By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Gus, of course, can't do any tricks anymore, but he remains a very real presence in the Green home more than two years after he chased his last butterfly. His photo sits among those of the other pets midway up a flight of stairs on a shelf that Green built in his woodshop, and he's at the center of more than a dozen other snapshots that decorate a wall leading to the townhouse's lowest level. Clothing is a running theme in these images: Gus can be seen wearing a tuxedo, a baseball uniform and a Halloween costume (I think he was supposed to be either a pirate or a patriot, but I'm just not certain). Showing them off, Green got a little verklempt.
"He was our cartoon dog," he said. "Our little pal."
Upon sitting down at a dining-room table where we were to conduct the more formal portion of the interview, I pulled out a tape recorder, and Green did likewise. When I asked if he was doing so to make sure I got every quote just right, he said, "I'm more interested in the context." I took that to mean that if he answered, "Yes, I do" to, say, a question about loving Mom and apple pie, he wouldn't be thrilled if I pretended he was responding to the query, "Do you sometimes smear Alpo all over your naked body and then ring the dinner bell?"
In actuality, I led off with something more benign; I wanted to know why the "Dogfather" and "pet worshiper" references had set him off. He responded that, in his mind, the words not only mocked him, but anyone who opposes cruelty to animals. "I don't go along with PETA," he insisted. "I eat meat, I eat chicken, I eat beef and I wear leather, I suppose -- I've never checked. It might be artificial -- I don't know. But why would I be ridiculed for [my pet stands]? It didn't bother me that I'd be ridiculed, but why would the cause be ridiculed? It just pissed me off. I thought, this is not right; this is wrong. I'm not a pet worshiper; I'm an animal lover. Wildlife and household pets and so forth. And 'Dogfather of Denver'? I thought that was in a derogatory manner. But what's wrong with being the Dogfather? Somebody has to stand up and say dogs count, you shouldn't poison them, you shouldn't throw antifreezed meat over the fence, and if you do, goddamn it, you ought to be prosecuted. And so that's what, to me, crossed the line."
When I got a chance to jump in, I told Green that I hadn't intended any allusion to animal cruelty; rather, I was implying that he tended to write about pets and the like with staggering frequency and that he usually did so in a syrupy, oversentimental manner. Green didn't see it that way. First of all, he considered it unfair of us to stereotype him as the Post's dog champion, because he writes about a wide range of topics. "One of the strengths of my column is its variety," he said -- and truth be told, he has pretty much steered clear of the animal kingdom since his "Proud to Be Labeled 'Dogfather'" diatribe. Maybe we made him a teensy bit self-conscious.
Moreover, Green hinted that Rocky Mountain News columnist Gene Amole had written about his woofer, Oreo, more often than he'd talked about Snowy and Keko. (Wrong: A data search showed that Amole mentioned Oreo, whose 1995 death earned him a Gus-like eulogy, seven times over the years, versus seventeen for the Green-Snowy-Keko axis -- and the last time Oreo's tail wagged in print was in a vintage column reprinted in 1996. Poor doggie.)
As for the sentimentality charge, he pleaded guilty without sounding guilty in the slightest. "The best stories that are told are personal stories, and Gus is a good example. I've written about Gus, and those columns have just received an enormous response -- an enormous response -- because people identify with it. The column I wrote about my last day with Gus was one of the five columns I'm most proud of writing, because it touched people, and that's what I think a column is supposed to do -- touch people."
Then Green made a chilling claim: "If it was a formula that I thought I had not discovered but that I thought I was taking advantage of, I could do a lot more than I do. I mean, trust me, I pass on opportunities to do that all the time. Oh, geez, all the time. I have a little guard against that on a lot of topics -- not just on animals or little kids, but grandparents, World War II vets, handicapped people, blind people. I mean, there are a thousand causes out there that I know if I hit them, they'll hit an emotional button...and I avoid that more often than I take advantage of that.
"But should I never write about animals because that's a hot button and I might be accused of taking advantage of it? No. Old people? No. Grandmothers, grandfathers, my personal life, World War II vets? No."