Barth Keck photo

I wish I were half the person my dog thinks I am.

I’ve always liked that adage because it’s simple, honest, and accurate.

I’ve modified that slogan to “Dogs are the best!” when responding to Facebook posts of dog videos, dog photos, and dog stories. If only humans were more like dogs, with their endless supply of energy and unconditional love!

It will never happen, of course. The ongoing saga of the Meriden Animal Shelter is an ironic case-in-point. It seems no one in this real-life soap opera wants to get along.

Long story short, the animal shelter and the city of Meriden have experienced a “decade of tension” since the shelter was located in a city property. Most recently, the board of the animal shelter fired its executive director, a move coming just “three weeks after City Manager Guy Scaife informed volunteers they would have until February to vacate their city-owned Murdock Avenue facility.”

A month before that, the shelter’s director, Marlena DiBianco, was arrested following an investigation of April 2015 charges “related to the forging of a rabies certificate in which a non-vaccinated animal was adopted out to a member of the public, leading the person who adopted the animal to believe that it had been vaccinated, according to police.”

The timing of DiBianco’s arrest raised some eyebrows since it occurred more than a year after the initial allegations and smack-dab “in the midst of [the shelter’s] negotiations with the city over a new lease.”

Meanwhile, “Volunteers said these recent issues are taking time away from why they are there in the first place, the animals.” To that point, 20 cats and five dogs were awaiting adoption in the Meriden Animal Shelter as of Nov. 10.

This story resonates with me — I’m a dog person. I know firsthand the unprejudiced way dogs look at people, which is precisely the opposite way that many people treat each other — especially in these particularly rancorous times.

My family adopted Rip, a full-bred German Shepherd Dog (GSD), from the Hartford Animal Shelter in 2006. We weren’t looking for a full-bred dog of any kind; Rip just found us. Even after his owner appeared the day after we had planned to adopt him, Rip still ended up with us. His owner told us, simply, “You can have him.”

For that, we are forever grateful.

Since joining our family, Rip wanted nothing more than to please us. Like a true GSD, Rip was beyond loyal, guarding our house daily, ears on high alert and bark at the ready to warn both potential intruders and his family. Rip’s intelligence was also obvious, as he was quick to learn new words and recognize every person and every dog he would ever meet. What’s more, Rip was athletic, always willing to accompany me on runs or to go for walks in the woods. And Rip was incredibly perceptive, capable of reading the moods of his family members in an instant.

Just last month, we had to put Rip down. He was 11 years old, and in less than a week’s time, his legs gave out due to a neurological condition. In the end, Rip left us the way he was meant to: relatively quickly with minimal suffering and with the utmost dignity. Rip was a very special member of our family whose spirit will remain with us forever.

Rip was the best.

Barth Keck photo
Shiloh, new to our family (Barth Keck photo)

My wife and I wanted another dog, but the pain of losing Rip was still very real. We decided to wait until the summer before we searched for our next dog. But once again, a dog found us.

A week after we said goodbye to Rip, a friend who works for East Haddam Animal Control told us about Shiloh — a black Labrador Retriever mix who would be “the perfect dog” for us. After initially resisting, we agreed to take Shiloh for a few days, knowing full well how that would end up.

It’s been two weeks now. Shiloh is still getting used to her new home, but her sweet, friendly, and lovable demeanor has already won our hearts over. She will never replace Rip – no dog ever will. But she is our newest family member, and we feel fortunate she found us.

Our dogs teach us valuable lessons. Right now, perhaps most importantly, our dogs teach us to see others as worthy of respect and admiration. Dogs teach us to look for the good in all people.

Clearly, we all would do well to take to heart the lessons that Rip and Shiloh and all of the dogs out there teach us.

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of

Barth Keck

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 31st year as an English teacher and 16th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him here.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.