Rocky the dog was a true champ in our house Protector: The family's best-loved hound was a hunter of cats and birds. He had a fondness for Oreo cookies.

October 31, 1998|By JACQUES KELLY

I WASN'T present for the birth of my family's best-loved pooch, a black Lab named Rocky, a great dog born Feb. 20, 1962, the day John Glenn blasted off. The name fit as naturally as he found a place within that Guilford Avenue household of 12.

The John Glenn flight was one of those defining moments of the 1960s -- a pinpoint of time you always remember. I was in school, sixth grade, the day the astronaut took off.

I retain a a recollection of Sister Mary Magdeline, in her full black habit and long veil, clutching a transistor radio, calling out the news reports to the class. The media was low-tech then. Once it had been established that Glenn was safe, we broke for prayers.

Glenn's orbit was huge news. No wonder that a few weeks later, my father brought home this coal-black puppy. Our house was never the same for the next 15 years. Rocky was the dog of your dreams -- intelligent, loyal, tough, protective -- the 13th member of the family, our Rocky, born the day of the Project Mercury triumph.

Like any new arrival, Rocky had to pass some tests. Would he turn out to be as good a dog as some of the champs of family legend. For starters, he wasn't named Bill. All the family dogs went by that name, a tribute to my great-grandfather, Bill Stewart, the chief of Republican politics in Baltimore before his death in 1916. There was Bill the mighty pit bull who posed for photos in leather collar decorated with silver studs and a name plate.

There was Bill the Llewellyn setter, a high-strung type who hid under the beds during thunderstorms. He slept on a special pillow and had his teeth cleaned with his own brush.

Rocky had neither silver collar nor toothbrush. He was no show dog, but an honest hound who saw himself as the protector of six children and six adults.

His coat had a water dog's oily sheen. He also shed a lot in summer, a situation that didn't please my cleanliness-minded grandmother, Lily Rose.

She dictated he had to remain in the basement. I think they came to an understanding.

He didn't like her polished wood floors upstairs. And she liked him below deck because she thought that was the least secure part of the house and could use some extra security.

Rocky made his home in the world of the oil tanks, the wash tubs and the paint cans. He liked to sleep in a wooden straight-backed chair opposite the furnace. He patrolled the back yard and used the little porch off the kitchen as his personal crow's nest.

His eyesight was excellent and could tell which Kellys were playing across the street on the Barclay Elementary School playground.

His breeding made him a natural foe of birds, which despite his size and weight, he captured regularly.

He also hated cats. I can recall one tense morning when we were packing the car to exit for the beach when he got a neighborhood physician's feline.

A cat-dogfight noise rocked the neighborhood. Spectators appeared on back porches. They peered over fences. They climbed atop garages to see this animal gladiatorial combat. Indeed it was quite a prize fight. All I'll say is that Rocky won. Cats soon learned it was not a prudent idea to venture close to our backyard garden fence.

Rocky occasionally would jump up on the Christmas garden platforms and eat expensive German miniature horses and cows that were part of the scenery. Who could fault him? Puppies love to chew on plastic.

He also jumped on the back gate and worked it loose for a run through the neighborhood. He always bolted south, toward Ilchester Avenue. Once our loss was discovered (it didn't take long -- Rocky was well known and occasionally feared) we took off in pursuit.

What did it take to get him back? His leash, his collar and a package of Oreo cookies. Within anxious minutes, he'd be back on the crow's nest as if nothing ever happened.

Pub Date: 10/31/98

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