My Childhood Dog Was a Cold Warrior

Snapshots of life at home.
Aug. 15 2012 9:15 AM

Boopy Goes to Berlin

A Cold War memoir.

Patriotic dog photo illustration.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photographs by iStockphoto/Thinkstock Images.

Like many journalists, diplomats, and spies who lived and traveled in the old Eastern Bloc, I still have warm feelings for the Cold War.

In my case, though, the sentiment precedes the time I spent overseas. In fact it dates back 50 years or so to when the Berlin Wall first went up, when I was 5 years old going on 6. This was when Boopy, our family dog, suddenly disappeared from our suburban Westchester County home.

As my raconteur father explained it, the bit about Boopy being the family dog was just a cover story—a way to establish what covert operatives call “legend.” Like many Cold Warriors in the epic struggle against communism, Boopy had a secret mission. His days with us may have been few, but the tale my father told to explain Boopy’s abrupt departure gave him an everlasting, mythic sheen that even Rin Tin Tin might envy. Now, with memories of the Iron Curtain fading fast, the tale stands as a reminder that not everything associated with a “missing” pet has to be grim—and that sometimes a “true lie” might be the best way to cope with a hard truth.  

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At the time, my father was a detective lieutenant in the NYPD leading a special anti-gambling task force. Boopy was arrested in a raid on a numbers-running operation in Harlem. Rather than put him behind bars, my father brought him home. Why my father thought it was a good idea to bring a dog with Boopy’s CV into a house full of small kids is beyond me now. Back then, apparently, pit bulls that had been providing security for bookies didn’t have the kind of reputation they have today. But my father was able to convince my mother that the dog would provide companionship and protection to my younger siblings and me.    

True to his breed, however, Boopy turned out to be “a lunger.” After knocking us over on more than one occasion and sending us scurrying under the kitchen table to avoid being nipped, Boopy was starting to wear thin the welcome we had extended to him. And then one day—I don’t remember how long after he first arrived, but it couldn’t have been more than a few weeks—Boopy simply vanished. 

Given the way he’d roughed us up, Boopy’s disappearance wasn’t entirely upsetting. Pretty soon, though, we wanted to know where he was. That’s when my father got to work, highball in hand, placing Boopy right in the middle of events unfolding on the evening news. And like the evening news itself, the true story of Boopy came out in installments, a new chapter delivered every night until the dramatic tale was told in full and our eyes beamed with pride. 

After my father finished briefing us on what had become of Boopy, he swore us to secrecy, making us put our hands over our hearts and make the sign of the cross for good measure. This was fine for the younger ones. But I had just started kindergarten, and I desperately needed some material for show and tell. All the other kids were bringing in neat stuff that their parents had let them take from home or telling stories about cool family vacations. (One classmate had even been to the Catskills!) Sitting there on a tiny kindergartener’s stool among my more luminous classmates with nothing to either show or tell, I was beginning to develop a complex.