The Scenic Route: Day 32 


My Life With Dogs, part 1

I couldn’t bring myself to write about my history with dogs yesterday. 

Or the day before that.


Or the day before that.


I thought I could but I started to second guess myself.

Sometimes writing is like taking a rough, gravely poop. You just have to bite your lip and push it out.

My history with dogs is slightly tragic, as it is with every dog owner.

I think Bobo was the first dog in our family. This was before I was born and I never met him. I think he was a boxer mix. There’s an old picture of him and I’ve heard stories at the dinner table about Bobo.

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Heidi and Brad, December, 1969. Photo by Dr. Robert M. Rogers

The next dog was Heidi, a beautiful and smart collie. I often thought she was Lassie. She was a puppy when Brad was born and when he was 2, she had her first litter of puppies. A German Shepherd literally jumped the fence. Heidi was very protective of her puppies but she let Brad come in to the make-shift whelping box (2 picnic benches on their side in the corner of the garage) and let her puppies crawl all over him. If anybody else even tried to pick up a puppy they got a serious warning from Heidi. We kept one of the puppies and named him Hans.

Heidi and Hans came with us when we moved to Oklahoma in 1972. I was just 6 months old. Dad was starting the Pulmonary division from the ground up. If our family was a sitcom like “The Bizarro Brady Bunch”, this would be the special 3 or 4 part, very special episodes, like when the Brady’s went to Hawaii or The Grand Canyon. 

The Rogers in Oklahoma. 

I’d watch.

I did.

Between 1972 and1980 we had a few additional dogs. There was Barney the Beagle who is sporting a cast in some of the photo albums, and was my sister Janet Marie’s dog, according to Janet Marie herself. She didn’t particularly take great care of the dog, as I’ve been told. 

Hans was dog napped and we never saw him again. In Oklahoma, people would just drive up to your fence, and if the dog was friendly, they took them. We lost a St. Bernard that way. 

Hilda and Helga were the next dogs and I really remember them. They were German Shepherds and incredibly aggressive around strangers. But Heidi was the one in charge. She went to obedience school and had a slight air of sophistication. She was always gentle and mothering to me. 

The 3 dogs often slept in the gravel driveway. One morning, Dad was headed for work and he backed over Heidi’s legs. He went to work and let Mom deal with it. Heidi was in so much pain, that she bit at us if we tried to get closer to her. I’m not sure how we got her in the Volvo. We had to muzzle her.

The next day, I asked Mom when Heidi was coming home. 

“They had to put Heidi to sleep, my Dear,” she said.

“When will they wake her up,” I asked.

I remember Mom crying. 

Then I started crying. For like 2 days.

I eventually knew she wasn’t coming back and I cried uncontrollably. I couldn’t get my mind around it. Why didn’t my Dad check to see if there were dogs laying in the driveway? Why didn’t he stay and help deal with the situation? Why did he go to work?

I never really got an answer to that. Dad didn’t do anything wrong, in his mind. He said the stupid dogs shouldn’t have been sleeping in the driveway. I imagine deep down he felt bad, but he never showed it.

I think this was around 1979. We moved to Pittsburgh in 1980 and had to give Hilda and Helga away to our neighbors, strangely also named Rogers, who had lots of land. They wouldn’t have been able to adjust to city life.

Dad made it clear that we would not be getting another dog, because he didn’t believe any of us would take care of the dog. In retrospect, was partially right. 

One night at the dinner table, in November of 1984, during one my legendary debates with Dad, he agreed to let us get a dog. The catch was that I had to “walk” an invisible dog for 2 weeks to prove to Dad that I would walk the dog. I took him up on his offer. I walked every morning and evening for 2 weeks and kept an accurate log. When the 2 weeks were up, Dad agreed to allow us to get a dog. 

Since Brad had asthma, we decided on a medium sized poodle because they had very little dander and didn’t shed. On December 15th 1984, a day before my birthday, we got Francois. I chose his name on the way back from the breeder. I wanted a French name and for some reason I thought of Francois Clemens from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. I loved Francois Clemens. And he was on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. And my last name was Rogers. It was perfect. Francois Clemens Rogers was part of the family. 

I was 12.

It turns out Dad was partially right. I didn’t walk Francois every day like I said I would. Often it was just a quick trip in the back yard. 

Francois or “Francy”, as we called him, was a supremely intelligent and kind dog. He never yipped, but had a rather robust bark that scared off any potential invaders. I had never been so close with a dog before. We had mental telepathy. He practically trained himself. He definitely trained me.

After a couple years, Brad, who didn’t appreciate dad’s challenge of walking a dog for 2 weeks, just brings home a mutt we named Pierre. I have no idea what Pierre was made of. I know he was part terrier and maybe chihuahua. He looked like a combination of a bat and a rat. He was a tiny black bully that ran the show from then on. Francois would sit, very refined while we ate at the kitchen table, with one paw curved under him in a distinctly pretentious stance. Alternately, Pierre would lay upside down, with all 4 legs straight up in the air, with tongs hanging loosely out of his mouth. He looked like he was doing his impression of a dead bug. But as soon as someone moved their chair for even an inch, he hopped up ready for action, so fast it was as if he didn’t even bend his little legs, he just popped upright,  ready for treats, like some kind of wind-up toy.

Pierre liked to run away. He had need to explore. One time we got a call from a Fraternety at CMU. They wanted to keep him. Once he spent the night at the legendary transplant doctor Starzel’s house. He lived not far from us and I could hear Pierre’s high pitched, demanding bark all night long. 

Tomorrow: Part 2

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