Damon Young: Getting to know Mickey

I’ve grown to love him, but he’s not a person

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My dog’s name is Mickey.

Actually, that’s a bit of a lie. His name really is Mickey, but he’s technically not my dog. He belongs to my fiancee. She’s had him for six years, and when we began dating in 2012, Mickey was, well, a part of the package. Which was great ... except for the fact that I’m not a dog person. So, along with the perfunctory new relationship adjustment period, I’ve also had to transition from a person who’s never lived with a dog to a person who, if he doesn’t want the color of the carpet in his bedroom to change from ‘brown’ to ‘pee-tinged brown,’ always needs to stay aware of how long he’s been away from home and what time he’s coming back.

Fortunately, Mickey has made the transition smoother than I expected it to be. He’s exceedingly, almost maddeningly,  nice. A pitbull with a petunia’s disposition. He’s also very smart. For instance, months ago my fiancee and I noticed that if Mickey needed to relieve himself, and one of us said “out” in any fashion (i.e.: “Can you take the orange juice out?”), he’d run towards the back door and start jumping up and down, urging us to take him outside. This became annoying, so instead of saying “out” we’d spell it out (“Can you take the orange juice o-u-t?”). It took him a week to figure out what we were spelling. Maybe five days. And after a couple month’s worth of increasingly complex spelling games we devised to avoid saying that word — tricks Mickey would usually solve within a week — we gave up and just decided to deal with the “out”-induced annoyance.

I am still not a dog person. But Mickey is a part of my life, a valuable and valued part of our household, loved and appreciated more than any other physical thing in our possession. He is our dog. My dog.

This burgeoning relationship has provided a bit of nuance to my feelings about the avalanche of attention Rocco, the recently fallen police dog, has received. Mickey is so warm, so loving and so lovable that it’s not too hard to imagine how losing a dog could cause grief. And, considering the tragic manner of Rocco’s death, it’s easy to empathize with those devastated by it.

But this hasn’t made the last couple of weeks of news coverage given to Rocco feel any less surreal.

While no one would expect each resident of the city to mourn each and every time a fellow Pittsburgher fell to violence, the attention given to and sympathy expressed for Rocco feels bizarre when juxtapositioned with the consideration usually given to homicide victims. Even the recognition given to homicide victims who also happen to be nationally recognized heroes — as Hosea Davis was when saving Allison Meadows’ life last year — pales in comparison to the coverage and public condolence Rocco has received.

There were 91 homicides in Allegheny County in 2013. And, little more than a month into 2014, we’ve already seen 13 (as I write). More than 100 living and breathing human beings who are no longer here. People who loved and were loved. People with dreams, families, fears, aspirations, plans, baby pictures, memories, mortgages, jobs, ex-girlfriends, Facebook accounts, pet peeves, regrets, YMCA memberships, bus passes, anxieties, favorite movies, least favorite foods, savings accounts and student loan debts.

People who loved shopping the day after Christmas just like you do. Who liked Primanti’s (but thought it’s a little overrated) just like you do. Who remembered exactly what they wore on Kennywood day in eighth grade just like you do. Who waited until the last possible day to file taxes every year just like you do. Who spent too much time on ESPN.com just like you do. Who took their niece and twin nephews to church every other Sunday just like you do. Who got lost every time they drove to the North Side just like you do. Who was struggling with losing a good friend to cancer just like you are. Who won a couple free tickets from their job and went to two Pirates’ games last year just like you did. Who stood in line at the post office Downtown on Monday, May 22, at 3:45 p.m. just like you did.

People who were … people.

And yes, some of these people had criminal records. Extensive criminal records. Some may have been doing something they had no business doing, with people they have no business being with. Some may have been murderers. Some may have been murdered while attempting to murder someone else.

This doesn’t make them any less human. Troubled? Likely. Severely flawed? Perhaps. But still a living, breathing human being whose death should inspire more collective empathy than a dog’s.

Also, one doesn’t need a Ph.D. in “racecardiology” or even a pair of contacts to see a correlation between the number of homicide victims who happen to be black (67 percent) and the public’s collective indifference to their deaths. I won’t go as far as to say that Rocco’s life seemed to be valued more than their lives were, but I wouldn’t begrudge someone who believed that to be true.

As I kept up with the coverage of Rocco’s death, I couldn’t help but think about Mickey. He’s 10 this year. Although still spry, his whiskers are beginning to gray, and his belly is already egg white. In the next few years, he will be progressively less spry and enthusiastic while progressively more prone to illness and injury. He will die. I will be sad when it happens. We will mourn him.

After enough time has passed — maybe a couple months, maybe a couple years — we will buy another dog. He won’t be Mickey, but he will be a suitable replacement.

On Monday, Jan. 27, Susan Sidney was murdered in McKeesport. She was 25. She had five kids. They will mourn her. Forever. And there will never be a suitable replacement.

Damon Young, a contributing editor to EBONY Magazine (digital), lives in Manchester (damonjyoung@gmail.com).

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