Brown: ‘Puppy Cam’ dog has heart, fur of gold

By Jacob Brown

It’s not unusual for me to use the half of a page my editors grant me each week to rip into… It’s not unusual for me to use the half of a page my editors grant me each week to rip into Pittsburgh City Council’s half-baked plans and mediocre legislative abilities.

And I was about to do the same thing this week. In the midst of financial peril, struggles to keep jobs in the city — and the city government’s constant inability to understand its young constituents — Council decided on Tuesday to officially recognize a dog — Xante, the golden retriever.

In discovering this, it became my hope that Xante would perhaps be nominated to replace Council President Darlene Harris. That would be progress at least.

But unfortunately, we would have no such luck. However, the canine compatriot still deserves plenty of recognition, perhaps even a good ear scratching.

Why? Because he’s going to work — no longer a welfare dog living off the kibble and belly rubs of society.

Raised by Joan Ardisson — who is the assistant to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s publisher and editor in chief, John Robinson Block — Xante has served as the paper’s spokesdog for almost a year, integral in the paper’s “Puppy Cam” video blog series. In that time, he garnered a following with Post-Gazette readers and more than 1,300 friends on Facebook. But Ardisson’s primary purpose in adopting the lab holds much more significance than just commercial popularity.

Xante was bred to be a Seeing Eye dog for the blind and — in what will surely be a bittersweet moment — pretty soon he’ll ship out to Morristown, N.J., to start training for the next phase of his life by lending a pair of eyes to those in need.

I support this wagging creature’s endeavors. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a dog person.

Although more of these columns have been written with a cat on my lap — rubbing itself into my face until I sneeze uncontrollably — than with my late dog, it should be noted that my dog was the size of a small house. Also — and not coincidentally — Nestle, the makers of Purina dog food, took a tumble on the stock market shortly after she passed away early last year.

Having her sit on my lap would have been next to impossible.

But that’s beside the point. Dogs really are man’s best friend.

They wag their tails senselessly, annoy the heck out of you when you’re upset — until you can’t help but feel better — and will even try their best to do simple chores around the house like fetching a beer out of the fridge.

Apparently, this wasn’t always the case. Last week, archaeologists in Jordan discovered the remains of foxes buried with humans from 16,500 years ago, suggesting they used to be the pet of choice.

The next-oldest remains of dogs buried with human counterparts were found to be from 4,000 years later.

Fortunately, man evolving from a Cro-Magnon hunter-gatherer with his faithful hunting companion has continued far beyond the point of necessity, benefiting both the humans and animals. I’m just waiting for a letter from Westboro Baptist Church disputing that.

Evolution has made sure we now have helpers like Xante to assist those who might never read this — since I don’t believe The Pitt News publishes an edition for the blind (unless they’re using a high-tech screen reader). Unfortunately, I haven’t heard of a Seeing Eye dog that is fluent in speaking English, but after seeing the movie “Up,” I don’t think the concept is too far from reality.

Nonetheless — and perhaps most significantly illustrated by the Post-Gazette’s chronicling of Xante’s story — it’s clear that a dog can help not only those who have disabilities, but also society in general.

Because admit it — after the Super Bowl last weekend, you tuned into the Puppy Bowl you saved on Tivo or DVR to make yourself feel a little better. Either that or you viewed clips from it after you got tired of watching the commercial with Darth Vader’s Mini Me starting a Volkswagen with The Force.

After checking it out, I can confidently report that the first half of the Puppy Bowl was far more entertaining than the first half of the Steelers-Packers game. And Puppy Bowl MVP Big Red played a better game than Big Ben — not a tough task to accomplish.

According to The Washington Post, more than 9.2 million people tuned into the contest of canines last year. That’s almost twice the number of people who watched the 2011 State of the Union address.

What does this all mean? It means that there’s an appeal for the altruistic nature of dogs.

It means that Xante should be praised for being the caliber of dog that will likely commit the rest of his life to serving others. It means Ardisson should also receive commendation for her work with helping the dog adjust to life around humans.

And lastly, it means that City Council deserves at least some recognition for praising this very special creature. As the saying goes, “Every dog has its day.” Even Council.

Show your support for Xante on his Facebook page. He deserves it. Then, check out more of Jacob’s rants at raves at or e-mail him at [email protected]