By Marybeth Bittel
When most pet parents hear phrases like “dirty jobs” or “somebody’s gotta do it,” several exceedingly specific scenarios can come to mind. Examples might include changing an overdue litterbox, heading out to the fire hydrant in a driving rainstorm, fitting a pair of powder- pink snow booties onto an unwilling Labradoodle, or making an abrupt scramble to the ER after realizing that Abner the Siamese can, in fact, launch himself airborne and levitate in circles.
But for one extremely enthusiastic audience, something else comes to mind as well. That something is the inquisitive face and distinctively resonant voice of Mike Rowe, a man who has tried his hand at worm dung farming, bat cave scavenging, shark tagging, oyster harvesting, cow hoof trimming, crawfish catching, catfish noodling, and hundreds of other similarly unsettling tasks. Rowe displays mind-boggling nerves of steel as the host of hit shows like Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs and CNN’s Somebody’s Gotta Do It. Many of the scenarios he has experienced make most daily pet-specific challenges look like a balmy afternoon at the beach.
Rowe’s career began unassumingly enough, with the first 25 years of his life spent on an idyllically expansive piece of land just outside of Baltimore.
“I thought I was Tom Sawyer until I was about 11 years old,” he recalls. “In a fairly brilliant move, my granddad procured some property that was flanked by a creek on one side, and I-95 on the other. There were dozens of heavily wooded acres attached that we didn’t own, but that nobody else could really develop. We always had horses. We always had cats in the barn. And we always had a dog.”
As a freshman at Overlea High School, he met choir director Fred King—and according to Rowe, life changed forever. “Mr. King went about the business of challenging us like no other teacher would ever dare,” blogged Rowe in 2009. “He was a teacher who made things happen.”
Under the tutelage of King, Rowe’s bass singing voice was polished and refined. He began excelling in both theater and choir. After graduating college, he successfully auditioned for the Baltimore Opera. In 1990 his career began to take off with a three-year stint on QVC.
Among numerous other undertakings, Rowe has served as host for the Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week, pitchman for Ford Motor Company, and narrator for well-known Discovery programs such as American Chopper and Deadliest Catch.
Ultimately, a news segment for San Francisco’s KPIX-TV’s Evening Magazine was parlayed into a show concept—which evolved into Dirty Jobs.
But no matter how eye-opening, appealing, or engagingly appalling Rowe’s fans may find his various primetime exploits, his likeability factor skyrocketed with the 2014 rescue of a mischievous, mixed- breed pound puppy named Freddy.
Freddy has come to serve as Rowe’s adorably irrepressible four-legged sidekick. The name, Rowe confirms, is an affectionate nod to his esteemed high school mentor Fred King.
“Freddy is part Terrier,” Rowe explains, “and I suppose ‘indignant’ is the word that might best describe him. He’s shockingly willful, highly vocal, very protective, and extremely loyal. He seems to be most offended by people arriving and people leaving. Both of these actions apparently serve as an equal affront to his world view. There’s just a lot of heavy sighing, a smattering of disgust, an underlying sense of frustration. Like this general air of ‘now what?’”
Be that as it may, this uncannily clever canine boasts his very own weekly blog called “Fridays with Freddy,” where he shares classical poetry snippets, general observations, and the occasional (ahem) dogged opinion. In fact, Freddy’s Friday musings frequently approach a level of eloquence rivaled only by Rowe himself (who Freddy commonly refers to as “The Biped” and “My Human Butler”).
This is not the first time Rowe has chosen to pair himself with a canine companion for the camera. There was, for example, the popular Sentinel Flavor Tabs promotion in which Rowe and his longtime friend—fellow actor Chuck Klausmeyer—compellingly portrayed a responsible pet parent and a giant Bernese Mountain Dog, respectively. And one cannot overlook Discovery’s Curiosity episode entitled “World’s Dirtiest Man,” where Rowe discovered—in distressingly high-tech detail—that the average human tongue houses way more bacteria than its corresponding canine counterpart.
But Rowe’s association with Freddy seems to represent a new frontier. “After Freddy was rescued from the Marin Humane Society, and I shared those first pictures on social media, I was amazed at the response,” he muses. “But you know, I think a connection with a loyal pet is one of those universal themes that resonate with all of us.”
And resonate it has. Freddy has even begun to raise funds for Rowe’s foundation, mikeroweWORKS, which awards scholarships to assist those entering the skilled trades. To this end, the popular pup has posed for a custom bobblehead figurine alongside Rowe. Moreover, his 23”x12” likeness has been reproduced entirely from welded metal Caterpillar parts, “which I believe makes him the first dog ever assembled entirely from a Cat,” quips Rowe. Items like these have been fetching a handsome sum, with proceeds going toward the foundation.
Most of the jobs Rowe profiles on TV make life easier and more productive for the rest of us, he says. In other words, a less-than-glamorous job does not equal a less-than-meaningful opportunity. “Real initiative can make a real difference in modern society. If your goal is to do whatever task is before you with as much excellence as you can happiness often tends to be a by-product.”
It takes a lot of hard work to build a foundation and to keep the connections sound. So in that sense, animal lovers everywhere can take a constructive cue from Rowe and his precocious pup. Pet parenting, after all, comes with its share of dirty jobs and messy, unglamorous moments. But as the skilled tradespeople who safeguard our clean fuel and functional plumbing can likely attest, such effort can be worthy of tremendous pride. Ultimately, the rewards almost certainly go both ways.
Freddy, you realize that “The Biped” is revered on a national level, right? Forbes even identified him as one of the country’s 10 Most Trustworthy Celebrities three years in a row.
It’s hard to articulate my level of disinterest in how The Biped is perceived on a national level. Our relationship is strictly local. I trust him to walk me, feed me, and keep me free of worms and fleas. What others may or may not trust him to do is none of my business.
What are some of the most important things you do for The Biped?
Well, for starters, right now I’m hunched over a laptop trying to negotiate a keypad that clearly wasn’t designed for anything that resembles a paw. Do you really suppose this is my wish fulfillment? I could be staring out the window right now, or harassing the cat downstairs, or sleeping in the sun. Instead, I’m plowing through your questions, trying to be a team player. You’re welcome.
You’ve said that you’re perfectly comfortable with your mixed-breed heritage. What lessons do you think human beings can learn from this perspective?
Honestly, I have no idea what’s going on with your species. Personally, I think H. Sapiens would all be a lot happier if everyone just accepted themselves as the mutts and mongrels they are and stopped obsessing about what their ancestors did or where they came from. But what do I know? I’m mostly Terrier.
What is one topic you have always wished someone would ask you about?
I’m ready for a candid conversation about the disturbing trend of dogs wearing people clothes.
Images: Taylor Wootton