For the love of the dog

Published 6:55 pm Friday, December 13, 2019

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By Rich Manieri

She once ate an entire stack of pancakes — at least six or seven — while I was taking my daughter to the school bus.

On Thanksgiving, several years ago, she ate the last piece of apple pie. I didn’t actually see her eat it but the dots were very connectable. She was the only one in the kitchen, the pie plate was empty, and there were pie crumbs all over her chin.

She liked to nibble the bottoms of my shirts. The vet said it was a way for her to show affection, a sign of love. I have a drawer filled with T-shirts with little holes in them.

She was an impressive looking watchdog — dark, powerful and, simply for show, she featured a low, menacing growl. In reality, all any burglar had to do was bring her a pizza and he could have cleaned us out to the studs before she took notice.

I first saw her at an animal shelter in New Freedom, Pennsylvania, a small town on the Mason-Dixon Line where I lived at the time. The workers at the shelter called her “Sweet Pea.”

At the time, I was a little “meh” on the name but I kept it. It turned out to fit her perfectly.

They first brought her to me while she was still in a crate, a big crate. They opened the door and she emerged, slowly, and she kept coming.

She was a mastiff/boxer mix, the kind of dog people cross the street to avoid.

The story was that she had been running through the streets of Baltimore. We weren’t sure how old she was, maybe a year, but she had a difficult early life. She was pregnant when they found her. It’s possible someone was keeping her to fight or to breed other fighting dogs.

This dog was clearly a lover, not a fighter.

The first thing she did when she saw me was roll over on her back and give me her belly. I’m kind of a pushover anyway but that did it for me. She was mine.

She was underweight when I took her home but she would soon fill out to about 90 pounds, more boxer size than mastiff, though she had a mastiff’s neck and shoulders.

One time, a neighbor boy came to the front door to raise money for the Boy Scouts. When he knocked, the big-headed Sweet Pea appeared in the window. The poor kid left a vapor trail down the driveway before I could even get to the door.

I lost track of how many dog beds I bought her over the years. They’re expensive and there’s nothing to them. Every once in a while, for no particular reason, she would strategically remove the foam rubber innards. I would come home to hundreds of pieces of foam rubber on the floor while she snored away in her disemboweled bed.

She snored like Grandpa Simpson. She slept at the foot of my bed but I eventually got used to the noise, the way some people listen to recorded sounds of the ocean to help them fall asleep.

Sweet Pea had the strength of a plow horse but she didn’t know it.

One time, not long after I adopted her, I crouched down in the yard about 25 yards away from her, trying to teach her to come.

“Come on, girl! Who’s a good doggie? Are you a good doggie? Come on!”

Evidently, the baby talk flipped some switch in her. She started for me in a dead sprint. But it became clear within a few seconds that she wasn’t going to stop or even slow down. She ran me over, much the way Wile E. Coyote was flattened by a big roller. As I was peeling myself off the turf, she circled back to lick my face.

I wrote an entire book with her at my feet. When I was exasperated, usually over my low-functioning computer, she would stick her snout under my arm to snap me out of it.

We went for long walks every morning, no matter where we were. Her routine was my routine and mine hers.

She was with me through multiple moves, job changes and personal trials, always at my feet and usually snoring.

Mark Twain said, “The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.” I’m not that cynical but I understand what he meant.

On a Saturday afternoon in December, when she was only about three or four, I felt a strange sense of urgency to take a photo of the two of us. I still have it, in a frame, on my desk.

On a Saturday afternoon, this December, her time came. She was 13 — a good innings, as the English say.

A friend of mine reminded me, “You gave her a good life and she knew it.”

A good innings, indeed. For both of us.

RICH MANIERI is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. His book, “We Burn on Friday: A Memoir of My Father and Me” is available at You can reach him at