The Big Bark


Carl Rollyson


She had a vocal range of four octaves and could have been an opera star. She had the glamour of Garbo, and a movie star's mystique as well. She ruled with decisiveness and accepted accolades as her due. She would have been comfortable on a throne and had the voice of command. She stood on our screened-in porch, watched the doves congregate, and then gave them THE BIG BARK, scattering the interlopers in her domain. She was Watson, inscrutable in all her doggyness, and indomitable. She died on Thursday, September 13,  a few months shy of her fourteenth birthday, and the world will never be the same.

It may seem a little odd to call a female Scottie Watson, but we already had a male, Mr. Holmes, awaiting her when she arrived. I say “Mr.” because that is what we had to call him. Like his namesake, he was rather aloof and dignified, an alpha dog, who never took food from us without a comprehensive sniff. Even as a puppy, he took the high ground—or rather the high shelf on a planter stand—and lorded over Watson, who took her revenge by biting his tail, which looped down invitingly over the shelf. While Mr. Holmes would nod or clear his throat when he wanted to go outside and do his business, Watson bellowed. She was the only dog I’ve ever heard who could actually pronounce bow-wow.

After her playful puppy days were over, Watson assumed her full regal bearing. Like Mr. Holmes, she liked to be left alone. Too much human contact, she seemed to intimate, was not good for any dog—let alone a beastie of her quality.  Her realm included our entire street. Woe to any dog, human being, or vehicle that drove by. They were driven off by THE BIG BARK.

When Mr. Holmes died almost two years ago, we thought Watson would be inconsolable. He had been the only one in the household—in the world really—who was her equal and, in some ways, her superior. She spent an afternoon with her head resting on his lifeless rump, saying her goodbye, and then got up and resumed her responsibilities. She had a 2000-square-foot house to patrol and a neighborhood to govern.

Even when cancer took one of her toes and she found walking difficult, she surmounted her disability by perching in a dog carriage we pushed down the street. Even if no one was about to observe her progress, she still turned her head from side to side in satisfying silence. Only on her last day did she evince agitation, trying to dig her way out of a life-denying predicament. But then she settled down and departed to join her consort in a kingdom we can only imagine as entirely and irrevocably their own.


Carl Rollyson is Professor of Journalism at Baruch College, The City University of New York. He reviews biographies regularly for The Wall Street Journal, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and other newspapers and periodicals. Carl is the author of a dozen biographies, including Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, Rebecca West: A Modern Sibyl, and with his wife, Lisa Paddock, Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon. His studies of biography include: A Higher Form of Cannibalism: Adventures in the Art and Politics of Biography and Biography: A User's Guide. More about Carl and his work can be found at his website. His Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews is now out and American Isis: The Life and Death of Sylvia Plath in the spring of 2013. He is currently writing a biography of Amy Lowell. When not writing, he is playing with his one Scottie. Contact Carl.



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