Pondering my wonderful, furry friends
It’s pouring rain right now in Northern California. I’m sitting in my favorite chair next to a lovely gas fireplace. As it blazes, the built in fan turns on, gently blowing a comforting warm wind over my dog, Georgio, as he lays on the carpet in front of said fire, snoring in peaceful slumber, wearing a doggie diaper with blue paw prints on it.
Georgio, (Georgie, and George), is an older dog. I would even go as far to call him a senior dog. We got him from a shelter that rescued the poor little guy off the streets of Oakland in 2012. He was barely a year old.
But, before I speak more of G, I must travel back some years, many, in fact, to remember two other four legged friends. Belle, and Riley.
When I was growing up, we didn’t have dogs in my family. We had allergies, not pets. Pets have fur and dander. Pets make you sneeze. Not to mention, pets are a lot of work, therefore we didn’t have them. Needless to say, I felt as though I was missing out. It just wasn’t fair that my friends had dogs, cats, hamsters and the like, but I didn’t. We had fish. But it’s hard to snuggle and pet a fish. Can’t take them for a walk. Simply unfair. Didn’t my parents know how wonderful it would be? How happy it would make us to have a dog of our own? Little did I know back then just how ignorant I was.
Of course things changed when I married my husband, Chris, in 1986 and we started a family of our own. Our daughter was born. Two years later our first son came along. And then, our dear friends found themselves with a litter of puppies. I don’t remember the mix of the the breed, but I think it was something like a combination of Black Lab and Golden Retriever. My brain’s a bit foggy. We had dreamy visions of our almost four year old daughter, wide eyed and smiling, proclaiming “A puppy, a puppy!” She’d snuggle the little thing as she thanked her daddy and mommy. All would be sublime. And so, Belle (named for Belle in Beauty and The Beast which was our daughter’s favorite movie back then), furry, sweet puppy became a part of our family. Oh what joy.
Now, I insisted that Belle would not be an indoor dog. Oh no. The size of her dog mom and dad suggested that she would grow to be large and lumbering, and would need her space. Well, more to the point, I needed my space. I was pregnant…again. With an almost four year old and a toddler, and my growing middle, I didn’t want a big dog roaming around our tiny house.
And so, Belle grew. Her space was in our back yard. If I’m remembering correctly we even had a dog house for her. There was just one problem. Having never cared for a dog before, I had no idea the amount of time and effort it took to love and train a dog. My husband was busy running a crew for his landscape business. He wasn’t available during the day. And me? I was potty training my toddler son and chasing my daughter, and pregnant for gosh sake. I didn’t have the energy nor the patience to train a dog, let alone give it the love and affection it needed. Poor Belle was left to her own devices in the backyard most of the time. She was a hyper little girl, always bouncing around the yard for exercise, barking it up at the birds, and causing a ruckus. She got into quite a lot of mischief.
One day, in the predawn hours of the morning, my husband Chris went out to the side yard to meet up with his landscape crew, and heard the two men cursing in Spanish by the stake bed truck. Chris, with flashlight in hand, bent down to look at the back end of his stake bed truck. There, hanging in tattered shreds, were the wires that connected the truck lights to the attached trailer. Belle had chewed them to bits during the night. Quite the unexpected setback to their workday to be sure.
Not many days after, again in the early morning, we were awaken by a phone call from our next door neighbor. He was looking down into our backyard from his second story window, watching the show that Belle was putting on. Neighbor says, “Um, thought you’d wanna know that Belle has knocked over your trash. She has hold of a diaper and she’s licked it clean.” We ran out into the backyard to find trash and diaper remains scattered across the driveway. It was disgusting. We were mortified. And there was Belle, prancing around the backyard covered in diaper gel, waiting for our praises as though she’d been such a good girl. In that moment my heart sank, and I thought, “What am I doing? I can’t take care of a dog. It’s so unfair to her. All she wants is love and attention, and I don’t have extra to give.” The defeat I felt in coming to that conclusion was difficult. As much as I wanted a dog, I just didn’t have what it took to provide what was required.
And so, Belle was adopted by our neighbor. Not the neighbor that watched her eat diapers, our other neighbor. They had the knowledge and the patience go give sweet, hyper Bell what she needed. I hung my head, and let her go.
Years later, as my kids grew a bit older, Riley came into our lives. Riley was a pure bred Cairn Terrier…a Toto dog, like from the Wizard Of Oz. Except he wasn’t tiny like Toto. He was substantial for his breed, and extremely fury. He had a triple layer, waterproof fur coat. Riley liked to eat everything. If it was laying on the ground, he ate it. From buttons to pennies, plastic, and shoes. He had an affinity for the legs of chairs. We’d find gnawed chair legs and slivers of wood under one of our living groom chairs. Cairn’s are known for being good rodent hunters, and Riley loved to burrow and hide. His favorite hiding spot was under the sofa in our living room. At times when he was nowhere to be found, I’d walk in and see his back end and legs sticking out from under the couch. And then, when I’d move the couch out to clean or vacuum, I’d find a treasure trove of missing socks, chewy bones, pieces of paper, and anything else he felt like hoarding.
On a dark and rainy night, when Riley was about seven years old, he escaped from our backyard, ran into the street, and was hit by a car. It was horrific. To this day I’m still haunted by the thought of him whimpering and dragging his hind quarters over the wet street as he tried to get himself to my youngest son. We took him to the emergency vet, who, after x-rays, told us that Riley’s spine was broken. He would need a surgery that would cost thousands of dollars in order to survive. We didn’t have that kind of money. We were heartbroken.
And so, we crated Riley, and took him home. We kept him as still as we could, and sedated with pain killers. We hand fed him, if and when he could eat, and squeezed water into his mouth with a medicine dropper. When he would need to relieve himself, we carried him outside, supported his body over the grass while he yelped and cried from the pain, until he could do his business, which always ended up being a messy business. We would then lay him in a warm bath, clean him up, then get him comfortable and still in the crate, only to do it all again the next time. It was devastating. Our family vet kept telling us to put Riley down. “It’s no quality of life for him,” he said. “He’s a dog.” But we couldn’t do it. We loved that little guy too much. Some may call that selfish, but we didn’t know any better. Riley was the first pet member of our family that we truly loved. The first pet where my children were old enough to be a part of his love and care. We weren’t ready to say goodbye…not yet. But Riley was in so much pain. It wasn’t fair to him either.
We came to the decision that saying goodbye to our beloved Riley probably was the best idea. On the day determined, my husband decided to try one more thing. He took Riley, and the x-rays that were taken after the accident, and he went to see a Vet Neurologist. Chris decided that whatever this doctor said would determine whether or not he would take the dog to the humane society to be put down. To our great surprise, the Neurologist said one, simple word. Wait. That’s right, she said wait. She believed that a medication called Rimadyl (basically Ibuprofen for dogs), and a little more time just might do the trick.
She was right. Within a week of that visit, Riley was walking on his own, and doing everything else that dogs love to do, all on his own. I can’t express the joy we had during that time. To watch our little Riley heal. Not just heal, but thrive.
And thrive Riley did. Until five years later, when he became very sick. His kidneys were shutting down. It was then that we knew we needed to say goodbye. My kids, grown up now, all met us at our vet. My youngest son held Riley while the injection was given. It was fast, Riley was gone. The ache in my heart was unbearable. I had heard of friends who had lost pets, but could never understand the pain until now. I cried for days. At times, the sadness overwhelmed me. I truly never knew just how in love you could be with a dog. I told myself and my husband that I never wanted to go through that kind of loss and pain again. There would be no more dogs for me.
Until Georgio. It was just one year after saying goodbye to Riley, that this little guy’s picture came up in a Pet Finder add online. And, he was in a shelter that was semi local. Just 45 minutes away. And just like that, my heart changed. I wanted another dog. Needed another dog. Now.
Since he was rescued off the streets of Oakland, Georgie was extremely timid, especially around men. He didn’t want to have anything to do with my husband. He only wanted me. Of course I was perfectly fine with that. It took some time, and a great deal of love and patience, but eventually little George perked up and became friendly. We were able to easily train him to sit and stay. Chris even trained him to play hide and seek. Chris would have Georgio sit and stay in one part of the house, while he ran and hid in another. Chris would then yell “Come find me!”. George would run, tiny feet skidding under his little body, to seek out Chris’ hiding place, and received his treat reward. The best trick we trained him to do is called “sit pretty”. This is where he balances straight up on his back haunches with his front paws bent in front. He does it all the time now whenever he wants a treat. Sometimes, we’ll find him sitting on the couch, sitting pretty, waiting for something, whatever it might be. It’s hilarious.
Georgio has been the greatest comfort to me. On the day my dad died, Georgio wouldn’t leave me. I remember laying down on the bed in exhaustion, and Georgie came next to me, snuggling himself close, and wouldn’t leave my side. When I got up, he stayed right at my heels. Then, at night, the sweet boy did the same for my mother. He jumped in her now half empty bed, and snuggled at her feet until she’d fall asleep. He carried out this routine every night, until it was time for us to go home. Such a good boy.
Georgie’s an old dog now. I’m noticing I get frustrated with him more due to his old man behaviors. He shivers and shakes from time to time. He’s become incontinent and has to wear diapers. Even when wearing them, he still has accidents. I feel like I’m cleaning up dog pee every single day. He’s weaker now. It’s harder for him to jump up on the couch where he likes to lay while we watch T.V.. And so, he’ll stand on the floor in front of the couch and whine incessantly until someone helps him up. Sometimes between the pee and the whining I feel as though I’ll lose my mind. But it’s not his fault. He only want’s to be a dog, it’s just sometimes his body won’t let him. It must be hard to be an old dog.
So, as I sit here, watching my Georgio, laying in a diaper in front of the warm fire, my heart both soars, and it aches. Someday soon, we’ll have to say goodbye to this little guy too, who wouldn’t leave my side when I needed him most, and who still sits pretty, even when we don’t ask him to.