It was a massive rowhouse fire on a tight street in Trenton, New Jersey, a block of older houses connected by a common attic and burning like kindling, that taught me a cardinal rule of journalism. This was 23 years ago, so some nuances have faded, but I remember word-for-word the question from our newspaper’s hard-ass publisher.
A newbie columnist, my job was to give the main news story added pizzazz. I had a notebook full of elderly residents suffering burns and smoke inhalation, hero firefighters, displaced families, scorched toys, destroyed keepsakes. Sandy Schwartz, our publisher, had for me precisely one question:
“Any dogs hurt or killed?”
This I could not answer. Sandy, a man of few words, but many profanities, colorfully ordered me back to the scene. Head low, shamed, I headed out. Sandy, who covered Watergate, had delivered a journalism commandment never to be forgotten.
“Always, always ask about the dogs, moron. People love dogs way more than people.”
These words came flooding back to me the other day when I found myself near tears watching video of Mesa Officer Robert Goodrich rescuing John and Janet Tenaglia’s dog, Sparky, from a canal near Country Club Drive. Sparky, a mix of whippet and shar-pei, had spotted some ducks and run off into the pre-sunrise darkness. A jogger happened upon the dog paddling furiously, unable to clamber up the canal’s steep banks. Goodrich used a snare to pull Sparky to safety.
The jogger’s video of the rescue made the story a local sensation. Then on Tuesday, Mesa Police released footage from Goodrich’s body camera and it went viral nationwide. The local Fox outlet’s version of Sparky’s salvation racked up more than 900,000 views in about 24 hours.
Several thousand of those views were me, captivated by Sparky’s furiously wagging tail as he stands on solid ground moments after ending his Michael Phelps impersonation.
“It’s OK,” Goodrich tells Sparky in his best, most soothing, man-talking-to-a-dog voice. “It’s OK.”
With dogs, it’s pretty much always OK. They’re better than people that way. Our dog, Panya, an 8-pound mix of Pomeranian and poodle, never fails to greet you happily when you come in from the garage, no matter how much your day stunk. The pompoo treats every morsel of human food like a steak from Donovan’s and every walk around the block like she’s Neil Armstrong setting four paws on the moon.
Reunited with his pet, John Tenaglia called Goodrich’s rescue of Sparky a “miracle.”
Tenaglia, a veteran of Vietnam, said of his dog, “On a day-to-day basis, he’s everything to me. He takes care of me more than I take care of him.”
If you love dogs, you get it, just as you get the impetus behind Arizona’s newest law – a good Samaritan statute that enables you to save a child or a pet from a hot car by smashing the vehicle’s window – provided you believe that the trapped human or animal is in “imminent danger” of death or injury.
Two caveats: You also must first call 911 or Animal Control and you must stay with the rescued prisoner until help arrives.
Would I smash out a car window to rescue a dog on a 117-degree day?
In a heartbeat.
I would have done it long before our legislators passed House Bill 2494, absolving us from criminal guilt or civil liability. It would have been worth facing vandalism charges just to see the dog’s wagging tail.
Besides, no jury would ever have convicted me. Sandy Schwartz was right. People love dogs way more than people. Because dogs are better than people. That’s why this moron always, always, asks about the dogs.
– David Leibowitz has called the Valley home since 1995. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.