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Three Dogs Named Rocky


            There were three dogs named Rocky in my old neighborhood. I assumed the reference was to Rocky, the fictional boxer played by Sylvester Stallone, and not Rocky the Squirrel, from Rocky and Bullwinkle, but I could be mistaken.

The first Rocky was a German Shepherd. He came to live at the house on the corner when he was eight weeks old, and just about Cricket’s size. Within two weeks he was twice her size, and eventually he was five times her size. He would cry and whine for Cricket to play with him, but she refused to get too close. He was a galumphing puppy and often escaped from his yard, offering play bows to each tree and human and cat he came across.

A German Shepherd puppy with floppy ears (not my picture)

A German Shepherd puppy with floppy ears (not my picture)

            When he reached full size, he was kept on a long chain in the driveway on nice days, and one day the next door neighbor’s youngest boy came to pick up a lost ball and decided to visit with Rocky, without supervision. Rocky bit him on the hand. I know Rocky didn’t mean to cause harm, but the boy’s parents took the matter to court and wanted Rocky put down. They lost the case, but the tension in the neighborhood remained. Whenever I saw Rocky out loose after that, I would run to corral him back home before anyone else could see him out frolicking in the great outdoors. He thought we were having a grand old time.

A German Shepherd who looks a lot like corner-Rocky (not my picture)

A German Shepherd who looks a lot like corner-Rocky (not my picture)

            The second Rocky was an English Bulldog, with three legs. He was thinner and faster than the English bulldogs I was used to. He’d had a tumor in his leg as a young dog and had to have the leg amputated, but it happened early enough that he acted like he was born three-legged. He believed he should get just as many long walks as any four-legged dog, especially when his parents tried to take the human puppy for trips in the car.

What three-legged Rocky may have looked like as a baby (not my picture)

What three-legged Rocky may have looked like as a baby (not my picture)

            I was out walking one day when I found Three-legged Rocky racing along the sidewalk, with his Mom trying to run after him, and the baby bouncing in a sling across her chest. Three-legged Rocky stopped to play with me and let me hold onto his collar until his Mom caught up. His joy at being outside was palpable, and the baby was laughing too. Even Mom, out of breath as she was, thought it was pretty funny.

            The third Rocky was a Lab mix puppy from the shelter. He was mostly black, with white markings on his chest and feet, and he lived in the apartment downstairs from me. He was playful and exuberant and very social, but he spent a lot of time tied up in the backyard, barking and whining for company.

            I worried that, especially in his case, naming him after a fighter was setting him up for trouble. I’m not saying he should have been named “Cookie,” but giving a sweet dog such a macho name and chaining him up in the backyard seemed like an effort to make him into a dangerous dog. It would be like forcing your whimsical bird watching son to play football, in order to toughen him up.

            Whenever Backyard Rocky saw Cricket and Butterfly out in the front yard with me, he would cry and jump and skip, choking himself on his chain collar. We went to the backyard to say Hello to him, and he would give me hugs, and show off how well he could sit, for at least a quarter of a second at a time. He got free of his leash every once in a while, and he would exhaust himself zooming around the block, then run up onto my porch, to say hello.

Backyard Rocky

Backyard Rocky

Backyard Rocky waving Hello

Backyard Rocky waving Hello

            I think “Cookie” might have been a good name for him, actually. And Rocky the German Shepherd could have used a more playful name too, like his little Italian greyhound brother “Prancer.” But, I have to admit, naming Three-legged Rocky, the English Bulldog, after a boxer, makes sense to me. He had that jutting jaw, the wounded eyes, and a broken seeming nose that whistled. And running down the block on three legs, he really did seem like Rocky Balboa, underdog, but fighting the good fight.

I Was Born To Be A Runner

I was born to be a runner, but something went wrong. My feet flattened. My knees swelled. My immune system weakened. My body was not put together right; like furniture from IKEA put together by someone who is not good at following directions. When I try to run, I feel like a bag of rocks being smacked against the pavement.

My dream used to be that I would build up from walking on the treadmill for an hour a day, to running on the treadmill, to running miles a day outdoors; in a park, maybe, or at the beach, with Chariots of Fire playing in the background. But I seem to be locked inside of this particular box, and no matter how hard I try to move it, it refuses to stay moved.

Whenever I see someone running in a movie, in dress shoes and overcoats, in tank tops and shorts, in leg braces or chased by police, I feel like I am running too. I watch sports, and dance, and movies, not just because it is entertaining to watch, or beautiful or dramatic, but because it is cathartic. Something deep within me is living in those bodies for a moment, kissing the love of my life, dancing with Fred Astaire, and running faster than I could ever imagine.

I feel this when I watch my dogs too. When I take them out to the backyard, I let go of Butterfly’s leash and let her gallop (she needs to gallop in order to poop, so this is a completely practical choice on my part). She lifts up off the ground and soars forward, and I feel her joy.

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I can’t let Cricket off leash, because if she sees a person, she will run, and bark, and lose her mind, and I won’t be able to interrupt the crazy. But Cricket loves to chase leaves, even on her leash. She is a huge fan of the wind, because it lifts up the leaves and makes them swirl, and she pulls me along behind her, to catch those leaves.

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When the dogs run, their ears fly out, and their legs stretch into the air, and they don’t run because I’m forcing them to get their exercise; they run for joy, automatically and without thinking about calories burned.

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In elementary school, we used to run a mile’s worth of laps around the gym to Eye of the Tiger from the movie Rocky. A dogged determination would come over me whenever I heard that song, to keep pushing myself forward until that mile was done.

But I want more than that. I want to run with my dogs until my ears fly like theirs do, and I am in no pain, and all I care about is catching that damned leaf up ahead.

(All pictures in this post taken by Naomi Mankowitz – AKA Grandma – and her magical DSLR camera)