Mario, a longtime Contributor vendor, has always loved dogs. In fact, he says they saved his life. At a low point in Mario’s journey, he was living in a truck with his dogs, feeling ashamed and embarrassed and unsure about where his life was going.
“One night I thought about ending it all,” Mario says. “But I looked at my dogs and saw them looking back at me and I knew that nobody would love them the way that I was able to. They needed me and that was enough.”
Mario always had dogs growing up, but at one point he was traveling so much that he had given up on the idea of having them. He was a videographer who traveled the world shooting stories with different country music artists.
“I did that for a decade or more before I decided to get off the road,” Mario says. “When I started cleaning log houses in really rural areas is when dogs started coming back into my life. It was like they just came to me.”
Mario says sometimes he would pick up rescues that people left out in abandoned areas, but his most well-known dog, Bear, he got because he saw someone about to take him to the shelter. A woman living in a house he was cleaning got a Great Pyrenees not knowing how large they would get and was putting him in the car when Mario asked if she was taking him to the park.
“She said: ‘Oh no, I’m taking him to the shelter, I can’t have this dog in my house,’” Mario says. “And she told me I could just take him if I wanted to. I just about screamed ‘NOOO’ when she told me she was taking him to the shelter.”
Most people who read The Contributor knew Bear as Mario’s selling sidekick. When Bear passed away last fall, the community to set up an impromptu memorial at the spot where Mario sold the paper. People placed flowers, photographs, stuffed animals and balloons at his spot on Lebanon Pike to honor Bear. Channel 17 did two stories on Bear when he passed, and other news outlets also noted his passing. Mario named his successful lawn mowing business after Bear: Bear Care Lawn Service.
He was 11 years old when Mario lost him.
“He was a great dog — sort of hard to imagine anyone getting rid of him — not only was he well behaved, everybody knew him,” Mario says. “I would be in Donelson, Hermitage, Smyrna or Clarksville and people would ask: ‘Is that Bear?!’”
Upon Bear’s passing, Mario wrote a beautiful tribute to his friend: “As many of you may already know bear passed away last Friday the day after Thanksgiving from cancer. That was the saddest day of my life — the happiest day is when he came into my life. Bear gave me 11 years of happiness, joy, peace, support and most of all his love. Bear and I were pretty much inseparable we were together almost 24/7. Bear was my life my love my son my rock. I never knew what a strong bond was until he came into my life. I love that dog more than anything in the world. Bear was more than just a dog he was my hero. I was so proud of him I love taking them everywhere sharing him and showing him off because he was so beautiful so friendly and so loving.”
Mario says Bear was “famous” out in the world, but at home, Bear sat back in the pack. Bear was humble, and didn’t brag too much about being the star, he says, laughing.
“Selling The Contributor and realizing that this was a job and that Bear was a great marketing tool, I began to really understand how important he was to my sales,” Mario says. “It just helped me tremendously. Bear was in the limelight, but at home they were all equal.”
He still had two dogs and a cat at home when Bear passed — Murphy, Little Boo and Missy — and he wasn’t quite sure he was ready to take on another dog. He still missed Bear and didn’t want to fill the void with just any dog.
“A gentleman approached me and said he found the perfect dog for me,” Mario says. “But I was hesitant. But when I saw him — he was just a pup — I just really fell in love. The guy wanted me to name him Yogi, but I’m always thinking of names I can do nicknames with so I thought on it a while and decided to name him Rocky.”
In a social media comment after Mario got Rocky, someone asked if the photo he had posted was of his new dog and Mario replied: “This is Rocky. I've had him for three weeks now. He was given to me by some guy that thought I would like him. And he was wrong ‘cause I love him.”
The bond was immediate, but it took him a little longer to name Rocky than his other dogs. Little Boo got his name because when Mario was living in a barn, the dog came up in the pitch dark and “scared the heck out of” him. Murphy was found on Murfreesboro Road. Bear was, well, huge. He loves the name Rocky because the nicknames are endless, Mario says: rockstar, Rocky Balboa, rock-ola, rockster.
Mario says his connection to dogs has only grown stronger over the years — he feels he’s meant to take care of them and be a friend to them. When he’s home with his dogs, he says he feels they understand him on a deep level — that they sense his feelings and know him as well as he knows them.
“Everybody knows they’re stress relievers,” Mario says. “ And they can offer you unconditional love. You come home and they don’t care if you’re late, if you don’t call to say you’re late, if you're a little drunk, as long as you come home. That’s all they care about — they’re going to love you and jump on you and lick you and say: ‘WE’RE GLAD YOU’RE HOME!!!’”
He says all his dogs have always felt like his protectors: He cares for them and they’re there for him.
“My dogs have always been an inspiration and it’s been fun to see how each group of them I’ve had has inspired me in different ways,” Mario says. “With my new crew, I’m starting a new chapter.”