By Rikki King Herald Writer
EVERETT — Snohomish County animal control officers had a saying about Rocky Abbott.
If you lived in the county, there was a 50-50 chance that Rocky knew you, or was related to you.
Gordon “Rocky” Abbott grew up along Jordan Road, across the street from the South Fork Stillaguamish River. As a kid, he’d jump off the Jordan Bridge and swim.
Abbott made his home in Arlington. He was a county animal control officer for nearly three decades. He died May 25, of natural causes at 52.
Abbott is survived by his wife, Penny Abbott, who works in the county prosecutor’s office, and their two grown children, Sydney and Asa.
To his coworkers, Abbott was a mentor, a father figure and the source of many a good-natured prank. He loved animals and people, and he was pretty good at dealing with both.
He was a family man who spent his career enforcing the county’s laws regarding animals and their owners. He loved his job, but through it, he also witnessed suffering.
Rocky Abbott worked since he was a boy, cutting timber in the woods and as a farmhand at his uncle’s dairy. He loved classic rock, fishing and beer.
He met his wife through friends from Arlington High School. He pursued her. Their first date was a rock concert. They were engaged three months later.
When their first home near Snohomish flooded, they bought a 1906-vintage Victorian country house in Arlington. Together, they remodeled all of it. Rocky Abbott filled the basement with his fishing gear.
Just weeks before he died, the couple celebrated their 31st anniversary on Orcas Island. They’d been around the country and abroad. They’d recently gone to New York, where they ate pizza every night. Penny Abbott’s best friend Lori Storle tagged along.
“He would do anything Penny wanted,” Storle said. “He was just that kind of person — always wanted to make you happy.”
On quiet nights at home, Rocky Abbott liked to have beers, tequila and cigars on the porch with his best friend, Brad Jessup. They liked to listen to the radio and talk.
At work, Abbott would draw off-the-wall captions onto photographs and give them to his colleagues, animal control officer Paul Delgado said. On Mondays in the summertime, they could count on Abbott bringing in pictures from his latest fishing adventure.
Abbott would tell his wife stories about times the cops were busting drug-houses. The drug dealers would have big, mean dogs. The cops would call Abbott. The dogs would come to him, no problem.
Rocky Abbott saw horrible scenes too: hoarders’ houses, abused and neglected animals, dead bodies. He’d rescue abandoned feral cats from cupboards and ovens. He’d round up aggressive dogs that were left behind when the owners moved away.
He didn’t tell his wife many of those stories, to protect her.
County sheriff’s deputies could count on Abbott’s knowledge about animals, especially livestock, said Lt. Jeff Brand, who joined the department in 1989.
“Back then, obviously Snohomish County wasn’t quite as urbanized as it is now,” Brand said. “We had a lot more issues with large animals, cows, horses, things like that.”
In one of his first years as a cop, Brand was called out to Clearview, where a cow was blocking traffic. Somehow, he got the cow off the road and tied it to his patrol car.
Rocky Abbott showed up and roped the cow to a tree instead. If the cow had gotten scared, it would have ripped Brand’s bumper off. Brand didn’t know that. Abbott did.
“That was the kind of thing that Rocky did all the time,” Brand said.
He usually knew the owners of the loose animals, too.
“We’d have horses in the road, and when Rocky hears about it, he’d say, oh it’s probably so-and-so who lives right up that street,” Brand said. “He was invaluable in a lot of ways. But aside from that, he enjoyed his job.”
When animal control was moved from the sheriff’s office to the auditor’s office, the animal control officers were asked if they wanted anything about their jobs to change, department manager Vicki Lubrin said.
Abbott asked: “Could we please not have polyester pants because they snag on the blackberry bushes.”
If the officers worried about getting a rig stuck on some dirt road, he’d tell them, “Trust me, I know about getting stuck.”
He was serious about the work, though. He would tell his colleagues that no matter what happened, they should try to make things better before they left.
“I don’t think I ever saw him lose his cool,” animal control officer Angela Davis said. “He could put people in their place, but in a way they weren’t offended.”
He’d let people vent, to blow off steam, animal control officer Walter Barber said.
“Rocky could handle just about most situations,” he said.
“The dairy farmer came out in him a lot,” Delgado added.
Once, there was a nasty dog bite case in Index. The victim didn’t want medical attention. Abbott told the man he might die if he didn’t take care of the wound. The man told him maybe that was best.
Abbott didn’t like that answer. He went up to Index every few weeks for a while after that to make sure the man had a clean bandage, and was taking antibiotics.
If his coworkers messed up, they could count on the “father talk” from Abbott, officer Chad Davis said.
“He loved all of us,” Davis said.
At home, Abbott took good care of his wife, who years ago was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He’d pour her a glass of wine from their collection. He’d run a hot bath. He’d cook. He liked to copy recipes from their trips to France, like meatballs in red wine gravy.
“Everybody at my work wished he was their husband,” Penny Abbott said.
Rocky Abbott even fit in with her quirky family. Once, they planned a “Survivor”-style camping trip, like on TV. Someone on the men’s team cheated by hiding beer and pepperoni in the woods before the trip. Rocky Abbott was a suspect.
Their son, Asa, is pursing a master’s degree playing the saxophone at the University of British Columbia. No matter where he was performing, Rocky Abbott loved to go and listen.
After their daughter, Sydney Abbott, grew up, he’d still call her to check in, she said. She’s saved many of his voice mails — including one when he’d called from a concert, to let her know he’d bought her a T-shirt with profanity on it.
He was a good listener, too, Sydney Abbott said. She got a memorial tattoo for him, a profile of a man fishing, the sun behind him. That’s how she sees him, even now, she said.
Rocky Abbott’s best friend, Brad Jessup, plans to carry some of his ashes in his tackle box. They’d all planned to retire together one day.
“He’ll be fishing with me for the rest of my life,” Jessup said.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.