WE DON’T HAVE AN OFFICIAL MASCOT at this newspaper, although there was never any doubt about what animal would have been first in line for the job had the post become available. A smooth hair fox terrier named Hopper, my dog, has been coming to work with me for 11 years. He died last week of natural causes.
Most of his newspaper years were spent at The Independent, the now-defunct, twice-weekly county newspaper headquartered in Hillsdale. I first arrived there for my orientation on a chilly evening in November 2000. After about an hour I told the late Vicki Simons, co-owner of the paper, that my “editorial assistant” was waiting for me in the car. She looked taken aback and insisted I invite him in. I’m not sure she was amused when I returned with Hopper, but as a dog owner herself, she took it in stride. Good thing.
About a week later he pooped on the stairway leading from Vicki’s office to the newsroom. A colleague alerted me and I scrambled to clean up his editorial statement before anyone else saw (or said) anything. I always thought that dog had a sense of humor.
That was during a period when the economy was strong, jobs were still plentiful even in the news business, and among the incentives savvy employers offered to attract job applicants was permission to bring dogs to work. Dogs help some humans keep their tensions in check; in theory, anyway, canines humanize sterile work sites, fostering a happier, more productive work environment.
That probably asks a little too much of dogs. Not everybody likes having animals around, and pets bring their own set of needs that can create distractions. Hopper could convince just about anyone he met that he’d never had a square meal in his life and that only you, his target at the moment, could banish his terrible hunger if you would just share a bite of that sandwich you were eating. He usually got what he wanted, and in that sense he had skills to teach diplomats, managers and salespeople. Had he been a member of a different species, he might have held high office.
I don’t mean to discriminate against cats. The first newspaper office I worked in had a cat that kept the place free of rodents and whose only bad habit as far as I could tell was leaving horrifying surprises on the keyboard of a typesetting machine. Talk about a sense of humor.
Despite occasional problems, pets can make an office a calmer, more comfortable place, though I readily concede they’re not appropriate where food is prepared or served, at most medical establishments or at the few factories we have left. But the principle holds true regardless of the exceptions. Employers have the upper hand in the tight jobs market of today’s struggling economy, but owners and managers should welcome anything that improves productivity. So what if it comes with four legs and a tail?
Hopper had a radio career, too, joining me for my brief monologs as a guest editor on the WAMC Northeast Public Radio morning show The Roundtable. He was part of that show for about as long as the hosts have included the editors segment. My lead-in stories about his encounters with squirrels, woodchucks and winter booties helped take the edge off some of the truly unpleasant news in our headlines. Those little bits also helped me ground my reports here in Columbia County, a place that might sound familiar to our listeners no matter where they lived. Observing him gave me a rich, diverse and reliable source of material for every broadcast. People I met who didn’t know about the show thought I was kidding when I introduced Hopper as “The Famous Radio Dog.” I wasn’t.
I think of Hopper as an unpaid member of this newspaper’s staff. He contributed in the ways he could to our mission of delivering local news. I can’t tell you how he felt about it, but I see it as a good life’s work, and I’m grateful for all that he did.