The Dog That Went Out in the Cold

September 24, 1994|By ANTERO PIETILA

Only one Baltimore-born dog lived in Moscow when President Konstantin U. Chernenko died, when the United States and the Soviet Union kept accusing each other of skulduggery and fantastic spy capers and when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power.

That witness to four years of the disintegrating communist giant's history was Puppydog. Our black toy poodle flew to the heart of the Evil Empire and back and survived, which cannot be said about the carrier that transported him, Pan Am.

After 13 years of experiences most dogs cannot even dream of, Puppydog recently departed for those endless pastures in the sky, where birds and squirrels are slow enough for even an old dog to chase.

Of course, Puppydog wasn't our coal-black dog's real name. It was Ebony. But he was such a smart and friendly little beast everybody kept calling him Puppydog.

Even the Soviets, who suspected Puppydog was an American '' spy.

I first learned that Puppydog was under surveillance by ''the competent authorities'' -- as the KGB was known -- in the wee hours of one wintry night. My wife and I had been to some embassy shindig and came home about 4 a.m.

''Home'' was a big building for foreigners, where the Baltimore Sun news bureau and apartment were located. Outside its single entrance was a sentry box manned 24 hours a day by uniformed guards working for the KGB.

On that freezing morning, I decided to take Puppydog for a walk. The time was so unusual it aroused the instant suspicion of the goon on duty. As he saw us disappear in the direction of the Uruguayan Embassy, he quickly alerted his fellow officer outside that compound.

As canines often do, Puppydog became intrigued by something in the snow and we stopped in an unlit place off the street.

Our failure to pass the embassy alarmed the KGB men. They thought we had vanished into a maze of old, pre-revolutionary buildings, no doubt for a drop. I saw two officers, carrying flashlights, rush to comb that darkened area.

Ultimately, Puppydog and I intercepted one of the officers. Relieved, he ran back to the nearest sentry box, giving an ''all-clear'' hand signal. We went back home to get some rest.

After this incident I realized that whenever we walked at odd hours or in areas that were not part of our daily routine, we were likely to have a tail. An old man, perhaps, or a babushka. They always seemed embarrassed when we discovered them.

I never found out Puppydog's mission. But having a possible spy in a journalistic family was not a matter to be treated lightly.

I repeatedly tried to bring this up with Puppydog. But whether I used English, Russian, Finnish or even Swahili, the dog proved to be uncooperative.

I resorted to doggytalk. On a few occasions, I thought I was close to discovering the truth.

Because this may be, even belatedly, of interest to the National Security Agency, I offer a partial transcript of what I thought was a particularly salient exchange:

I: ''Mmmmmh mmmee yeemmmmmmmmeeeeh?''

Puppy: ''Mmmee yihmmmeeemmEEEEE [note the inflection].''

After Puppydog's death, my wife made it known she was not ready for another dog. But those who had apparently recruited Puppydog had other ideas.

At about 10 p.m. one Friday, our neighbors, Fran and Debby, came by, carrying a hungry and unkempt mutt. They said it had been wandering around the neighborhood and needed a place for the night.

Hah, was that a plant or what!

Think about it: Here comes a guy who works in hush-hush projects near BWI, bringing in a white Jack Russell terrier mixture with a black spot over one eye. He knows we have company and cannot possibly reject the mutt, certainly not after she beelines to my wife's glass of gin and slurps from it to the ooohs and aaahs of those present.

They must give spy dogs better training these days. Ginny -- as we call her -- gives a very successful impression that she is not toilet-trained. But I'm not fooled. The dog has other, astonishing skills.

Sabotage is her specialty.

Just the other day, Ginny gnawed through the electric cord of our washing machine, while it was plugged into the wall outlet. She did it like a pro and showed no ill effects of electrical shock afterward.

Truly amazing. Even Puppydog couldn't have done that!

Antero Pietila writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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