No, I'm not referring to ARCO Gasoline, but that is the correct namesake. I'm talking about Arco, a Doberman pinscher with whom I grew up and spent a great many years.
We adopted Arco when she was but a pup, young, energetic, and full of vigor and vitality. As is true of all female Dobermans when they are young, she adopted us kids and made us her family. She was willing to protect us at all costs. She could be so fierce when necessary, but never was she fierce with us — unless one considers the ferocity with which she loved to play, especially with us kids, always careful yet boisterous enough to be wildly fun.
As feeling safe goes, my siblings and I could never have felt safer than when we were with Arco. We knew she would give her life for us. We were, after all, her kids. We watched many times as she cornered friends and family alike, and even the occasional stranger. We also watched as she would immediately be put to ease when we said it was OK. But even in those times of OK-ness, she always kept her eyes on visitors, regardless of who they were, and was ready to pounce if she thought we were in trouble. More than a few uncles learned this the hard way when they would roughhouse with us and suddenly find themselves on the wrong side of a very protective Doberman. It took only a single reassurance that things were indeed alright for Arco to once again be at ease. But she still watched.
There was a time one afternoon when my stepsister Michelle had forgotten her keys and was unable to get into the house. While one would assume she knew better with Arco in the house, Michelle decided she would try to get in via other means — in this case, a back window. This was not one of the best ideas she had ever had. Arco was not very familiar with my stepsister (or any of our stepsiblings for that matter), but she did know that protecting our home was a primary responsibility of hers. You may safely assume Michelle never made it into the house that day. This was evidenced by damage Arco did to the wall and windowsill, both scratched and gnawed with true protective fervor.
Arco was a very well-behaved dog and an upstanding member of the family. She knew the rules of the house and followed them religiously. That doesn't mean she didn't learn to get around them when and where necessary, but she never outright broke them. That included the rule about not getting on the furniture. My dad had a rather exacting view of this: pets should always have at least two feet on the floor and never be fully upon the furniture. This was a rule Arco could follow, but, as a member of the family, she also felt it was her entitlement to sit with the rest of the family as civilized folk do. And she did just that.
She learned at a very early age that she could sit on the furniture just as a person could (and she very much thought she was a person). She would back up to the seat in question, slide her ass up on the furniture until her back legs were dangling off like a child's, but would leave her front feet resting firmly on the ground. From time to time, she would get lost in the moment and would find herself with only one paw on the floor, but a quick reminder would bring her back to reality and cause that second paw to find its way back to its appropriate place. She could sit comfortably like that, to the amusement of all.
Arco is long since gone from this world, having lived a full life. She grew old in her happiness, enjoyed canine pleasures both rich and rare, and remained a loyal and loving member of the family throughout her time with us. But, as is the case with all pets, they grow old before our eyes and are gone from this world far too quickly. As I've said before:
We as humans accept the fact that we will outlive almost all of our pets. Our lifespan is longer than theirs and we understand from the beginning that we'll see them grow from babies into adulthood and eventually into death. It's a measure of a person's character when they can go through that and still have enough love and affection for animals to do it again and again.
That's a very young me playing with Arco (the puppy) while Fritz looks on. Fritz was the boss of the house, a dachshund who was much bigger in heart and mind than his physical size revealed. (The picture is about 30 years old, so forgive the poor quality.)
That's me playing with a slightly older and bigger Arco. Even I have to ask what kind of a fashion statement I was making at that age. Remember this is in the mid 1970s, so perhaps you'll forgive me for those pants.
This is Arco standing at attention. Based solely on that look I am apt to assume that the person sitting in the chair in front of her is eating something — and Arco believes the goodies should be shared.
Editor's note: At the time I did not realize that the cropped ears and tail were insufferable for her. This barbaric practice was common with Dobermans in that day. (I suspect it still is even today with less civilized people.) Please do not assume that this picture represents an endorsement of such mutilations. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Much older in this picture (note the gray around her snout), this is Arco sitting on the back porch of my parents’ old house.
I had put together an ad hoc pallet in the living room so I could rest comfortably while watching television. Arco joined me, under the covers and head on the pillow. Even at this age she was still a big baby and thought of herself as just another person.