Commentary by Dick Wolfsie
Twenty-five years ago this week, I found a beagle puppy on my front doorstep while on my way to work. He was soon to become a TV celebrity, accompanying me on my reporting duties for 12 years. Here is my memory of the morning I found him, partly excerpted from my book, “Mornings with Barney.”
I was caught between a bark and a heart place. There on my doorstep, shivering in the below-zero weather, was a tiny beagle pup. I couldn’t leave the little guy out in the cold, but I was on my way to work at WISH-TV where I had just three months earlier begun as a feature reporter during the early morning news.
My wife and son were still asleep upstairs, and waking them seemed unnecessary. I placed the dog on the rug in the living room and he was content, so I figured it was safe to just leave him there for a few hours. My early morning reporting obligations usually allowed me to be home by 7:30 a.m., almost a half-hour before the rest of the Wolfsies crawled out of bed. By the time I got home, I could explain the dog’s presence and decide what to do next. What was the harm in that?
I’m an idiot.
Three hours later, I pulled into our driveway. Lights were on all through the house. That was unusual because Brett and Mary Ellen had another 15 minutes to sleep in. Despite the chilly temperature, the door was slightly ajar, so I peeked in, hoping to see that the dog was still asleep on the rug, or maybe had crawled up onto the couch.
Yeah, he was on the couch. But all the pillows had been dislodged and were in shreds. I walked inside. The curtains had been yanked off their rods and one designer high-heel shoe, minus the heel but with a new hole in the toe, sat in the middle of the kitchen floor. A corner of the dining room rug had been ripped up and the trash can in the kitchen was knocked over, with most of the contents distributed around the floor. Later, after an extensive inventory, we decided a lot had been ingested, as well.
Incredibly, he had not had an accident in the house. What a good dog!
As I surveyed the wreckage, my son Brett was descending the stairs with a beheaded teddy bear and an unstuffed lion, more casualties of the dog’s multi-level tirade. Tears rolled down Brett’s cheeks. He stared at the beagle, then shot a glance at his decapitated playthings.
“Daddy, can we NOT keep him?”
The second day, I locked him in an empty downstairs bedroom while I was on location for a television shoot. This was not a dog that had a lot of experience being tethered to anything. He just howled until I got home. Ultimately, he howled for the remainder of the decade and beyond.
My wife tried to be understanding. “Look, this is real simple, Dick. We have to find the dog a loving home or a minimum security facility. Either that, or you take him to work with you.”
She was quite serious. She never actually used the phrase “It’s either me or the dog,” but implicit in the original options presented was the recognition that the dog needed my supervision 24-7 if he was to stay a member of our household.
And so I chose to take Barney to work with me. I took him every day for 12 years. It didn’t change his behavior. It just changed my life. And the lives of everyone else he touched.