ms. Newcomb also dedicates a good deal of time to shelter dogs, especially the seniors who need a loving home. A portion of the proceeds of this book will be donated to Peaceable Kingdom Animal Shelter. Connie is also a certified Reiki technician for both human and animals. She lives in Eastern Pennsylvania with her husband, Jim, seven Chihuahuas, one Japanese Chin and two cherished mutts. This is her second book.
In loving memory of Jack – the happiest dog I have ever known.
Many thanks for the contributions from Chris Iliades, Corinne Iliades Sheh, and Jennifer Smith Iliades.
Dogs mark time in our lives: when we were children, teenagers, and young adults going off to college, or perhaps when we were first married and having children. If you were lucky enough to have one, you will always remember a dog as part of your family. The memories of our pets conjure up specific details from times when our beloved companions were always there. When I think of Simon, my first dog as a grown-up, I see him playing in our backyard with my two young toddlers. I can picture my daughter’s curly auburn hair blowing in the summer breeze as Simon chased her, and I can hear my son’s laughter filling the air as he tried to keep up. Simon was their protector and my best friend. Every early family photo includes our first family dog. He inspired the deep love of animals felt by my children, who are now in their twenties, making special memories with dogs of their own.
This is a collection of true stories about the dogs of childhood and adulthood owned by myself, friends, and family. Thanks to all who shared their memories. Special thanks to Chris Iliades, my brother; his wife, Karen; and their children, Nick, Tina, and Corinne, along with Jenn, Nick’s wife, for sharing recollections of their pets, past and present.
This memoir focuses on pet stories with happy endings, which are sure to bring on a smile! Most of our pets were far from perfect, but all were very special. So cuddle up with your dog or cat (our family cats also make some appearances in this book) and get ready to reminisce about your own wonderful animals. I guarantee you will see a little bit of yourself and your pet in a story or two!
The dogs of our youth seem to grow in legend, becoming more idealized as we age. “Remember old Buster? He was such a smart dog,” or “Wasn’t Chip a good boy? He was the best!” someone might remark at a family gathering. When my brother and I talk about our first dog, we agree that there never was a dog as wonderful as our Rin Tin Tin.
My love of dogs was handed down from my father’s side of the family. As far as I know, my mother never had a dog as a child. Dad, however, often spoke of his beloved pets, usually with tears in his eyes. He always owned a dog or two, mostly strays, as had his father before him. One of the only photos I have of my grandfather shows him with my grandmother on an outing with the family dog. It was taken sometime before World War II in Greece. It’s a photo I treasure, since my grandparents look quite happy to be out for a walk with their beloved pet.
My father’s favorite dog as a child was Vero, a little mutt who went everywhere with him. Little Vero passed away when Dad was a teenager, but according to my father, there was never a more perfect pooch. Sadly, Dad also passed away many years ago, and stories of Vero have faded from our memories. But the dogs of my childhood are still quite vivid in my mind, from a time when life seemed to be so simple and our dogs were there to share in the fun.
I grew up during the sixties in a sleepy little town in northern New Jersey called Cedar Grove. At that time it was a place where there were still farms and plenty of woods. We lived in a neighborhood where everyone knew each other and there were lots of kids and dogs with whom to play.
Some of my first memories involve a large, handsome German shepherd guarding my crib. Did this really happen? I don’t know. It may just be a legend that was created long ago. Regardless, Rin Tin Tin, or “Rinny” as we called him, was certainly an excellent dog.
My brother, Chris, was six years older than I. Rin Tin Tin was still a puppy when I was born. He was my brother’s dog and constant companion. They were inseparable and created a perfect picture—like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Rinny was very clever. One of my first clear memories of him is from Chris’s tenth birthday party. I was sitting on our wooden picnic bench on the back patio, four years old and feeling quite pretty in my pink party dress. Chris’s friends were settling down for some birthday cake. They had just finished playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey. I was petting Rinny’s head, waiting patiently.
Finally, we sang “Happy Birthday,” Chris blew out the candles, and Mom began to serve the delicious-looking cake. Rinny especially loved sweets. He carefully picked out an unsuspecting child (I think his name was John) and approached him silently. As soon as John’s back was turned, Rinny snatched the entire piece off his plate and gobbled it down, so quickly that no one was the wiser. Before he trotted away happily, he gave me a look. He knew I had seen him, and he knew I wouldn’t tell. Poor John had no clue what had happened to his cake. He simply stared down at his plate, looking quite surprised in his party hat and plaid shirt. Mom quickly got him another piece and put Rinny in the house.
Rinny loved to dig very big holes and put things into them. (I can remember spraining my ankle in one of those holes.) He enjoyed stealing objects of interest and burying them for safekeeping.
Often cottage cheese from the milk box went missing. Back in 1962 everybody had milk boxes on their porches. There were trucks that delivered fresh milk, cottage cheese, and cream with the skin on top. It was delicious and fattening! In those days we did not worry about fattening foods. Most kids were skinny. We played outside and got dirty, too. Our milkman, Mr. Davenport, brought these wonderful items before dawn. That spring, there were several weeks when my mother asked Mr. Davenport where the cottage cheese was, and he’d reply, “I’m sure I delivered it.”
But Mom would say, “No, no, Mr. Davenport. I did not get the cottage cheese. Now don’t charge me for it!” She was quite firm.
Poor Mr. Davenport must have thought he was losing his mind, but the mystery was solved when Rinny left the evidence uncovered behind the big pine tree. I don’t recall whether he ate the cottage cheese or simply seemed to be motivated by the challenge of stealing it. What I kept wondering was how did he get that milk box open? He was a very smart dog! I don’t recall whether Mom ever told Mr. Davenport that Rinny had stolen the goods. I think she just stopped ordering cottage cheese. She would never admit that she was mistaken.
When Chris’s pet box turtle disappeared, we figured Rinny was to blame. Fortunately, the turtle managed to dig itself out of the hole. The teeth marks on the shell were what gave Rinny away.
I have a vague memory of Rinny having an affair with Poochie, the dog next door. Or perhaps I think I remember, because Chris said it happened. She was a medium-sized white mutt who was sweet and soft. Since, in those days, few people neutered or spayed their animals (this was not a good thing), Poochie may have had puppies. Perhaps the incident was covered up. After all, Rinny was practically of royal birth; according to my mother, he had a perfect pedigree with excellent breeding lines. My mom would have been desperate to preserve Rinny’s reputation and avoid a scandal.
I always felt that Rinny was my protector. Every night Rinny slept in the living room so he could keep an eye on everyone. In the morning he would make the rounds to each bedroom and thoroughly lick all of our faces to wake us up. He was always on duty.
As a child I was terrified of thunderstorms, and when bad weather rolled in, Rinny would come and cuddle with me. He made me feel safe. It wasn’t until years later that I realized he had probably been just as frightened as I was, and we had been protecting each other.
Back then the world was a different place. Maybe it was safer, I’m not sure. If bad things happened, we didn’t know about it. Kids walked everywhere, even to school. In fact, our parents generally kicked us out of the house in the morning and expected us to spend the day outside. We may have come home for lunch or eaten at a friend’s house—usually peanut butter and jelly on white bread. (In those days kids didn’t seem to be allergic to nuts or wheat, or anything, for that matter.)
A bologna sandwich and chocolate milk at Margie’s house was my favorite lunch. Margie was my best friend from age five to adulthood. She was a tiny girl with big green eyes and blond hair. We shared a love of animals, especially dogs and horses.
Margie had a collie named Dusty. Back then there was always somebody in the neighborhood who had a collie, because Lassie was a very popular television series. After lunch, we would be sent out the door again until dusk, when my mom would ring a big old bell signaling that it was time for dinner, and then home we would go.
Everyone had a dog, but according to my family, Rinny was the best dog in the neighborhood and the world. Life seemed so much simpler, and our parents believed we were safe outdoors to play to our heart’s content with a dog by our side. I can still see Mom, tiny and so pretty, but a force to be reckoned with, standing on the top of the back steps, ringing that enormous bell. And I can still hear the loud chimes echoing through the early evening air as we hurried home, our dogs trotting beside us, to see what was for supper.
Rinny passed away peacefully at the age of thirteen but his memory will forever live on in our hearts.
When I was a boy, dogs could be stars of television shows. There was Lassie, and Roy Rogers’s Bullet. But in my eyes, there was only one true star: Rin Tin Tin. The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin was a TV series that aired in the 1950s. It was about a boy named Rusty. Boys could be named Rusty in those days.
Rusty lived with a cavalry troop, a German shepherd name Rin Tin Tin, and a kindly lieutenant named Rip Masters. Men could be named Rip in those days. At some point in every episode, Rusty would yell, “Yo, Rinny!” Then Rinny would save someone, or sometimes the whole cavalry troop, including Rip Masters. Anything seemed possible. So when my parents decided it was time to get me a dog, they got me a German shepherd, and of course I named him Rin Tin Tin. Yo, Rinny!
To ten-year-old kids like my friends and me, Cedar Grove, New Jersey, was an entire universe. It was so varied in its terrain that we didn’t need to use our imaginations to name our special places. There was The Field, The Reservoir, The Pines, The Woods, The Quarry, The Sandpit, The Tracks, The Tunnel, The Trestle, The Brook, and The Pipes. The only evocative name was Devil’s Hole, a deep ditch we were sure was haunted. We played, camped, and met in all these special places and explored them endlessly. I was often with Joey, Chucky, Jackie Quinn, and John. There were also a few others who came and went, and there was always Rinny.
The world must have been a better place back then, a safer place for ten-year-old boys. Or perhaps my mom was very naïve or very lenient, or she wanted to get rid of me. As soon as the weather got warm, I was allowed to disappear in the morning with my sleeping bag and mess kit. The gang would meet at one of our secret spots, stay all day, and then cook our own dinner. We’d spread out our sleeping bags and fall asleep under the stars. The only thing I can remember my mom saying was, “If you get into trouble, just send Rinny home.” Seriously. Just like Rin Tin Tin on TV, Rinny would run home and get the cavalry. My mom thought this was a perfect contingency plan.
Rinny wore a collar with a dog license, but I never remember him being on a leash. I also don’t remember Rinny displaying any less-than-ideal behavior or traits—no barking, no bad breath, and no pooping on anybody’s lawn (well, maybe sometimes). Many neighborhood dogs roamed free. There was Boots from down the street and Poochie from next door. Though, of course, the dogs had to have relieved themselves somewhere; perhaps people weren’t as freaked out about dog poop back then.
I never remember encountering any rain, mosquitos, or poison ivy during all those nights spent camping in the woods. However, my mom said I had a poison ivy rash so often that I became immune to the plant. I don’t react to it now, so that could be true.
In reality, Rinny probably wasn’t a perfect dog. I certainly wasn’t a perfect kid, but we were perfect for each other. It’s been fifty years since Rinny and I roamed the wilds of Cedar Grove. The only people who knew Rinny and are still around are my little sister, Connie, and me. In our family, any time Rinny’s name came up, and it often did, the response would always be, “Oh…that Rinny, he was such a good dog.” An alternate response was, “That Rinny was the smartest dog ever.”
How smart was Rinny? My mom swore he was smarter than most people. Of course, my mom had a low opinion of anyone who was not a blood relative (that included in-laws). Her most frequent descriptive term for any outsiders was “nincompoop.” I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about my mom. She was different. She put sugar on tomatoes and salt on watermelon. But she was a great mom. The best.
At a quarter to three on school days, my mom would send Rinny to pick us up. To reach school from our house, he had to cut through our backyard and the Canarises’ backyard, go down Monroe Street, cut through the Pappases’ backyard (there were many Greeks in our neighborhood), and cut through the upper and lower athletic fields. This would bring him to the back door of Ridge Road School.
At five minutes before three, just before the bell rang, I could look out the window next to my desk and see Rinny outside waiting for me. He was even more reliable than the bell. When Mrs. Parker saw Rinny out there, she would get us ready for dismissal. Consequently, all the kids started to look for Rinny at the end of the school day.
One time Rinny saved me from monsters. My friend Chucky lived up the hill from me on Lakewood Avenue. We brought out the worst in each other, and we liked it. For instance, we were both obsessed with monsters. We drew monster pictures, and collected monster magazines and comic books. Our favorite movie was a futuristic, science fiction monster classic called Frankenstein 1971. I’m not certain if that was the real title, but 1971 sure seemed very far into the future indeed. It was very scary.
Chucky’s and my adventure took place at The Field. Chucky and I had almost blown up The Field the year before. Chucky’s father worked at a plant that made Formica, so his basement was filled with dangerous chemicals. The message to keep toxic substances away from kids was not out back then. So we poured every chemical we could find into a bucket, made a fuse, and buried the bucket in the middle of The Field. We then lit the fuse and hid it among the pine trees. The resulting explosion created a miniature mushroom cloud. Luckily, by the time the Cedar Grove Fire Department arrived, there was nothing left of the bucket that could be traced back to Chucky and me. For the rest of my life in Cedar Grove, there was always a big bare spot in the middle of The Field.
Now back to Rinny and the monsters. There was an abandoned building on the edge of The Field (which was next to The Reservoir.) It was probably a small office that a reservoir official had used long before. It was always just called “The Office.” It was always padlocked and deserted. One summer morning when we met at The Pipes to begin our day, Chucky showed up with a big hammer.
“We need to get into The Office. There may be monsters hidden there. Why else would they need to keep it locked up?” asked Chucky.
It was hard to argue with that kind of logic. The padlock was probably thirty years old and it popped off with the first blow. Rinny sat outside and watched us. Being a smart dog, he didn’t follow us into The Office. I’m sure that by age ten, I didn’t really believe in monsters, but I believed in believing in monsters. I can’t speak for Chucky, but obviously Rinny wasn’t taking any chances.
The Office had a creaky floor and a coal stove, and was filled with a powerful smell of mold. It contained one door, which we guessed led to a small, attached shed. If there were monsters, they would be behind that door. We pushed it open and found ourselves walking into a low, dark room.
The next thing I remember is falling. My chin and chest scraped the stone wall on the way down. When my mind cleared, it registered very dark, cold, and quiet stillness. Monsters became a real possibility. There was no sound from above.
Chucky was gone. This was not surprising; Chucky could vanish instantly. It usually happened on the way to school.
Then I heard the sweet sound of Rinny barking outside The Office door. I might have yelled, “Yo, Rinny!” I must have closed my eyes and gone into monster shock.
The next thing I knew my mom was calling my name and shining a flashlight down onto my head. What had seemed to be a cavernous tomb was not very impressive once my mom shined the light all around me. It was just a small coal cellar. There were no monsters.
Rinny was still barking and I remember my mother laughing, probably in relief. There were some metal rungs built into the wall opposite from where I had landed. It was a quick climb back to safety, sunlight, and the real world. The sun was warm, The Field was green, and The Reservoir sparkled as if scattered with diamonds. Rinny jumped up and slobbered me with wet kisses.
We went home and mom sent me to the tub. At least I had come away with some impressive scrapes on my chest and chin. I’m sure that when I fell, Chucky ran back to his house and told his mom what had happened, because his mom called my mom. But over the years, in remembering this story, it became only Rinny who had saved me. The coal cellar would become deeper and darker. The whole part about breaking into The Office became Chucky’s fault. My mom was good like that. (Well, it was his idea.)
Over a lifetime, our memories become our stories, and then they become part of who we are. Part of me will always be with Rinny in my childhood home, even though there will never be another dog like Rinny. And there will never be another place like Cedar Grove in 1959, a time when dogs could be TV stars, boys could be named Rusty or Chucky, and a kid like me could be saved by yelling, “Yo, Rinny!” Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
When I was five, I got my first puppy. His name was Piccolo. He was a bad dog. But I loved him. He bit people, barked constantly, and enjoyed peeing on clean laundry, furniture, and, if he really liked you, your pant leg. He was a Chihuahua, we think. His pedigree was questionable.
One of my fondest and most vivid childhood memories is of the time when Piccolo was almost arrested. I was seven years old. The two police officers stood at the front door, looking quite stern. I hid behind my father, holding the little culprit.
“What can I do for you, Officers?” my father asked in a casual, somewhat bored tone. My dad was a town doctor of sorts; everyone knew him. He probably took the tonsils out of every kid in the neighborhood, including all of the police officers’ children. Dad never got a speeding ticket, which was amazing because he was a terrible driver.
“Hi, Doc. Hate to bother you…” the older officer began to say.
The younger policeman interrupted. “There’s been a complaint from your neighbor about a vicious, destructive dog.” He checked his little notebook. “A Mr. Peterson across the street there,” he said, gesturing to the house.
“Yeah.” Dad took his glasses off and looked the cop in the eye—that was a serious look. “What exactly happened?” My father knew exactly what had happened, since he had seen the whole event. I think he found it quite funny, and he didn’t like old Mr. Peterson anyway. I held my squirming little dog tighter.
“Well,” the officer said, looking at his notes again, “he says the dog tried to bite him and was digging up his tulips, peeing on his plants. Also says he had to chase him off with a shovel, and almost had a heart attack.”
“What type of dog was it? Sounds dangerous.” Dad stifled a snicker.
“He didn’t say—says it’s your dog, though.”
“Yeah, I see. Well, this is our dog.” I peeked out from behind my Dad’s pant leg. Piccolo tilted his spotted head; he seemed to be grinning at the two policemen.
“You mean that dog…that little thing? I don’t believe it.” The young policeman looked at Piccolo, who was wagging his tail now, as though proud of himself for getting away with his bad behavior, and the man tried not to laugh. Fortunately he did not attempt to pet Piccolo, because a bite to the hand would have ended the fun times.
The older man shook his head. “Sorry, Doc. Your neighbor must have been mistaken. That dog doesn’t look too dangerous to me.”
“Well, alright then, you officers have a good day.” Dad let the screen door slam behind him. Piccolo jumped out of my arms and ran into the living room to pee on the couch. He lifted his skinny leg with what looked like sheer delight. I tried to catch him, but it was too late. Dad sighed and mumbled, “Damn dog.” I cleaned up the pee as best I could, hoping my mom wouldn’t notice. Then Piccolo trotted off, undoubtedly looking for more trouble.
It all began when I went with my mother to the home of a distant cousin, whom I didn’t know very well. He was older, in his twenties, and owned a Chihuahua named Bitsy. Bitsy had one puppy. I’m not sure if Bitsy was a real Chihuahua—she was kind of big. My cousin kept her and the puppy in a cage on a shelf. While we were visiting, he handed me the tiny dog and said, “Wouldn’t you like a puppy?”
I looked at my mother, expecting a negative response. To my amazement she said, “He is cute—let’s take him home!”
I was delighted to have a new puppy, but I was a little concerned. Mind you, we already had a dog: our big, noble, and saintly German shepherd Rin Tin Tin. Didn’t my mother realize that Rinny may not like this puppy or might even eat him? Even at the age of five I could envision this possibility. It was not a good idea.
But I wanted the puppy. I thought he was so cute. In truth, he was not cute at all. He was funny looking at best. He had buggy eyes, huge ears, and skinny legs, and his coat was mostly white with some brown spots.
Well, we took the puppy home. My father was a little surprised at the new arrival, but immediately suggested, “Let’s name him Piccolo, which means ‘small’ in Italian.” Dad thought that was very clever.
Rinny came over to see the new addition to the family. I was scared to let go of Piccolo. My father said, “Put him down on the floor and see what happens.” Before I could say anything, Dad scooped up the pup and placed him in front of Rinny. Piccolo immediately began to bark and growl, standing his ground.
My dad snorted, “That is one dumb dog.”
Rinny eyed the small animal and then lifted his leg, peed on Piccolo’s head, and trotted away. He clearly wanted no part of little Piccolo. Good dog that he was, he tried to ignore the pup, but Piccolo went after Rinny like gangbusters, chasing him, biting his tail and his leg and making him yelp, and generally torturing our poor “good dog” Rinny.
Piccolo was fast. No one could catch him. All afternoon during that first meeting, Rinny tried to get away, but that little pup could move. Finally Rinny grabbed him by the neck and tossed him across the living room like a softball. This presented only a minor setback for Piccolo, who just returned with a vengeance. I finally tackled the puppy and held him tight. However, as soon as I put him down again, he went back after Rinny for more.
This, we discovered, would not get better with time. There was no Dog Whisperer back then. So Rinny would spend part of the day in the basement while Piccolo ran around the house, and then in turn Piccolo would be barricaded in the guest bathroom and Rinny would take over. It was not an ideal situation. But that was how it went.
Regardless, I loved little Piccolo. He had a lot of personality, but he tolerated my dressing him in doll clothes. (Poor dog.) He looked adorable in one particular frilly blue dress. He was my best playmate and constant companion.
My mother had spent much time training Rinny, making him the “perfect dog,” which she gave herself full credit for, but Piccolo proved to be untrainable, despite her best efforts. I am not sure if she really tried very hard, since Piccolo was such a nasty little thing. He loved me, but no one else. He was happy to bite anyone he did not like, which was everybody.
He did have a fondness for my aunt and uncle. When we would travel, Piccolo would take up residence at Uncle Mike’s house in the country. I wonder now whether my parents were hoping Piccolo might have an unfortunate accident involving a hungry coyote, fox, or small bear, or perhaps drown in the nearby lake. However, Piccolo seemed to love Uncle Mike and Aunt Annetta so much that when we returned from our vacations he would have all but forgotten us—even me—and would growl and snap at us when we tried to catch him and take him home.
Piccolo had a passion for running free. He was Houdini reincarnated: he could escape from any confinement. We had a fenced-in yard, but it didn’t matter; he always got out. He also frequently managed to run out the door and annoy the neighbors. When I started school, Piccolo was kept in the bathroom for a good part of the day. It was the only place from which he could not escape. Unfortunately he showed Mom what a bad idea this was by eating most of the woodwork.
Still, one day Piccolo escaped the bathroom somehow and my mother could not find him. (Though truthfully, I’m not sure if she tried very hard.) No one knew how he had gotten out. In 1962 kids walked to school, and I was no exception. Apparently Piccolo had decided to follow me. He was also good at breaking and entering, and somehow he made it into Ridge Road School one day. We were in the middle of our morning reading class when, to my surprise, I saw my little dog dash into my classroom, where he ran happily about, ducking under the desks looking for a good place to pee. How he got there, I have no idea. My teacher, old Mrs. Robinson (bless her soul), thought he was adorable until he growled at her. I finally caught him and she sent me to the office to call Mom and ask her to come and pick him up. Mom was not too happy. Piccolo never went to school again. Mom made sure that bathroom was secured!
As every dog owner knows, bad dogs live forever. When he got older, Piccolo developed heart disease and epilepsy, but that didn’t slow him down very much. He could still outrun anybody and bite you if he felt like it. He died peacefully at the age of fourteen, surrounded by family and friends.
I remember Piccolo fondly. He was no Rin Tin Tin; in fact, he had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. But he will always be my very first puppy—and he behaved as sweetly as could be with me. We buried him in the backyard under the big pine tree and marked the spot with a little headstone. Piccolo was full of life and definitely made an impression on everyone with whom he came into contact—maybe not always such a good one, but he will certainly not be forgotten by those he met.
My parents never got another dog.
Here are just a few of the endearing and colorful characters you learn about…
It was right before Christmas of 2013 when the small white dog with black spots was surrendered to the shelter, along with a red-and-gold hand-knit blanket and a pillow.
Our firstborn child had fur. He was a Corgi. But Simon’s days as an only child came to an end when my daughter was born. He turned out to be a great big brother.
Kenya, the mighty “Lion Dog” was our 120 pound Rhodesian Ridgeback. She was patient and sweet. The kids used her as a big pillow or as a pony as needed.
I never intended to get a Chihuahua as they are so small and fragile. But “Blimpo” was the biggest pup in the litter. He looked like a black and tan mouse. We renamed him Carl.
Ted reminded me of one of my son’s college professors, a short redhead. He was tiny but had a will of iron – and he wanted no part of the show ring from the very beginning!
“But I don’t want any more dogs!” I told my daughter. But Penny would give me the saddest dog face ever. She loved our house – for her it was doggy Disney World.
The CD of one of our favorite musicians, Ben Harper, was playing in the car. Suddenly it came to me. The pup was no Manny, he was a Harper! It was perfect.
A little black shepherd-like puppy began his life in San Juan but made it to the U.S.. We call him “the Wizard of Food.” He can open garbage cans, refrigerators, and doors.
Ms. Newcomb's funny, touching tales of the quirky personalities, packed schedules, and not-always-so-cooperative pups, were fascinating and memorable. In her easily relatable voice she educates the reader (I knew nothing about the dog show world before her book), while offering great appreciation for the dogs and mentors in her life. Her new book promises more stories of the pets that molded Ms. Newcomb into the entertaining writer and animal lover she is today.
A funny, discerning look at the inside quirky realm of the high brow dog show circuit! I thoroughly enjoyed it and have recommended it to my book club! More, please!
Dog Stories with Happy Endings is charming, funny, and heartfelt--a joy to read. Anyone who has ever loved a dog will love Connie's book!