Wag More, Bark Less


Fog has softened the sage-colored live oaks in the backyard to a slight purplish tone as they fade into the distance, where the view of the mountain is nothing more than a white cloud.

Toasty reddish-brown is the color of the field of weeds, which is blending into the foggy purple background, while the trunks of the trees are barely visible.

A pattern of sound, “dat dat dat dat dat dat dat dat dat,” quietly sets the mood as the sprinkles strike the tin roof of the porch, which is about 120 feet long and 12 feet wide. The entire front and back of the house is a giant covered porch.

My Dream House

I can remember being about 15 when I started working on my dream house plans in my mind. One day, I thought, it would be cool to have a big wide porch that wraps around the entire house, with a tin roof, so I can sit safe and dry during rainstorms.

As children we would play in our two-car garage and open the door during storms to see the rain coming down, watch the lightning, and hear the rumbling thunder — we used to say, “God is bowling again.” A smile comes to my face as I think about that time — some memorable moments in that little brown house at 5311 Indiana Avenue in Fort Wayne. We moved there when I was about 2 and stayed there until I was a junior in high school.

My Own Personal Zoo

That little garage raised chickens for a science fair project my brother did, we raised a mountain lion cub there until we had to donate it to the local zoo, and it was home to my dog Pepper, who I got from a litter at my grandmother’s sister’s house in Tennessee. When we first got Pepper he wasn’t allowed in the house, so he lived in the garage at night and would howl endlessly. My dad, who’d insisted Pepper was to live in the garage and that it would be warm enough, was the one to let him in the house on the first cold night. “Just for tonight,” he said, but Pepper owned the house from that point forward, and all slippers and couches became his chew toys.

As I write this, my eyes tear up because I’ve squashed the feelings of losing my first dog, my first best friend. One day we were all playing basketball in the driveway. Pepper was jumping to get the ball as my brothers and I passed it, but he had one bad habit we were unable to break. He loved to chase cars.

The Roar of a Sports Car

As we played, a sports car with a loud muffler went by, and as I flash back, I think he slowed as he passed our driveway, and then zoomed off with Pepper chasing and barking. Then he slammed on his brakes so Pepper was in front of him, swerved over, and ran him down.

Pepper picked himself off the pavement, staggered painfully over to us, and died in our arms.

I cried for months and remember being in school and trying to hold back the tears, much as I’m doing now.


This was premeditated murder. My brother hopped in his car, chased the car down, and saw it was a neighbor boy who lived way down at the end of the street. He just laughed and said he was tired of the dog chasing his car, so he decided to teach him a lesson. This boy’s parents owned a local cemetery, and I always wondered how someone could intentionally take the life of an animal like that, then laugh about it.

Maybe he’d become desensitized, or it was a basic lack of respect for life, or maybe he was just a spoiled brat who had a lot of issues. In any case, none of us were ever really the same after that day. A harsh reality of life was brought to light by this kid’s evil deed.

That was our last family dog. We simply could not endure the pain of losing another. And it was not until many years later, when Laurie and I got married, that I had a dog in my household, when we got two, Pooter and Leo. We’ve not replaced them, again because the pain of losing them is too great. I remember crawling inside a smelly cage at the vet and holding Leo for his final hours, and lying with Pooter, who lived to be 17, when he finally passed.

Comforting the Pain

Those who don’t have or never had pets often don’t realize how attached we get. When I see notices of passing pets on Facebook, I always try to reach out to comfort people because I’ve lived the same pain.

The kids have been pushing for another dog, something they want desperately. I wrote about it once before. But with college looming in two years, and the promise of more travel as the birds fly the nest, we’ve been resisting.

The Fine Art of Dogs

Maybe dogs are on my mind because this week artist Joanne Mangi stayed with us in the world famous artists’ cabin, where artists stay when they visit to shoot videos. She painted an amazing fine art portrait of my assistant Ali’s dog, Sam, for an upcoming pet portrait video. Joanne has six dogs, something I envy. What I love about her dog portraits is that they are fine paintings, like a fine portrait, that you would be willing to hang in your home. Nothing cheesy (no dogs playing cards).

Focus on the Good Times

It would be better to focus on all the times I laughed as a kid as I played with my dog, as he walked with me through the park, waiting for me to throw the ball. Though avoiding pain is a good reason to not get another, the joys of life with a canine friend can outweigh the tough moments when we have to say goodbye. Our pets lift our souls, stay at our side, rely on us to care for them, and show they’re happy to see us when others don’t.

What is that saying you see on bumper stickers? Wag more, bark less?

Wouldn’t it be great if you and I could be more like our dogs? Always happy to see others and expressing it. Enduring loyalty no matter how they are treated and complete, unconditional love.

That’s my mission for today. I’m going to wag more, bark less, encourage more, play more, and let those around me know that I’m endlessly loyal. What about you?


  1. Cate Kauffman December 10, 2017 at 4:38 am - Reply

    My husband and I recently lost our beloved dog, Macha. She was a Chowchow mix of some sort and lived to be 17 years old. She had been deaf for a couple of years and stopped barking, we think, because she could no longer hear herself talk. What was the point? She also had cataracts and you could see her nervousness about people walking towards her from a distance, until she got close enough to catch a little whiff. Her nose was her lifeline. It told her everything she ever needed to know. The crippling pain of arthritis was what finally convinced us that is was time to release her from it. We are grateful that we had the option to allow her to slip away peacefully. The vet allowed me to stay with her and she relaxed and closed her eyes and all of the tension left her body with the first shot. Oh, that she could just remain in that state of being pain free. I felt badly because it had been at least a year that our poor Macha had suffered because no pain med helped for she could not keep them down.. So, after that first relaxing shot, I knew she had to be released and so the second shot slowed her heart until it stopped. It was a good passing. But my husband, who was unable to attend her passing because it was too painful for him, is now facing the even greater struggle of his mother’s impending death from Parkinson’s. Earlier this year, I lost my father to Alzheimer’s. And yes, I have come to wish that there was a way to release all of our loved ones from their ongoing enduring and crippling pain… even if it is only at the very end when their lungs struggle to draw breath for weeks on end. We are kinder to our pets. Will we get another dog? We have two cats who fill some of the void and we do want to travel more, so for now, the answer is “not now”.

  2. Ruth P Weiss December 10, 2017 at 4:48 am - Reply

    Dear Eric,

    Until today, I never thougth of the word selfish when I think of you. Generous, kind, caring, expansive,wagging a lot barking only when you shout out “NO DRAMA”. But with your “wag don’t bark” column today, selfish comes to mind when you denied your triplets the dog that they yearned for. I understand that the reason was your own pain at losing your beloved pets, but loss is part of life and the 17 or 14 or 12 or 5 years of enjoying a pet (I’m a dog person myself) far outweighs the loss when it dies. I’m 76 and our current cairn terrier, Fiona, is 10. She’ll probably die when she’s 14 or 15 or if we’re lucky 17, and by that time I’ll probably be in my 80s. But I can’t imagine my life without the wag and occasional bark. So Gene and I will get another dog if one our daughters (each of whom has a dog—Samoyed, Mutt, GoldenDoodle) promises to care for our dog when we can not longer do it or die. You certainly do travel a lot, and I’m sure that you and Laurie are planning on galavanting all over when the kids are in college….but there are dog sitters and boarding places.

    Wag, Wag, Wag,

  3. Janet R Thompson December 10, 2017 at 4:53 am - Reply

    Once again, Eric, you have written a great Sunday morning piece. I am sitting here in my little winter house in AZ looking at my 11yr old lab, Sadie, who is running dreamily on our leather couch. Then I remember we just lost her companion, Pearl, a great chubby, black Lab. but really, it was last June and seems like yesterday. As does losing Winnie our other chocolate Lab-that was 10 yrs ago and the tears come anyway…we will get more dogs, even tho I am 73 now; they just add something to our lives that is almost magical. They keep us moving anyway. Sadie accompanies me each day to my studio, curls up and sighs, “at last I can rest while she paints!” Thank you so much for these little Sunday letters.
    Today we wag,
    Janet Thompson

  4. Connie Burnett-Ferraro December 10, 2017 at 5:00 am - Reply

    Dear Eric,
    I look forward every Sunday for your Sunday Coffee!!! I so enjoyed today’s post…I’ve always been an animal lover…..German Shepherds especially, and now I have a cat, “Mr. Pumpkin”. He brings so much joy in my life.
    Your posts are so uplifting and you have such a big heart, Thank you for you!!!!

  5. Laura LL Bybee December 10, 2017 at 5:02 am - Reply

    Ah-ha, Fort Wayne kid! I was a teenager on West Leith, just a couple miles from you. And the Rialto Theater was still open—I know, because I actually sold tickets in the stone “box.”

    I am so sorry for your loss, and know how it never feels okay. We don’t want to replace our old Boston terrier, who died last month. But know that (although you might inherit and end up caring for your college-bound kids’ dog, as we did), denying experiences just because they will ultimately become painful might not be your best course of action. Wag…

  6. Christina December 10, 2017 at 5:04 am - Reply

    Sooo true — made me cry. And yes it is good to have a zoo. We have 1 1/2 dogs and 2 cats

  7. Marsha Hamby Savage December 10, 2017 at 5:10 am - Reply

    Hi Eric, this especially hit home with me this morning since the Atlanta GA area received quite a bit of snow the last two days. We received 10 inches here in Smyrna GA. The last time was 2014 and my beautiful cat, “Buddy,” went out that evening and never returned. I know we have coyotes and assume that is what happened in the quite of the snow. On Friday when it was snowing wildly here, we looked out the bedroom window and there was a very healthy coyote. A horrible reminder, even though my granddaughter and I had fun playing in the snow when I picked her up at early release from high school. Hubby and I have been discussing (or I have) it is maybe time for a new kitty, but a rescue from someone older that had to give it up to enter a nursing home. I plan to rescue (which Buddy was) and love one that can’t understand why their “person” is no longer there.

    And, I have been making it also a commitment to smile and talk to people to brighten their day and let them know someone sees them and respects them. We walk by people, sit next to strangers, etc. and don’t engage. Not any more! We spoke to a Hispanic couple last evening while sitting in the emergency room (took my Mom due to dizzy and fainting – she’s 87). They smiled and enjoyed the conversation. Mom came home, no hospital stay … so glad. But we made someone’s few minutes better just by acting like they were worth our time! Love your sentiments also… keep staying this course and we can start that movement!

  8. Johanna Russelle December 10, 2017 at 5:13 am - Reply

    Good Morning from Canada Eric………..I must tell you that I so look forward to reading your ‘Sunday Coffee’ stories. They make me realize how much we are all the same because so many of your stories are ones that I could have written about my own life. I just recently lost my Great Pyrenees and have lost many other dogs over the years and no matter how many times you go through it, it hurts every single time.

  9. Nancy Yu December 10, 2017 at 5:50 am - Reply

    I have just finished hospice with my beloved feline best friend. Your post is very timely. You get it. Thanks.

  10. Patricia Bachhuber December 10, 2017 at 6:00 am - Reply

    Eric, I remember every pet that I’ve lost in my 65 years vividly; I could write with beautiful descriptons that evoked feeling almost as well as you do if I described them. Even the cats had unconditional love in their own unique ways. I have to choose my moments to think of them because I loved them so dearly and it still hurts, BUT, there is always another one that needs me. Unlike our human losses, we can put another little being in our physical world that will love us in his or her own way and it will touch our souls, guaranteed. They are the gifts of creation that we can keep getting. I have seen shelter dogs that outlived owners and it is the saddest thing but it becomes a beautiful thing because they are ready and needing to love again. We can learn from them that love doesn’t die and objects of love can be added to not just transferred to so that the best in life can keep going on.
    Get 2 dogs or cats instead of one, get a pet sitter when you travel and make the triplets wish come true. A shelter near you is ready to fill your order, I am certain! Recycled pets are so wonderful and think of the laughter and love and purpose that you will add to your family’s life.

  11. Vimala Arunachalam December 10, 2017 at 6:05 am - Reply

    Thanks for the encouraging article.

  12. Nancy December 10, 2017 at 6:33 am - Reply

    Looking at the end of the bed a small fur covered head lifts up to check on me as he hears me catch my breath as tears fill my eyes upon finishing your post. When there is no other choice he stays at the Wagmore Pet Resort when I am gone. Thank you for a beautiful post.

  13. Terry DeFrates December 10, 2017 at 6:52 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing the Sunday Coffee with us. I find myself looking forward to this e-mail each week.

  14. Kathryn Donatelli December 10, 2017 at 7:00 am - Reply

    Please keep sending me Sunday Coffee. Very well written and memorable. Fine Art Connoisseur is my favorite magazine. Keeps me informed of what is going on in the fine art world. Thank you Eric Rhoads

  15. Kathryn Donatelli December 10, 2017 at 7:04 am - Reply

    Please keep sending Sunday Coffee to my inbox. Very well written and memorable. Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine is my favorite. The publication keeps me informed of all of the best artists and shows in the fine art world.

  16. Phyllis Lewandoski December 10, 2017 at 7:07 am - Reply

    Your email is how I start every Sunday morning. I share many of them with friends and Family. I live in Ventura California and it has been a week that there are no words to express due to the fires here. We are all safe and truly that is the best gift of all. I was evacuated one of the days and my dog was by my side throughout the ordeal.

  17. Ron Donoughe December 10, 2017 at 7:34 am - Reply

    Eric, I had similar experiences as a youngster. One of our dogs was violently killed by a neighbor’s dog in front of us, then a couple years later our other dog was run down by a neighbor who was speeding down the highway. The impact left emotional scars on us. Just recently my twin brother got a dog, but it took 40 years to get the nerve to have another. Two nights ago my partner’s cat was found in a neighbor’s pool, frozen to death. So even though I’ve never written or responded to your column, which I read every Sunday morning, this touched me very deeply, as I’m sure it touched many others.

    BTY,Thanks for featuring my work in the Oct issue of FAC. And thanks for the thoughtful Sunday morning coffee.

  18. Joan Vines December 10, 2017 at 9:13 am - Reply

    Thank you Eric for your once again touching my heart with your writings. I have two dogs that totally have my heart and run of our house. Small breeds but larger than life with love and loyalty to us. I always said that everyone should have a dog at sometimes in their life because they do show and teach patience and love unconditionally. I have over my life lost several pets and I too know that the pain is very real. My heart breaks when I read of one passing away. I enjoy your Sunday morning coffee writings they make me relax no matter what is going around me. They have that calming affect on me and I can just picture in my mind and travel to the places you describe. Your home sounds lovely, we have a long front porch that makes us really lazy at times but has caused us to relax more and share stories with friends and family. I am a reflector as well on times past when we were children and the simplicity of life and at times wish I could go back. Mostly as with you I look at the precious things and people in my life that has made me the person I am today. No I don’t have what some people would consider huge great accomplishments but my family and the love we have for each other and our friends well that in itself is the best accomplishment. So thank you for taking the time to encourage and write words that cause us to stop and think of the important things in this life. God bless you and Merry Christmas to you and your family. A new year of painting more and more is my dream and I’m gonna make it happen.

  19. Debra F Wilke December 10, 2017 at 9:19 am - Reply

    Very touched by your story today Eric.

    Kind Regards,

  20. Liz Damelio December 10, 2017 at 10:09 am - Reply

    Dear Eric First of all Merry Christmas! So very sorry for the loss of your dog. I know how painful it is to lose a good friend and the family member it became. I have had many dogs over the years and the first one’s death, especially by accident, is so heartbreaking. But, I will tell you that we have still taken the plunge to risk the pain for all of the love they bring to our home. We have shih tzus, small teddy bear type of dogs with lots of personality. A few of our pets have died naturally, some sadly we had to take down because of extreme illness or pain, but all have been worth every minute of love we have received. We currently have 2 half sisters who are just about a year old. They both have their own personalities and are real clowns. We cant stop smiling whenever we come home and they greet us with wagging tails and what appears to be big smiles. They are a welcome solace to the pains and heartaches of today’s world.and a little more love never hurts! Happy painting!

  21. Adrianne December 10, 2017 at 10:57 am - Reply

    Get a dog. There are pet sitters and pet boarding for when you want to travel. Dogs and cats have shorter lifespans than we do, and the pain of their loss is balanced by the joy of their life with us. And, oh, do I hate that kid who murdered Pepper.

  22. Elgin Cannon December 10, 2017 at 11:02 am - Reply

    Eric, I understand how you feel about having great dogs in our lives and the pain of losing them at the end of their lives. I’ve been at the vets office as they were given the shot that would relieve their suffering and would get close to their ear to tell them what a good dog and friend they were to me. Afterward I bring them home and bury them in the designated pet cemetery with others I’ve had over 20 years where I live here in N. California. Abby, a sweet Terrier mix stayed with me for 14 years and died in my lap last year.. I cry like a baby each time even though I am 66 years old. I now have an 8 year old Golden Retriever (Phoenix) and a 4 year old Chihuahua (Peanut). I figure at some point it will be me and Peanut. So if in your travels you get behind an old man wearing a baseball cap and suspenders driving 20 mph too slow with a Chihuahua hanging out the window, it may be me. We met at the 2015 Plein Aire Convention. Thanks for all you do for artists.

  23. Mark Dickinson December 10, 2017 at 12:49 pm - Reply

    Always love your Sunday emails. I miss my dog Dopy. I know… dopy is a strange name for a dog, but when I was very little I couldn’t pronounce doggy, but dopy. LOL. Blessings to you.

  24. Patti December 10, 2017 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    Beautifully written. Made me go hug our 8 lb Gracie who was in a puppy mill for 5 years. She knows she was rescued and shows me daily. Short life span or not, go get one Eric! Or two. Or three!

  25. mary brady December 10, 2017 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    I think you should just get another dog–but you know best, of course. I definitely understand the problem of traveling when one has dogs.
    Still, I’ve always had a pair of Rottweilers (one boy, one girl) for the past 25+ years. For me, the best way to get through the sadness of their deaths is to bring a new dog into the family. (The remaining dog needs a pal, after all.) My dogs have given me immense joy & a new understanding of what ‘life’ means. ALL dogs are ‘therapy dogs’ in my opinion. Thanks for writing about how important they’ve been in your
    life. L&K, MaryB

  26. Linda Rupard December 10, 2017 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    How sad that someone would kill a family member like that. Just wondering if that person turned out to be a killer of people too? Happens with many killers or criminals , killing animals then people. Sorry for you loss.

  27. chammi kaiser December 11, 2017 at 7:15 am - Reply

    There is , in my mind, no greater privilege than having a dog in one’s life. There are moments of sheer joy, lots of laughter at the antics he or she gets up to, frustration when she (in my case, a small exhausting Jack Russel Terrier) chews up your tax returns and of course the dreadful sense of loss and pain when your beloved pet dies. It has taken me several years to come to terms with losing Muffin but one day there was a real breakthrough in my sadness I began to recall the happiness she brought into our lives. We are not able to chat about the various hikes, cycling and camping trips of which she was an integral part. I am an animal artist , born in South Africa and with a deep love for animals. It took me two years after her death to paint her portrait without tears.

    How sad it is that a young man had no conscience and the act of killing a beautiful animal meant so little to him. His life must be totally void of love and understanding.

    We have not replaced our little dog as we now live in an apartment and a dog deserves a garden. However, we extend our love to dogs who belong to elderly folk and offer to take them for walks.

  28. chammi kaiser December 11, 2017 at 7:16 am - Reply

    Sorry, made a booboo. Should read we are NOW able to chat about the various hikes etc.

  29. suemoritt December 11, 2017 at 10:23 am - Reply

    At the the age of almost 78, I am just learning to wag. I spent 50 years with the same narcissistic man who never allowed me to shine so I picked up and finally left after having a heart transplant and realizing that I had something to live for. So now I can paint and wag at the same time and no one can put me down. As for my dog, she wags along with me.

  30. James December 11, 2017 at 5:19 pm - Reply

    Eric, over my 77 years we have had many dogs and a few cats. I know first hand how devastating and heart breaking it is to give in to that bad thing called death to one of the pets. As you mentioned, they come to us with absolutely no reservations and their only gold is to please their master. At the present, we have 2 little Doxies and believe me , thay rule the house around here. They are primarily house pets and love their blankets and kennels at night. Thank you very much for the wonderful stories you write i enjoy them all.

  31. MARYANN MCNAMARA December 11, 2017 at 7:52 pm - Reply

    Eric, Bless you for your kindness and sensitivity. I sincerely hope that you will get another dog or dogs. I am sure you are aware of the poem, “Rainbow Bridge.” It is not great literature, but it expresses a hope of meeting our canine brothers and sisters in the afterlife. For many reasons, I have decided to believe that we will meet our beloved pets again. My husband and I lost our Boston Terrier, Salvador Dali, 5 years ago, and it still hurts. What helped me get through it was painting a picture of Sal from the one good photograph I had taken of him. Unfortunately, my husband refuses to get another dog because of the pain of losing it. C.S. Lewis said, after experiencing painful loss and all the stages of grief, something to the effect of, “You can’t have the love without the pain.” It is so true of everything–every relationship, even our love affair with art-making. Thanks for your wonderful Sunday column.

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