Ernie the News Hound
By Richard McCord
condensed from Santa Fe Reporter
as printed in Readers Digest December 1990
As fancy dogs go, Ernie wasnít much. In fact, he was once asked to leave a hoity-toity dog show, even though he was well-behaved, because he was so obviously a mutt. He was black, more Labrador retriever than anything else, with white hair on his chest and one foot, and a tail that curved jauntily over his back like a banner. When I rescued the pup from a Santa Fe pound, I thought he would grow to be big, but he never made it past middle size.
What he did turn out to be was an escape artist. Since I didnít have a suitable place to leave him unattended all day, I tried renting someoneís back yard. But Ernie could get over itís six-foot concrete wall any time he wanted to.
So I left him at a friends place, behind a high cyclone fence that had successfully held two Afghan hounds for many months. In no time, Ernie had jumped on top of the doghouse and over the fence. The Afghans, who had never thought of such a thing, quickly followed. After the three dogs were caught, Ernie was not invited back.
Finally, when I became co-publisher of the weekly Santa Fe Reporter in June 1974, I just took him down to the office. This dismayed Rudy Rodriguez, the man who rented us the building. ďThis is no good Dick,Ē he said shaking his head. ďYou canít have dogs running around. Itís not good business.Ē
Maybe Rudy was giving me sound advice. But I didnít follow it, and Ernie became a newspaper dog.
At the Reporter, Ernie enjoyed nothing better than watching the world go by. Like a stone lion outside a big-city public building, he would perch on the flat side walls of the stairs leading to our front door, curiously perusing the steady stream of people, He was glad to seem them all, and most of them were amused to see him.
Inside the building, Ernie loved all phases of the newspaper business. He liked it when VIPís came for meetings, and he would scratch on the door until let in to take part. He reveled in the bustle of our weekly production night, when the paper got pasted up for the printer - and in our early years he even liked it when that night lasted until 4 a.m.
Ernie assisted me in countless job interviews, and his presence told applicants far more about working conditions than my carefully chosen words did. He enjoyed wandering around the building, visiting the folks in advertising, typesetting, and circulation before climbing the stairs to my office. Most of all, he loved the handouts of our frequent office parties.
Because of his friendliness and enthusiasm, Ernie acquired many nicknames. His official name was Ernie Pyle, after the great World War II correspondent, but he answered to several less formal handles as well. Among them were
Ernbee, Ernesto and, my favorite Ernie Old Boy-Old Boy-Old Boy.
Ernie did his best to keep me sane in a crazy job. When we were the only ones still working late at night, he would insist it was time to go home. Yet he was always eager to come back the next day. And when I was worried and scowling at the staff, he would tell me, in his way, that things werenít so bad. He made me laugh.
Thirteen yearsí worth of Reporter staff members became his buddies. Long after they moved on, they would write and ask about him. His vast store of friends was everywhere. The kitchen crew at the El Toro Steakhouse kept him well-supplied with bones, and firemen at the station across the street would share their lunches with him. Every evening my neighbor would drop mounds of dog food over the fence into my yard, where Ernie would wolf it down - right after I had fed him.
Ernie once won a third-place ribbon in obedience class, but he was always his own dog. Just as much as he loved work, he loved to play - in the snow, on the newsroom floor, on the many trips he took with me. When we were together at a forest campground in northern California, he ran away and didnít return for two hours. It wasnít that he didnít know he was supposed to answer my calls; it was just that sometimes he decided not to. I still have the snapshot I took of him right before he high-tailed it; he was gazing wistfully up a little stream. I like to think it is a picture of Ernieís spirit.
When people asked me if I owned Ernie, I was jarred by the question, for I couldnít imagine owning Ernie any more than I could imagine owning a wife or child. The two of us lived together for mutual benefit. Ernie understood that it was his job to make my life as good as he could, and I understood that my job was to do the same for him. We both took our work seriously and labored hard at it. And we did pretty well.
At 15, Ernie still came to work every day and, with a little help, made it upstairs to my office. He never let on that anything was wrong. All through the Reporters grueling holiday schedule that year he never complained. He celebrated Christmas with me and some of his dearest friends. Then two days later he stopped eating.
I took him to the veterinarian, but it was too late. His kidneys were gone, Ernie had only hours to live.
I brought him home and put him on the living room floor in front of the heater, one of his favorite places. I talked to him all through a sad afternoon and evening, and around midnight on New Years Eve he slipped away. A true newspaperman to the end, he met his last deadline.
We buried him on New Yearís Day under a spreading cottonwood tree. We dug the hole nice and deep, and put the year-end issue of the Reporter in there with him. The we gave him to the earth. When our work was done, we toasted his rascal spirit with a bottle of fine champagne.
And I thought once again about something I learned from Ernie late in his life. We were at home, and he was asleep under the kitchen table. I looked down at him, just an old, graying mutt who could no longer run fast or scramble over six-foot walls - and suddenly I realized that as long as he lived, he would never have to do anything else for me. Already he had done enough, many times over, to last all the way through.
That, Ernie Old Boy-Old Boy-Old Boy, was love.