Last week the Bay Area lost local legend Gary Bogue, longtime pets and wildlife columnist for the Contra Costa Times. In his years with the Times, along with his work with the Lindsay Wildlife Museum and Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, he touched countless people’s lives and helped even more animals. Did you know, for example, that he founded the first wild animal rescue hospital in the country? He’s also a children’s book author.
Even more than all that, he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. In his column he exuded the same aura of sincere kindness as Mr. Rogers or Bob Ross and that wasn’t an act—that’s just who he was. He did it with a sharp wit in person that he rarely let shine in his column.
I was lucky enough to work with Gary for many years and consider him a friend, so rather than the usual snarky humor column I’d like to honor him with some stories of times he had a major affect on my life, attached to pretty much entirely unrelated songs about animals. I’ll go back to being snarky next week.
The Beatles — “Blackbird”
When I started at the Contra Costa Times in 2006 as the morning sports clerk, I had been a lifetime reader of the paper, so I knew most of my new coworkers by their work and reputation before I ever set foot in the newsroom. Fortunately I’m not the type to get starstruck so it was mostly a novelty.
Gary Bogue, however, was an exception. I was absolutely terrified of meeting him. As an animal lover I was very familiar with him and his column, and for that matter his old TV show, and had no idea what I would even say. I was also more than a little worried that “never meet your heroes” would come true and the real Gary would shatter any illusions I had.
So imagine my surprise when he was among the first to introduce himself on my first day. Not only that but he took it upon himself to take me around the newsroom introducing me to everyone. Whatever unrealistic expectations I had about him were immediately exceeded. And if he noticed how nervous I was about meeting him he was nice enough to not let me know.
Three Dog Night — “Joy to the World”
Prior to getting that job at the Times my entire journalism experience was one year on my high school paper, and in that year I had exactly one article published. So to say I was in over my head is a bit of an understatement.
That’s not to say I was in an important role or anything. I answered the phones and delivered mail, but I had no idea what was happening most of the time. Journalism has its own language and newspapers have an entire extra layer of jargon, so I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying half the time. This all made me more than a little nervous.
The Times was a morning paper so deadlines were late. When I got in at 9:30 a.m. there were maybe half a dozen people there. One of them was Gary, who always got up ridiculously early and came to work before his readers woke up to call him. I suspect he could tell how overwhelmed I was, because he made it a point to translate some of the denser bits of newspaper lingo and assure me I was doing a good job.
Without his voice in my ear reassuring me I’m not sure I’d have stuck around long enough to actually learn, so I probably wouldn’t be writing this right now.
David Bowie — “Cat People”
To the chagrin of the newsroom and hundreds of readers who called to threaten to cancel unless he changed his mind, Gary decided to retire.
By this point we had worked together long enough for him to know that former Oakland Athletics manager Tony La Russa was one of my childhood heroes. He had helped La Russa start his animal shelter—Gary was never very forthright about his amount of involvement but I imagine it was more than a little—so La Russa spoke at his retirement party in the newsroom.
I, of course, was lingering across the room trying not to make eye contact. Meeting Gary made me starstruck, but just being in the room with Tony La Russa was enough to break my brain. So Gary brought La Russa over and introduced him, gently and slowly, rather than let me pass up the chance.
Also, I’m sure more than a little of his motivation was just to watch me squirm. And I respect that.
The Beatles — “Rocky Raccoon”
I’d always grown up with cats, but when I got my house I decided I should get a dog. I mentioned it to Gary in conversation after I’d called him for something; probably advice on one of the countless animal-related problems nobody warns you that homeowners have to deal with.
That Sunday he called to say I should come by the Animal Rescue Foundation to see a dog I might like. When I went down there he made some excuse why I couldn’t see the “dog,” which I’m pretty sure never existed, but he did have some kittens to introduce me to.
They were the last of their litter and had been there for quite a while because they were so… let’s charitably say “unconventional.” One was smart but the runt of the litter, with stubby little legs and a mouth that didn’t quite open all the way. The other was very big, very loud, very sweet, but very, very dumb. They had started sticking together because between the two of them they had all the parts of one normal cat.
Gary, knowing my history with cats and that I’m a huge sucker, tricked me into meeting these kittens knowing that there’s no way I’d leave without them. And I didn’t. They’ve lived with me since 2012 and have been there for me through a lot. In fact, they’re sitting here with me as I write this.
The Tokens — “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”
Years later I called Gary again to ask for advice about luring a possum out from under my house so I could seal up the hole without trapping it in there. The downside to knowing everything about animals is that people are always asking you questions. But never once did I ever see him get even slightly annoyed by it.
He mentioned that he’d heard things were rough at the paper so I told him: Not well. Layoffs came every three months or so, which meant it always felt like there was an axe dangling over your neck. What was once a staff of dozens had shrunk to a handful while the workload had grown. Stress levels were high, tension was high, things were miserable.
“You know,” he told me, “ARF is always looking for volunteers. You know what a cat socializer does? They play with kittens. Go talk to them, nothing helps with stress like kittens.”
I just had my five year anniversary as a volunteer, and that hour per week playing with cats and kittens has pretty much been the only thing keeping my last shreds of sanity intact in that time. As usual he was absolutely right, and the solution not only helped me but all the cats that got some play time.
There will never be anyone quite like Gary and the world just isn’t the same without him in it. By inspiring so many people to be kinder to animals and teaching by example to be nicer to each other, he left the world a significantly better place.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.