It is atypical, to say the least, for The Blade to report on the lives of Blade employees. So I want to explain how I came to write about night city editor Mike Bartell and his dog Rudi in today s paper.
A couple of weeks ago, Mike directed my attention to a story about dog DNA testing, telling me he just had his new puppy tested. I had read a story about these tests in the Los Angeles Times a couple days earlier, but it hadn t dawned on me to write about it. Mike suggested I do so. I pitched the story to City Editor Kim Bates, a dog-lover among dog-lovers. No surprise: She loved it.
I started making calls. Lots of calls. As it turned out, many of those calls were to a woman named Theresa Brady, who handles media inquiries for MetaMorphix Inc., one of the two breed testing companies, and the only one that had been in the breed-testing business for awhile. I wanted to find someone in our readership area who had their dog tested. I ll take anyone in 419 I told her. I d also take anyone from a broad swath of 734.
She came up empty. No one in our area had test results yet, she found. So I widened my search to anybody in Ohio and Michigan. And I got a few. But I still wasn t satisfied. As much as Lois Minton from Cincinnati had a good story to tell, I hated to lead my story with someone from the other end of the state.
I called Theresa again, telling her this time I ll take anyone at all from this region, whether they ve gotten their test results back or not.
A couple of hours later she called back with her only nominee: Mike Bartell.
Actually, I was happy it was Mike.
A lot of us at the Blade have watched a little drama unfold with Mike Bartell.
First, let me tell you about him: He s a big guy. Six-foot-four or something, with a growl of a voice, and space between his front teeth that heightens just a bit the junk-yard-dog reputation that he has among young reporters. I won t sugar coat this: He scares some. I came to the Blade with 20 years experience, and Mike has always been pleasant to me. But I ve heard the stories.
A month or two ago I heard a conversation from the center of the newsroom where Kim and Mary-Beth McLaughlin, the day assistant city editor, sit. Mike wasn t coming into work. His beloved dog, Rudy, had died. He was torn apart. A mess.
Throughout the day I heard whispers about Mike, and I admit that I was affected by the idea of this big, tough guy s grief. I m a dog lover myself. I understand how this happens. But this was Mike. Mean Mike.
Last week Thursday I sat down with Mike on his back deck while Rudi tried to chew my watch band off, then worked on my shoe laces, then tried my arm for awhile, then sampled a pant leg.
Don t bite, Mike warned his puppy gently. Rudi minded for a moment, and then forgot, demonstrating the scientifically accepted puppy picosecond attention span.
Just inside from where we sat were a series of framed professional photographs of the first Rudy. This was a handsome German shepherd, about as perfect an animal as you d want to see if it wasn t for the autoimmune disease he carried in his genes, a disease found in German shepherds.
A stuffed toy German shepherd slumped on a living room chair. On the dining room wall was a plate with a German shepherd s picture. There was a German shepherd statue also in the dining room, about half the size of a real dog. Everywhere I looked were marks of Mike s affection for the dog he lost.
Getting a new dog after a beloved pet dies is a tough thing. You know there s no replacing the original. You feel guilty, unfaithful, for looking at other dogs. You look at the new dog and wonder if he ll ever be as smart or as funny or as lovable as the old dog was. But Mike missed his companion, and that over-rode his worries.
I was just terribly lonely. I mean, I really missed him, Mike said. I was working in the yard that s when I really missed Rudy. I was cutting the grass and I looked where he would normally be. He wasn t there. It was horrible.
Everyone in the newsroom knew the story of Rudi II s adoption. This was kid-on-Christmas-morning territory. Set aside some time to listen before you ask.
Mike had found the pup online, intrigued by the fact that it was named Rudi, like his last dog, but with an i.
I was like, oh no no no no. He was just too cute.
No cute Rudi-with-an-i for Mike. He would look elsewhere.
Soon after, he and a friend, Ereck Wheeler, visited a couple of pet adoption events on a Saturday. At the second one, Ereck ran over to Mike and announced, You wouldn t believe it. They have a dog named Rudi here! Mike went with Ereck to investigate. There was the butterfly-eared Rudi from the Internet.
Skeptic that I am, I confess how heavy the feeling of fate is in this encounter. Surely it was meant to be, right? Mike just smiles.
He has this great new dog. I m pretty sure he doesn t care if Rudi turns out to be part daschund and part porcupine. That s how dogs are: They find a place in your heart and move in. You remodel accordingly.
I ll never look at Mike Bartell the same way again. His toughness is trumped by his tenderness. I intend to tell new reporters about what a softy Mike really is. It will be my gift to them. And Rudi s gift them. And Rudy s gift to them.