Roach: A doggone good companion

We bonded in the way only a human can with a dog
Roach: A doggone good companion
Photo by John Roach

The entire gang recently gathered at the lake. Three of them weren’t human.

We were also joined by Lucy, Finley and Pork Chop; two Labs and a bulldog. The canine pals added endless entertainment and comfort to our summer vacation.

There was one dog that wasn’t there; our own pooch, Phillip Seymour Dog, aka Philly.

Philly, a border collie shepherd mix, joined our family nearly eight years ago, rescued from a Chicago kennel only days before he was to be euthanized. His adoption was the idea of our two daughters, Kate and Maggie, who lived together at the time. They thought Philly would be a good break from the pressure of their work. They had always wanted a dog.

But it quickly became clear that Phil was not a condo dog. He needed to run. Constantly. It became such an issue that our girls would become teary discussing the prospect of returning him to the rescue shelter because he had been returned several times already. Another unhappy owner would bring him to an awful fate.

So, on impulse, I said I’d take Phil. I’d met him and liked him. And he seemed to like me, not always an easy thing for other creatures of the planet.

The first night with Phil was disastrous. He was anxious and hyper. I nearly fell down the stairs in the dark trying to get to him and quiet him down.

The next morning, we called to make arrangements to take him to yet another shelter, this time in Madison. I didn’t sleep that second night. Despite all the mayhem, we had bonded in the way only a human can connect with a dog. Sometime around 3 a.m., I decided I couldn’t let Phil go.

And so, for the next five years Phil was my companion. We walked in the morning and evening, where I learned that dog walking is a form of meditation. It forces you out into the natural world during all seasons. And while your dog sniffs about, you ponder the things that need pondering.

Phil was also instrumental in changing me. Instead of stopping at the tavern, I’d come home to walk him. Always the better choice. In the evenings, instead of slumping in front of the television set, I’d sit outside on the porch and read while endlessly tossing the ball to my pal.

It took Phil time to warm to me. I am sure his previous Chicago owners beat him. He would let me pet him, but he wouldn’t settle down next to me. Then one night, about three months into our relationship, Madison was hit by a thunderstorm.

A frightened and shaking Phil came and sat on my lap for the very first time, and I comforted him. It was a memorable moment in our relationship; an acknowledgment by Phil that I was a human who wouldn’t hurt him.

Phil was a smart, fun dog.

But he had issues. He once rushed our neighbor when he managed to get off-leash. He traveled poorly and tore up the back seat of our car. And as he became more comfortable at our home, he became more territorial. If you invaded areas he perceived to be his own, he would growl and become a different Phil. Because I was a neophyte dog owner, I didn’t know what to do. We tried dog trainers. It helped, but never changed Phil completely.

And then came the time when we decided we couldn’t care for Phil any longer. Three, then four human family members began requiring their own care. Serious care. A demanding animal became too demanding.

So, we surrendered Phil to a great rescue place called Fetch. I shed tears. He was such a good companion. In whatever mystical way dogs and humans connect, we did. Phil gave me a greater appreciation of other living creatures, as beautiful a gift as any you can receive.

I’m not sure what became of Phil, but I think about him often. I hope he knows how much I cared for him, and that I did my best. And that I’m sorry. Even though we gave him a great five years, yet another family had to give him up.

The whole thing makes me terribly sad in the way only a dog who has gone away can.

Every time the thunder sounds, I think of him.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at