The Last 'Walking the Dog': a Tribute to Bailey and Barney

Gary Tischler and Bailey
Gary Tischler and Bailey

Barney, who fulfilled the role of first dog and his master’s best friend for two terms at the White House, died a few weeks ago of lymphoma at the age of 12.

President George W. Bush made the announcement in straightforward, affectionate terms: “Laura and I are sad to announce that our Scottish Terrier, Barney, has passed away. The little fellow had been suffering from lymphoma and after twelve and a half years of life, his body could not fight off the illness. Barney and I enjoyed the outdoors. He loved to accompany me when I fished for bass at the ranch. He was a fierce armadillo hunter. Barney guarded the South Lawn entrance of the White House as if he were a Secret Service agent. He wandered the halls of the West Wing looking for treats from his many friends.”

From the former president's tone, it’s pretty clear that Barney had many friends. In his own way, as first dogs tend to do, he became famous—the "Barney cam," where he displayed his eager demeanor and outstanding ears and trying to upstage things at the first lady’s unveiling of the White House Christmas decorations simply by walking by.

Around that time, we found out that Smokey, the black lab and cocker mix who had best friend to Bailey, our Bichon Frise, during his neighborhood days, had passed away. We lost Bailey, about whom I’d written in several “Walking the Dog” columns in The Georgetowner, late last spring to cancer which was discovered too late for any succor or relief.

I did not write about Bailey on the occasion of his passing. I am doing so now for one last “Walking the Dog”— or until we should bring another dog into our lives, a subject about which there has been much discussion among our friends and neighbors.

The passing of Smokey, and Bailey, Woody, and Navy and Gertie and Spot, and the Maltese whom everybody called Little Bailey at the age of 19, and Jazzy and others, and, yes, if we may, Barney, because he was a part of our larger neighborhood in the city, marked the passing of a generation of dogs who were a part of our lives, directly or by association. Some, like Eddie, remain, but few are left.

Bailey lived to be 15 and spent all but the early months of his life in our Lanier Heights section of Adams Morgan. There are new dogs, newly minted dog friends, pups who tug their owners and pull them to the dog park, which did not exist when Bailey came to the neighborhood. There are new children, too, some of whom will want dogs. In case I didn’t mention it, this is a dog neighborhood. Bailey, for reasons I still find a mystery but appreciate with great feeling and affection, was a presence in the neighborhood. His absence is felt, as I’m sure Barney was at the White House and on the Bush ranch.

This is the nature of the beast—these small and large beings who are not beasts, but our pets, companions and unalloyed silent best friends. They will devastate us with the regularity of predicted loss, and, oddly, knowing what we know, there is no way of avoiding the pain of the loss or predicting its length, nature and specifics. In our world, in the neighborhood and all across the country, pets have become not only a cottage industry, but beings who are constantly written about, talked about, gossiped about in the hood, studied scientifically, and speculated about: who are these guys and girls anyhow and why do they mean so much to so many of us?

I can say this, and I suspect it is true for the Bush family—the loss of a dog is a death in the family, and around here, a death in the neighborhood.

I don’t mean to make so much of Bailey in terms of his neighbors, but I suspect it is true still. My four daily walks—rain, shine, the seasons, the weather, the talk, the other dogs, meetings and greetings—regulated my life. Bailey was the best alarm clock I had, the best weatherman, the best judge of conditions, the best communicator of need, the most patient soul in some ways. He was my enabler, in the sense he let me discover the neighborhood, let me think about how to write stories, or entertain ideas or receive them on the walk. He made me notice all of it—homes and hearth, the air, the change in temperature, the age and sudden absence of trees, the spots in the grass. Dogs don’t sniff idly. They dig out news in the grass and on the side of trees. They communicate in the air.

Dogs chasten your sense of self-importance—Bailey did that so routinely and without seeming to that I swear he was smiling in there somewhere. Bailey was instantly recognized by name. I would hear people hollering, "Hey, Bailey," as if it were a daily song. Bailey was diffident about fame—he had it and seemed to know it—but he was not needy that way. He was not a seeker of strokes, pets, treats, or God forbid, hugs, and he was not a slurper like the happy labs and goldens. His appeal was simple: he was unforgivably adorable and cute—big black bottomless eyes set in a white furry face and body and facial expressions that could haves gotten him acting jobs. Oddly, he had an opportunity to do just that: they were filming the Will Smith thriller “Enemy of the State” on our street in the late 1990s, and had not yet cast the lone little dog part. The AD eyed Bailey, saying “He’s a cute little guy.” Bailey promptly ran his leash around my legs five times giving the AD pause and eliciting the comment, “Kind of hyper, isn’t he?" There went Hollywood. I should add that Bailey was hardly ever hyper except when he went into a mysterious, crazed run called the “Bichon blitz.”

I spent more time with Bailey than anyone I know. When I was working on stories, he would come into my office in the back and find several sleeping spots—under the computer, in the closet, by the bookcase and so on. He inspired me often—not just in writing about him or dogs, but about the neighborhood. What he did and how he conducted himself made me think and often entertained me. The dog who barely tolerated most people except to give them 30 seconds to admire him, discovered two of the residents of Joseph House, the hospice for the homeless in our neighborhood and routinely ran up flights of steep stairs to see them. I think he was a contrarian: outside of Smokey, Navy, and a few other dogs, his best pals were cats with whom he played, a Siamese on our block and Tiny, who would lay in wait for him under parked cars.

It doesn’t end, either. Henry, a dog walker and neighborhood guy, asked us about our dog future, then began talking about Bailey recently. “That Bailey,” he said. “He was a legend.”

And just the other day, I ran into a neighbor I hadn’t seen in a while, who was taking his little daughter out. Just as I left, I heard her voice: “But where’s the doggy?”

Smokey was his friend—he saw him after a year-long interval and they wagged and sniffed, but not forever. They were older, after all, no point in making a fuss. Bailey had once put his 14-pound body between Smokey and two large terriers who had gone after Smokey. There they were side by side, and Stanley, Smokey’s dad, said, “There they are, the salt and pepper team.”

I’d offer my condolences to President Bush, but I know how he feels. There were news photos of Bush and Barney—which sounds like a law firm, and maybe if you added Bailey on to it, it would be—and in both Bush is smiling and grinning, Barney darkly mysterious.

Bush said, “He never discussed politics and was always a faithful friend”.

Here’s to Barney. Here’s to Bailey. Barney and Bailey—we all know what that sounds like.

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Tue, 23 Sep 2014 04:20:41 -0400

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