What Rocco Taught Me

The passing of K9 Officer Rocco changed PittGirl's perspective on animals.


I’m not someone you would call an animal lover. I’m more of an animal tolerator. Sure, you could put me in the “dog-person” slice of the pie chart if you were making one. I think hedgehogs are adorable, and I wouldn’t kick a teacup pig out of my path. But animals in general aren’t on my list of loves. (That list contains Nutella, autumn, David Conrad and life-affirming, spirit-cleansing caffeine.)

I don’t like cats, and they don’t like me. I know this because they try to scratch my heart out of my chest when they sense I’ve entered a room. Sometimes I hear them scream, “KAMIKAZE!” as they fly through the air.

Birds might as well be adorned with the mark of the Beast, for they certainly possess no qualities that I find endearing. Did you hear about the wild turkey that this winter attacked patrons of an Eighty-Four, Pa., gas station because they gave off a whiff of fear?

Why, you ask? Because fear is bird chum.

And the pigeons — which we should completely separate from birds because they are vermin — are the Johnny Lawrence to my Daniel LaRusso in the movie of my life. I’m pretty sure Satan is the one exhorting them to “sweep the leg.”

My point is that I’m generally wary of nonhumans. I don’t trust that they won’t suddenly obey the primal voices in their heads telling them to “get her.” I won’t turn my back on a ferret, and I’m not sure I would trust a “docile” house rabbit not to sink its chompers in my ankle flesh at first chance.

Don’t even get me started on PETA, lest I find my lawn littered with a swath of naked protesters holding thrashing kamikaze cats.

This broad distrust of the animal kingdom means I place a much higher value on the life of a human over that of an animal. I donate to charities that help people, and I’ve often looked a bit judgingly on those who chose to donate chunks of cash to animal organizations when they could put those same dollars toward aiding their fellow humans.

Then Rocco died.

Rather, Pittsburgh K-9 Officer Rocco was slain in the line of duty. In front of his partner. By a knife-wielding assailant they had attempted to bring in with an arrest warrant.

Rocco was killed doing what he had been trained to do — protect his human from harm. I wasn’t there. None of us were. But I’d bet my bottom dollar that Rocco didn’t hesitate. He charged. He attacked. He went for the man with the weapon.

He took the knife blade into his body so that his human did not. His blood was shed, and his life willingly was given so that his partner could go home to his family physically whole, albeit emotionally broken.

As for me, I never sob at anything — including sad TV scenes and depressing movies — and my husband will tell you that. Yet I’m crying as I type this. Not only did Rocco show that animals can be viewed as legitimate heroes, but he also showed me that animals are worthy of our charitable hearts and dollars.

Perhaps I’ll continue to choose humans over animals when it comes to philanthropy, but I’ll stop wondering why some choose the opposite. It’s not for any of us to judge, and Rocco taught me that. Maybe he taught you that. Maybe he’ll teach others that.

He was a true hero with a well-deserved police badge. His passing will ripple in many directions for a long time. Because of that, his death never will have been in vain — we won’t let it be.

I still hate cats and birds. And I still roll my eyes at PETA’s insistence on protecting the house fly — which, by the way, I kill with an electric bug-zapping racket because I like the frying sound.

But this girl is Team Rocco all the way. 

■ Donations can be made online at community.pittsburghfoundation.org/rocco.

Categories: From the Magazine, Hot Reads, PittGirl