By Tim Kelly
A dog’s life is a short one. But not so short that it cannot have a profound impact. And certainly not so short as to prevent a dog from getting into our hearts.
A case in point: “Roscoe” a sickly Cane Corso, also known as Italian Mastiff, who arrived at the Humane Society of Ocean City shelter approximately six years ago and became one of the most colorful personalities at the facility.
Unconditional love, companionship, unwavering loyalty are just a few qualities Roscoe exhibited every day. In doing so, the pooch inspired the human beings with whom he interacted and quickly became the “resident dog” of the Humane Society complex and its unofficial mascot.
“He was just a big baby,” Humane Society staffer George Muller said of the gray, 150-pound pooch, who passed away in May. “Despite his size, he was a snugglepuss. He loved to have his belly rubbed. He loved to lean up against you. He sure made a lot of friends.”
What particularly made Roscoe connect with people, Muller said, was his spirit.
“Just because he had pain throughout much of his body didn’t mean he still didn’t want to go out for a walk. He showed us how to make the best of things and keep going.”
A friendly, affectionate pooch who overcame many issues in his brief life, Roscoe was loved by staff, clients and visitors to the Human Society complex at 1 Shelter Road, off Tennessee Avenue. A group of the dog’s human friends paused recently to dedicate a bench in his honor at the facility and to resolve to keep his memory alive for many years to come.
“Roscoe embodied our mission here,” said Muller, the Kennel Director. “He came from a tough situation, he had serious challenges and he came through them to live each day to its fullest.”
Rescued from an abusive situation, Roscoe had arthritic hips and knees and psychological issues from being a “bait” dog in an alleged drug house where dog fighting took place.
“I don’t want to say he was unadoptable,” Muller said, “but most people aren’t looking for a 150-pound dog that will require thousands of dollars in vet bills for the next five to seven years.”
With very strict requirements for adoption, the staff came to realize Roscoe was going to be around. So they made an alteration to the existing exercise run to accommodate Roscoe’s size and let him hang out in a shed also used to store supplies.
“We store the cat litter in that shed and Roscoe came to think of it as ‘his cat litter,’ ” George said. “He was OK with certain people taking cat litter out of there, but if someone else tried it he would bark and let them know he didn’t approve.”
For the people he trusted in his life, Roscoe had a loving and endearing personality.
“He had some trust issues and that’s understandable considering his background,” Muller said. The people around him became understanding of Roscoe’s quirks, just as he was of theirs. Before long, his status evolved to become part of the everyday scene at the shelter.
The Humane Society is one of the great resources that helps make Ocean City so unique. It offers a fully staffed professional veterinary clinic which charges much less than private facilities; animal control services, adoption services and a no-kill shelter among other services. Roscoe was visible through almost all of it.
One of the facility’s volunteers, Gene Farrell of Ocean City, became Roscoe’s “best friend,” according to Muller. Farrell would take the pooch for walks, sit out near the adjacent soccer field with Roscoe and spend hours lavishing attention on the dog.
“Gene would come in a few days every week,” Muller said. “I know dogs aren’t supposed to know what day it is, but Roscoe seemed to know when it was Gene’s day to be here. He just had a little more spring in his step and was more enthusiastic and cooperative. Then he would hear Gene coming before anyone else knew he was here.”
Another beloved visitor was Reagan DeVlieger, an Ocean City Intermediate School student who is a big supporter of the Humane Society.
“Reagan always loved to take Roscoe McDonald’s hamburgers on the weekends,” her dad Mike said. “He loved them. Roscoe was always very gentle and calm when she was there.”
Reagan would also make handcrafted items and sell them and donate the proceeds towards Roscoe’s care.
“He brought Reagan a lot of joy,” her dad said.
Italian Mastiffs comprise an ancient breed tracing roots back more than 2,000 years. They were specifically bred to serve as guard dogs during the Roman Empire, according to Wikipedia. Even though he was not in the best of health, his breeding showed through the pain.
“He was true to the breed,” Muller said. “He was a guard dog and he was protective. People loved him and he loved people. Roscoe became a big part (of the Humane Society’s efforts).”
Unfortunately, Roscoe’s failing body did not match the resiliency of his spirit. His aches and pains grew worse and his mobility became more and more impaired. When it got to the point that Roscoe could barely lift his head without pain and could no longer get up to relieve himself, the decision to euthanize was reluctantly but compassionately made.
Things were out of sorts at the Humane Society in the immediate weeks and months following Roscoe’s death, Muller said.
“Nothing seemed right. I kept expecting to see him if I went into ‘his’ shed. People would come in and ask ‘where’s that big gray dog?’ ”
At the dedication of Roscoe’s bench, the Humane Society staff spoke fondly of the pooch and honored Reagan and Gene for their tireless devotion toward him. Executive Director Bill Hollingsworth spoke about Roscoe and Muller gave a moving talk about their special relationship.
Clearly, Roscoe was a dog who made a positive difference in the world, and was publicly recognized for it. How many humans can make the same claim?
For more information regarding the Humane Society of Ocean City, please visit: http://hsocnj.org