The inner courtyard terrace of our apartment was a perfect spot to sit outside in the fresh air but in complete privacy. A tiled table and metal chairs beneath a canvas awning provided our cozy lunch area. After we revived ourselves on cheese, olives, prosciutto, salami, bread, and cookies, Gino, Dad, and I hit the streets in search of souvenirs. We headed towards the Vatican, where on a previous trip, Gino and I had hit a plethora of junky-but-great souvenir stores. Tackiness was OK today!
Scouring several blocks, we found all the keychains, magnets, postcards, and shot glasses we wanted. Dad was on the search for a large Italian flag. We found the perfect one in a small shop not far from St. Peter’s Square — it was the right size, the right material, and the right price.
As we went in, a little golden-tan Chihuahua scampered out the door of the shop and over to a Polizia car which had just pulled up. The police officer in the car was speaking through a megaphone to the dog from the open window. I could have sworn he was calling, “Rocco! Rocco!” With wagging tail, the dog greeted the smiling officer.
We all laughed as we looked on, including the owner of the dog who, we discovered, was also the owner of the shop. I asked him his dog’s name: Rocco. Delighted, I told him my dog is also named Rocco! We had just started to chat about his dog when he bolted out the shop door — he was making sure to keep Rocco in his sight at all times.
When he came back holding Rocco in his arms, he explained.
Just a month previous, in August, he had been minding his shop, Rocco scampering to and fro nearby. The owner turned his back for just a second and in a flash, Rocco was gone! Someone had snatched him without a sound.
Desperate, the man ran around the neighborhood calling and calling, asking everyone if they had seen his little dog. Nothing. But although Rome is big, the neighborhoods are small and before long word got out: little Rocco had been stolen.
The Carabinieri police were called into the hunt. Nuns from St. Peter’s Basilica, an easy stride away, began praying for Rocco’s return.
Due to the shop’s proximity to the Vatican, cameras are always trained on the nearby streets, including the street of the man’s shop. A careful scrutiny of the footage during the time Rocco was snatched revealed a clue: an image of the thief’s face. Asking around as diligently as with any crime, the Carabinieri learned that in a blink of an eye after Rocco’s kidnapping, he had been sold and handed off to someone in a horse-drawn carriage.
Maybe like the Mounties who always get their guy, the Carabinieri always get their dog. They diligently searched and finally tracked down the terrified little pup, ceremoniously returning him to his grateful owner.
Now, of course, the owner won’t let Rocco out of his sight for even a second. He told us how for the first several days after Rocco’s return, the dog was in a highly anxious state, but that he seems to be relaxing now after his harrowing ordeal.
Obviously in love with his dog, the man told us that when Rocco is sleeping, his wife will refer to the little dog by something other than his name so he won’t wake up upon hearing it. We roared when we learned Rocco’s secret sleeping name: Gino!
And now, after hearing his story, we also knew exactly why Rocco had been so happy to see that Carabinieri who was calling his name through a bullhorn when we arrived. It was the very one who had found Rocco and brought him back to his owner.
But the next thing Rocco’s owner told us gave us goosebumps. On the day of Rocco’s liberation and return, the nuns had been praying for him especially hard: it was August 16 — The Feast Day of San Rocco.