Memories of Rinty / Legacy of Hollywood super dog continues

December 3, 2011 12:00 am
  • Rin Tin Tin, right, and his litter mate Nanette at a U.S. Army base in France shortly after Lee Duncan rescued them.
    Rin Tin Tin, right, and his litter mate Nanette at a U.S. Army base in France shortly after Lee Duncan rescued them.
  • On Feb. 26, 1929, The Pittsburgh Press ran a story on Lee Duncan and the original Rin Tin Tin's visit to Pittsburgh: "Rin Tin Tin, interviewed on stage success, lays it all to "boloney."
    On Feb. 26, 1929, The Pittsburgh Press ran a story on Lee Duncan and the original Rin Tin Tin's visit to Pittsburgh: "Rin Tin Tin, interviewed on stage success, lays it all to "boloney."
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My first pet was a big black-and-tan dog that I named "Rinny." He followed me everywhere, including outdoors, where no leash was needed to keep him by my side. Although I was only 6 years old, he obeyed all of my commands and was always happy to participate in any activity I dreamed up for him, including riding in baby carriages and attending tea parties with me and my dolls.

Rinny came into my life in 1956, shortly after the debut of a television show called "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin."

How I envied the boy in that show, for the life of Rusty, 10, was much more exciting than mine. Rusty was an orphan who lived with the U.S. Calvary. Rusty rode horses, and he had a real dog that performed heroic deeds when Rusty yelled, "YO, Rinty!"

My dog was imaginary.

My parents were wonderfully cooperative with the whole imaginary dog thing, including my insistence that Rusty and I called our dogs "Rinny." We all opened and closed doors to let my Rinny in and out of our apartment, and we made sure there was always a bowl of water on the kitchen floor.

There would later be real dogs in my life -- Queenie, Princess, Wrinkles, Bridget, Dolly, Twerp, Mickey and Pablo. But my love of dogs started with the German shepherd dog that starred in a hit television show.

So I was really thrilled to hear of the recent publication of a nonfiction book, "Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend" (Simon & Schuster, $26.99). The author is Susan Orlean, whose last book was the best-selling "The Orchid Thief," which was made into the movie "Adaptation."

As she did in "The Orchid Thief," Ms. Orlean puts herself into the dog book. She's a child of the 1950s who grew up watching Rin Tin Tin on TV.

Her writing is most touching at the beginning of the legend, in 1918 during World War I when an American soldier, Lee Duncan, found a litter of very young puppies in a bombed-out kennel in France. Against all odds the soldier brought two of those puppies back to the U.S. and got one into the then-fledgling movie business. The original Rin Tin Tin starred in 23 silent films that were blockbuster hits. Nearly four decades later, Rin Tin Tin was reborn, through his descendants (and with some dogs that probably were not related to him), in the television show.

Rin Tin Tin lives on to this day. Mr. Duncan and several other people chronicled in the 318-page book bred and trained Rinty's puppies and successive generations of puppies to keep the line alive.

The original Rinty won rave reviews from movie critics, who praised the dog's acting ability, but there are no training tips in this book. The book chronicles the way that dog ownership has evolved since 1918. And there are lots of photographs, including a puppy picture in France with World War I soldiers.

When Mr. Duncan was teaching his dog tricks and commands for the movie cameras, most dogs were getting no training at all, Ms. Orlean points out, and they lived outside in barns and sheds. Obedience training as a sport evolved in Europe in the 1920s. By the 1930s, dogs were moving inside and becoming family pets.

The book gets especially interesting when Ms. Orlean hits the 1950s, writing about television and other animal stars, including the collie Lassie.

The talented and acclaimed writer spent nearly a decade researching and writing the book that brings the legend to new generations of dog lovers and refreshes the memories of those of us who "knew" and loved Rin Tin Tin.

Her childhood wish to get her own Rinty was never granted, but Ms. Orlean has a Welsh springer spaniel named Ivy, according to the press release from her publisher. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and son as well as three cats, two fish, two ducks, four turkeys, eight chickens, three guinea fowl and 12 Black Angus cattle.

Wrapping and therapy

Therapy dogs volunteer regularly at the Mall at Robinson to soothe harried holiday shoppers. Pets from the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society also visit while shelter workers and volunteers wrap presents.

The wrapping is "free," but donations help homeless pets at the shelters on the North Side and Elizabeth Township. Panera Bread and First National Bank helped purchase several thousand dollars worth of paper, boxes and bows.

Therapy dogs and shelter pets are at the mall every weekend and on many other days through 5 p.m. Christmas Eve. The gift wrapping booth is in Center Court next to Starbucks. A second wrapping station will open near Sears on Dec. 15.

Pet food drive

The Petagogy store on Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside is having a holiday pet food drive for the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania, Larimer, and its Wildlife Center in Verona.

Next Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., for every pet food purchase made by customers at the natural pet supply store, Petagogy will donate an equivalent amount of food to the shelter dogs, cats and rabbits. Customers are also welcome to bring donations to the store. Go to for more information.

Bunny movie

"The Christmas Bunny," a movie starring Florence Henderson, is playing Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Hollywood Theater, 1449 Potomac Ave., Dormont.

It's part of a fundraiser for Rabbit Wranglers, which finds homes and provides veterinary care for rabbits. Some bunnies are expected to be at the benefit, which starts at 1 p.m. with a silent auction. Tickets are $10 per person. Go to for more information.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064. Got a pet health question? Email it to
First Published 2012-02-09 13:42:06
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