Today, my Rocco has been in the United States for 11 years. I brought Rocco home from the Greek island of Santorini, where I went for vacation with 3 friends. Greece has a large stray dog and cat population, and I knew that before I went and, and also knew that I was most likely coming home with a dog. Honestly, I think we were sort of on a mission to find me one. We found a puppy early on in the trip, but, I didn’t want to a cart a baby around for 2 weeks, so I said that we would go back to the same location to look for her before we left and if she was still there, I would take her. She wasn’t and it was a mixture of disappointment and relief, and no dog, that I prepared to go home with. But, the God of Stray Animals apparently had other plans. The next day, at the airport, there he was. When we first saw him, he was being held by a tourist, also getting ready to leave the island. I said to my friends that if she puts him down, I am taking him. And, that is just what happened. She put him down outside, where he immediately started scavenging for food, and Stacy and I went and grabbed him. We named him Rocco, after the hotel we stayed in, which was called Roccabella…he immediately became Roccobella. We put him in my carry-on (he was very small, about 3 lbs. and it was more big purse than carry-on) and off to Athens we went. The flight to Athens was short, but, VERY bumpy. I am not a big fan of flying, so I held my puppy and a Greek icon and begged God to get us on the ground. I had talked myself into semi- believing we were safe, because I had saved a puppy and was holding onto that icon with all my might. I do remember asking Stacy if Athens was close to the ocean or more inland, and she said she thought it was more inland. I remember thinking that we were screwed, because all I could see on our rather speedy descent was ocean, ocean and more ocean.
In Athens, we took him to the vet and got him health-certified. He peed everywhere, ate everything in sight and slept like a rock for hours in between. Getting him to the US was easy, as this was pre-9/11 and I was also prepared to do whatever I had to in order to get him home. So, he got an “Excess Baggage” ticket and climbed on our laps to Germany and then to Newark, NJ. The Lufthansa flight attendants gave him his own bottle of water and I snuck him through customs. No one ever asked me a question about the animal I had in a carrier. That still to this day amazes me, and scared me for along time. I thought I would get a call from customs saying they had video of me with an animal carrier and an unclaimed animal, but, the call never came…thank God! And, on to his new life in Lambertville, NJ he    went. He immediately made Taz his new mama and proved to be head- strong and fun. He would stop walking on walks, so I would put him in my sweatshirt pocket to get him home. It took about 9 months to house-train him and he slept in the carrier he came home in until he literally filled the entire thing. To this day, he still really like small, tight spaces.
Rocco has always been very excitable, and I looked forward to the 7 year mark, at which most experts say dogs start to lose speed. Not Rocco, at 11 years old, he is still enthusiastic, hyper and loud. It just doesn’t last as long anymore. But, if you come to my house, you will get hugged by him and he will wag so hard, you’ll think his back end is going to fly off! Rocco doesn’t like most other dogs, though, he has made exceptions to some. He has let other dogs stay with us or live with us temporarily, but, I had to stop taking him to the dog park (that I got involved with so he could have a place to run and play) because he became what I call “breedist”, meaning that if a husky came in it was “Great, let’s play!”, but, if a rottie, doberman or lab came in, it was “I’m gonna f*** you up”. I don’t know why. Mind you, if the other dog didn’t back down, he would through himself on his back. I just stopped being willing to take a chance. He seems to like fuzzy dogs and small dogs, who don’t look like bulldogs (they are another of his bug-a-boos). He loved Taz, liked Sugar and treats Savannah like a little sister. As for the human addition to the house, Paul, he did not like that at first, and would poop in the bedroom every time Paul stayed over for a while. But, he got used to him and now I swear he likes Paul better than me ( because of the whole gravy- making thing). Which is fine, I like watching their bond. As for the cats, well, Rocco just sort of puts up with them. No loving whisker-rubs, but, an acceptance of sometimes having to share his humans. Rocco is also very sensitive to human talk, and doesn’t like yelling or raised voices. Impassioned political talk also upsets him, and he will leave the room and go lay on his dog bed, with his ears back until it is over. This is probably his greatest gift to me, as it reminds me to temper myself and of the impact of my behavior on others, and always gets me to calm down.
As Rocco gets older, I am reminded of all we have been through together. Over the course of these 11 years, he has adapted to changes in my schedule, my love-life, and our locale. He has seen house-mates pass (Taz, Doublestuff and Sugar) and been with me through the toughest time of my life, losing my dad. Rocco is not the easiest dog to live with, he is picky about food, jealous about affection if he is not part of it and very loud. But, all of that is countered by the joy I see from him when I walk in the door, his desire to please and his general playful nature.
I am grateful for that day 11 years ago….and for all the moments till now. Even if he gives me a hard time about getting off the bed 🙂


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