Roger VanHaren: Dogs play an important part in our lives

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By: 

Roger VanHaren

Just in time for football season last fall, State Farm kicked off a new ad featuring Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers and LB Clay Matthews, but as it turned out the real star of the ad was Rigsbee (supposedly Aaron’s dog, but not really).

The ad featured Aaron and Rigsbee recalling the memories they’ve shared together after Clay has a mishap with a drone and Aaron’s truck over the seven years that he had it. They play Frisbee, sleep on the beach, ride with their heads out windows, tongues flapping. Rodgers and Matthews are stars on the field, but Rigsbee stole the show in this commercial!

Dogs play a crucial role in our culture. Some dogs are used to rescue those in need; others are used to assist people who may need a little extra help with everyday tasks; some are used in the war on drugs; others lead the blind or act as service dogs for disabled people.

Arguably, one of the greatest roles for dogs in our culture is that of friendship – man’s best friend, right? What other animal offers such unconditional love as the dog? So, humor me. Today, I’m going to talk about some dogs, starting with a couple from my kidhood.

When I was little, we had a wonderful old mutt named Bing. The puppy was a wedding gift to my parents from a friend; it was 1937 and he couldn’t afford any other present. Dad said he “crooned” when he was a pup, so they named him Bing after the original crooner, Bing Crosby.

Bing was an “outdoor dog.” (We never had an indoor pet of any kind.) He slept outside my parents’ bedroom window, and when he heard the alarm go off in the bedroom, he’d go out and herd the cows to the barn for morning chores. Wonderful, gentle Bing. He was hit and killed by a car, and I’m sure Dad never felt as much affection for any other dog we ever had on the farm.

We had other dogs, too, one of fondest memories was a pup named Spike, who was sort of “my” dog. He followed me around everywhere on the farm, and he was always out there to greet us when Joyce and I got off the bus after school.

Spike was more or less a pet; he never learned to herd cows. When I went away to college, my folks said Spike seemed lonely, and when I’d occasionally get home for a weekend, Spike would perk up and be his old self again — until I left to go back to school.

OK, so now that you know about the not-so-famous, let’s look at a few of the more famous dogs.

First, of course, there’s Rin Tin Tin. Rinty was a male German shepherd dog that had been rescued by an American soldier from a World War I battlefield. He trained the dog and got some silent film work which made Rin Tin Tin famous.

Rinty went on to appear in 27 successful Hollywood films, which brought much fame and success to Warner Bros. studios. He was so famous that he received the most votes for the first Academy Award for Best Actor; however, the academy determined that only humans can hold that honor.

Then there’s my favorite movie and TV star from my kidhood: Lassie. Lassie became sort of the personification of the modern family dog. She represented courage, honor, and unshakeable loyalty. She is one of just three dogs who have a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She also has a couple of Emmy awards for her films.

I loved “The Little Rascals” movies when I was a kid. Remember Pete, the little pit bull terrier with the ring around his eye who hung around with the rowdy Little Rascals? Spuds MacKenzie was another pit bull; he advertised Budweiser beer.

How about Old Yeller? “Old Yeller” was a novel by Fred Gipson that was turned into a movie in 1957. It was an endearing tale of a boy and his dog. Such a sad story – a family tragedy which includes one of the most tearful scenes in cinematic history.

Remember Eddie? Eddie was definitely the cutest character on “Frasier.” Eddie was a Jack Russell Terrier, played by a dog whose real name was Moose. Great expressions on his face!

There are a whole bunch of cartoon dogs who are world famous, too. Snoopy heads my list of cartoon dogs, but you might have your favorites, too. I like Pluto, too. He’s the only one of the “top six” Disney animals who doesn’t wear clothes! Goofy, on the other hand, is a big goofy dog who does wear clothes, right?

There’s Scooby Doo and Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmations (How cute were they?), Astro the Jetsons’ dog, Clifford (the big red dog), Bolt, Deputy Dawg, and Underdog.

I’ve probably missed a lot of good ones. Who are your favorites?

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com.