Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Dog's Obituary

During my career I have written thousands of newspaper articles, but I don't remember as much feedback about any of them as the obituary I wrote for Rascal, a dog in Covington whose main claim to fame was a starring role as "Sandy" in a 1996 Playmakers Inc. production of the musical "Annie." 

The canine celebrity really became a favorite of the Playmakers cast and crew, as well as the community theater audience, when night after night, performance after performance, Rascal hit the mark and did her part. When she died a few months later, it was a sad event for the many who had worked with her and the many who had enjoyed her stage performance.

Here is the text from the article:

Annie's Dog Rascal Dies
An Article by Ron Barthet

Rascal took one last bow, the spotlight dimmed, and the final curtain fell. The canine star of last year's Playmakers' production of "Annie" died this week after a long illness at the age of eight years.

The pet of the Russell Burck family of Covington, the sand-colored curly-haired dog had portrayed "Sandy," the canine companion of Little Orphan Annie, so well in her first stage outing that memories of the production still linger in the minds of many of the cast, crew and spectators.

As a puppy, Rascal was rescued from downtown Covington traffic by a kindly woman, who then gave the mostly Airedale pup to her neighbors, the Burcks. The dog, long a favorite neighborhood character, finally rose to the level of legend in the local amateur theater circles, a remarkable feat for someone with a non-speaking part.

The news of her death last week saddened many, including Randy and Lynn Perkins, directors for the production. "I was so broken up when Russell told me," Lynn said. "I loved Rascal." She especially felt bad for Russell, who was so attached to the dog.

"I didn't think Lynn was going to burst in to tears when I told her," Russell said later.

Perkins remembers how Rascal seemed to enjoy the attention and the challenge of the play. She told how Russell taught the dog how to bow on stage, a highlight of each per­formance.Russell recalls how he would drive up to the theater each night for rehearsals, and Rascal would jump out of his car, run up to the front door, and eagerly await someone to open it so she could run in and join that night's activities.

Ray Perer, one of Annie's cast members,felt that Rascal was quite realistic in the role of Sandy. "The cast loved him,and there was a strong bond between him and those in the play."

Before becoming a theatrical discovery, Rascal was pretty content to be the laid-back pet of the Burcks. She would sometimes accompany Russell to the Courthouse Cafe, and he would tie her leash to the bench out­side on the sidewalk while he went in for coffee.Most of the time she would lie quietly on the sidewalk, enjoying the pats on the head from passersby; sometimes she would slip out of the leash and sit under a car or, once in a while, out in the middle of the street.

The Perkins first discovered Rascal sitting in front of the cafe when they were driving down the street, and Lynn began crying out that they had found the dog they needed to play Sandy in the production. Randy stopped their van, and Lynn ran up to Rascal, made friends quickly, then ventured inside the cafe to find the dog's owner. In response to her query about who owned the dog, Russell said, "Why? Did she bite someone?"

When Lynn told him she wanted the dog to act in her play, his facial expression ranged from inquisitive to amused to bewildered, she said. Having been involved in a Playmakers production many years ago, Russell eventually agreed, even though Rascal had no training. 

The commitment to cast Rascal was one in which her owner had to agree to three months of rehearsals, taking her back and forth to the theater in the evening, with 100 children also in the rehearsals.

When Rascal started putting on weight during rehearsals, they realized the children were all giving her special treats. That's when; Lynn put out the edict, nobody gives Rascal treats unless it's on stage for a purpose, to reward the dog for doing just the right thing.

"Rascal became everyone's favorite," Lynn recalls. "She was sweet and lovable and had the patience of a saint, as every child, took turns walking her and pulling on her rope leash. "Her big moment every performance was when she had to cross the entire stage by herself, looking for Annie, no leash and literally hundreds of distractions. Anything could happen!

"We held our breath every night, but every night, right on cue, Rascal would cross in a spotlight to Russell waiting behind a stage curtain. It was beautiful!" Perkins stated. "The audience cheered and applauded! She brought down the house."

The first time Rascal bowed at the final curtain call, Lynn, laughed until she cried. As the cast and audience sang "Tomorrow,"" Annie and Rascal took center stage, where, complete with her red Christmas bow, Rascal extended her front paws and bowed as gracefully as anyone could please.

Special recognition went to Russell and Rascal at the Playmakers annual Alvin Awards presentation, and the canine even signed the specially produced display poster with her own paw print.

"Rascal entertained us and made us laugh and sing," Perkins concluded. "She inspired Randy and I, as we watched her perform night after night, with dedication and intelligence. We depended on her and she knew it. She never let us down. We are forever grateful to Russell and his family for sharing her with us."

But this Rascal was aptly named, for she wasn't a saint. She could dig up flower beds with the best of 'em, and once tore off some siding from a neighbor's house. "She did with bare teeth and claws what I had to strain to do with a crow bar," Russell recalls when he tells about replacing the torn off pieces of siding.

Strain Veterinary Clinic was wonderful at the end, he said regarding her final moments. He remembered how the doctors there had rescued her from a severe illness about a year and a half ago. "They brought her back from the brink of death," he said.

So, move over Sirius. There's a new dog star in the heavens. Rascal's tomorrow is now forever.

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