Inspiration comes from the unlikeliest of places. A museum, for example, would be a likely place to find it. But what happens when it occurs outside that museum, say on its front steps? That’s exactly what Pulitzer Prize–winning author Michael Vitez decided to chronicle in his book Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope, and Happiness at America’s Most Famous Steps, in which Vitez and photographer Tom Gralish spent a year visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art to capture the stories of the “Rocky Runners,” who seek inspiration by running up America’s most iconic steps. One of the book’s best essays just happens to be about a dog named Rocky. We couldn’t resist reprinting, with kind permission, his story:
I was looking for a rich variety of stories. When I saw a couple walking their dog up the steps, inspecting the Rocky sneaker imprints at the top, I had to ask them who they were, why they were here. When they told me the dog’s name was Rocky, I knew I was about to add an essential piece to the book—a pet story.
Rocky was a doomed pup. Discarded. Headed for that final knockout by lethal injection, just like millions of American dogs every year.
But the Summit Animal League in Summit, New Jersey, brought him to an adoption day at a local pet store. It was Rocky’s last chance.
A dog lover rescued Rocky. She couldn’t keep him; she already had two other rescued dogs of her own. But she had the perfect home in mind—she called Bob and Debra Rosenbaum.
Bob and Debra once owned a dog, the same breed as Rocky, a Cairn Terrier, who had died at the age of 18. Now there was an emptiness in their lives, and Bob and Debra fell fast and hard for Rocky, five gentle pounds of fluff and love.
Rocky got a new home , his life was spared, and he made the world a better place almost immediately.
“When we first adopted him, our son was in 11th grade,” said Debra. “His best friend had grown up afraid of dogs. Our son was very excited and couldn’t wait to introduce Rocky to his friend. At first, the friend was reluctant to even go near the puppy. But Rocky persisted. Eventually he managed to undo 14 years of fear that had been instilled in this child. I still remember one night when our son’s friend slept over. I went to find Rocky, and found he was curled up and asleep in bed with the boy, and the boy’s arm was around Rocky!”
Bob and Debra never knew why the dog was named Rocky. He came to them that way. They accepted it as fate since Rocky is one of their favorite movies.
“The underlying theme of the movie is universal—triumph in spite of overwhelming odds,” said Debra. “It is a message that resonates universally, both for humans and at least for one lucky dog. The fact that we ended up with a dog named Rocky is just a remarkable coincidence.”
Their dog has a wonderful life. Both Bob and Debra work near their house, and one of them always comes home at lunchtime to walk Rocky. He greets them at the door with his bones and doggie toys. Neighbors joke that in their next lives they want to come back as Bob and Debra’s dog.
In April, Bob and Debra were going to Philadelphia to attend a concert. They decided to bring Rocky (he had his own bed at the Loews Hotel). He was now five, and it was time. On a glorious Sunday morning, they visited the Rocky Steps with him to celebrate a dog’s life. No bounding up the steps—but a celebration just the same.