Yes, this dog

By Lynn St. Georges

“No. Not this dog.” Jim’s eyes swelled with tears.

It was June 30, 2005, five days after our dog, Maggie, had to be euthanized. She was only 10 years old but her suffering from congestive heart failure had grown too severe.

Worse, it had been just two months since Jim had to close his business and file for disability. Decades of living with a particularly virulent form of Hepatitis C that was unresponsive to any treatments had resulted in decompensated liver disease. Jim had hepatic encephalopathy, which negatively affected his cognition. Ironically, it was diagnosed after he was unable to follow my directions to take Maggie to the vet cardiologist.

Maggie

Sweet Maggie

For four days after Maggie died, I stayed home from work. Jim’s clinical depression was in overdrive. I only recently made him sell the handgun he had gotten from his father decades before.

On the fifth day, I said, “Enough. We are going to the shelter to get a dog.”

“But I’m not ready to replace Maggie,” he responded. I explained that this would be a new dog because we could never replace sweet Maggie. “And,” I continued, “I can’t keep missing work.” I drug him to the car and drove to the shelter, ignoring his protests.

As we walked down the aisle of kennels, mostly big black dogs that were lab mixes excitedly leapt around their cages. “Take ME!” they seemed to bark. We kept walking down the aisle until we came to a small, cream-colored terrier mix. The dog was crouched into a fetal curl, visibly quivering.

Maggie was a small, cream-colored dog.

I stopped and Jim looked at the dog and then at me. He looked back at the dog. “No. No. Not this dog.”

Ignoring him, I went with my gut. I left Jim and went to find an attendant to let this terrified animal out to meet us. The three of us entered a get-acquainted room and the dog, who we learned was named Lily, jumped into my lap and furiously licked my face. I looked at Jim and again his eyes filled with tears. Maggie never gave kisses.

Lynn St. Georges

Lynn St. Georges

We were being hurried to make a decision. Lily had been at the shelter a week and a rescue organization had been called to pick her up and take her to a foster home since she was so stressed out. While waiting we learned that Lily had been picked up as a stray in the street a week before. Since she was micro chipped the shelter called her owner, who told the shelter, “she’s not worth the money to bail out.” They said she was two-to-three years old. The person from the rescue organization was there waiting for our decision.

“I want to get this dog,” I told Jim. We’d been together decades and he knew me well enough to know I meant it. He angrily left and waited in the car while I completed the adoption papers. When Lily and I finally joined him, Lily jumped into his lap and I drove home.

We walked Lily into the house on her leash and unleashed her. She immediately leapt onto the end of our couch, ran across the top of it, leapt over the corner table and lamp onto the love seat, raced across the top of that to the far end, where she landed on the throw pillow, squishing it with her front paws while circling a few times and then lay down panting and looking at us with what can only be described as joy. “So this is how it’s going to be then,” I said to her. I looked at Jim and he was smiling.

I went back to work and Jim fell in love with Lily, who fell very hard in love with Jim. They were a twosome. I was the food person and Lily really did not care much for me beyond that. Two weeks after we brought Lily home, we took a 2-week road trip through the Canadian Rockies. Jim used to tease that he figured Lily thought she was adopted by vagabonds.

jim-lynn-lily

Jim, Lynn and Lily, aka the vagabonds, in Alberta, Canada.

The years passed and Lily remained solely devoted to Jim. It wasn’t until a few weeks before he died that she suddenly became my dog. I never knew if she intuited his death and figured she’d better befriend me, or if she knew I would need her after he died; regardless, she was now my dog. It felt cruel to me that Jim was still living, but I’m not sure he really noticed the switch.

The night Jim died in our bed, Lily was lying on his legs. Two hours later the mortuary van arrived, and she remained on him while the two men came in. I finally had to force her to leave him as they bagged him up and wheeled him out, Lily and I laying on the bed the entire time.

Lily loved Jim so much. Whenever I would ask her, “Where’s Daddy?”, she’d lift her head and raise her ears and look around, her tail wagging furiously. The morning after he died, I looked at her and asked, “Lily, where’s Daddy?” and she did not react. She lay there looking at me. She knew better than I did. Daddy was gone.

This little dog who was such a man’s dog became my dog. I considered giving her away because I had to go back to the office, and I had no idea how to leave her alone all day when she was used to having a companion and would pee on the floor if distressed. I mentioned my idea to my two neighbors, who both told me to give them a house key and they would take care of her. I would come home from work and some days Lily would be gone, at a neighbor’s house. Some days the TV would be changed to a children’s station, and I knew Ava and her mom, Julie, had been inside. Some days there was a note from Julie and Ava: “We love you, Lynn!” And in spite of how much I did not want to share my private space with others, I learned that being cared for was necessary. I learned that like Lily, I had to open my heart to live.

Lily & Ava_11-09

Lily visiting at Ava’s home.

Since Jim died in September 2009, Lily has grown overly obsessed with me. I worry that she worries too much. I acknowledge that I project my feelings on her, anthropomorphizing my thoughts and actions on her. I presume it’s because she watched her beloved daddy die, and she figured that was not going to be something she would endure again.

Then I met Keith and Lily had a new daddy, a new man to love, this man-loving creature. And she fell in love with Keith, but her devotion to me is too strong now. She can’t bear if I am out of the room for more than a minute and comes to find me. I worry about her devotion, which feels like an unhealthy obsession.

keith & lily

Keith, Daddy No. 2, and Lily.

Now my old girl is pushing 15 years old. Her eyes are clouded with age. She has periods of incontinence. She still loves to play, but not as long or as hard. She gets more-easily annoyed by the cats. Her anxiety over my whereabouts worsens. And I worry about her now, too. Our bond is ridiculously strong and it worries me, for us both.

I expect she will cross Rainbow Bridge while I am still alive, and I know that I will drop to my knees. She is, in some respects, a thread to my late husband. I worry about the time when it’s time. Living at the edge of the world here on the north Oregon coast, there are no emergency vets. I can’t see to drive at night in the rain on dark mountain roads. What will I do if the time comes when it’s not a good time, as it always does? These worries keep me from my sleep. I lie in bed and listen for her snoring, knowing she is there and not needing my attention. For today, we are well.

Lily

My girl and my heart, Miss Lily Ann Belle

***

Lynn St. Georges lives on the north Oregon coast with her partner, Keith, four cats and this amazing canine named Lily.

Editor’s note: I met Lynn in 2009 after she had written about her mother’s death in a letter to the editor to The Oregonian. An exchange of emails led to a friendship between us. She became a member of my bowling team for one season and a steadfast supporter of VOA. She is strikingly honest, having chronicled her journey of grief, loss and love on this blog.  

Tomorrow: Eric Wilcox, Risky business: Getting involved

Advertisements

24 thoughts on “Yes, this dog

    • I was born into a house of pets, Eric, and that is as I will die. I’ve always said animals make us human. My late husband, Jim, said of dogs, “Dogs are good people.” Thanks for reading.

  1. Great story, Lynn. I’ve read so many pet stories recently, as we’ve looked into finally getting a dog. My daughter is highly allergic, so we have to get a specific kind of dog. I’m drawn to these kinds of stories, because the last time I had to process a pet’s death was at the end of a fourteen-year relationship with our yellow lab, Skip, in 1996. I suppose I’m trying to learn how people deal with it after not having dealt with it for so long. Anyway, thank you!

    • Thanks, Tim. I’ve always had cats and have nearly always had dogs. I’ve always found it harder to lose a dog than a cat. When a cat dies, I’m sad for a day or so, but it’s a tolerable grief and there are other cats here. Losing a dog, though … damn, that’s so hard. Having a dog is more like having a child and the hole they leave behind is huge. But they also make us human. When my late husband’s father died, my husband was angry at him (he drank himself to death) for years afterward. Then our first canine “baby”, Pooh Bear, died at 13 years old (a 120-lb lab/newf mix). That first night, Jim sat on my bed and sobbed, saying between sobs, “I can’t cry for my father but I can cry over a damn dog.” I told him that he was crying for his father, that our pets help and let us feel. Best wishes on finding the right dog!

  2. Beautifully written!. The part about how they had to force your dog to leave Jim and the bed brought tears to my eyes. According to Eckhart Tolle, the source of love is the same, whether it’s a spouse, a pet or even a friend – it’s just that the intensity varies. The attachment is the same, so I can understand your feelings. . Your photos are excellent! So perfectly composed – whether it’s the beautiful little girl or Daddy No 2 with psychedelic socks. Enjoy your time with Lily – all we ever have is the present moment and yours is great right now!

    • Thanks Lakshmi! I thought this one might touch your heart. I wish I could be more present. It’s been a lifelong struggle.

      Did you not know Keith is an amputee? He’s a lifelong attention seeker. I’m afraid that’s not a sock, but his tie-dyed prosthetic. A “normal” person might have gone for flesh-tone, no? 😉

  3. Pets in general, but dogs specifically, often bring out the best qualities in people, don’t they? When my parents later in life got their first dog, Sojourn, it changed them as people, in both silly and serious ways. My siblings and I joke about how our dear dad showed Sojourn far more physical affection than he ever showed to any of us. Especially with us kids out of the house by that time, Sojourn quickly became a vessel into which my parents poured all their love. He passed away many years ago, but my parents still talk about Sojourn as if he had been some animal with super powers.

    • I agree, Aki. Like I’ve said many times before, pets make us human, and I agree that dogs touch our hearts in ways cats generally don’t. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. I would not expect anything else from both your wonderful prose and the emotions behind same. As “my” Lily approaches the end of her tenure here on earth I am steeling myself against being dog “free.” (That will not be the case for long.)

    • Thanks, Tracy. We both know you will not be dog free for more than a few moments. I know you said Lily’s lifelong goal was to be an only “child”, and I appreciate that you are letting her enjoy what remains of her life as that sole dog. Best to your Lily.

  5. My dad also had a strong bond with our pets. After all the kids were gone and some of the pets passed, I thought they’d welcome the freedom. But instead, they got new dogs. I think the caregiving habits were strong in them.

    • I will always have cats. I’m trying to convince myself that Lily will be my last dog. My heart hurts at the thought of losing another one, and it also hurts to think about not having a dog companion. We’ll see. Thanks for reading!

  6. I love Lily, how you met, the way she looks and how she loves. And I love this thought in your piece: “And in spite of how much I did not want to share my private space with others, I learned that being cared for was necessary. I learned that like Lily, I had to open my heart to live.” Ahhhh. Pets teach us so much. They often rescue us when we rescue them, too.

    • Lily is a true angel – not a bad bone in this dog’s 12-lb body. Sadly, it’s clear she was mistreated by her previous owners. When we met, she had submissive urination so badly that looking at her would make her leak. I hired a pet behaviorist to work with Jim and Lily and learned it’s all about trust and confidence. Go figure, right? And yes, they definitely are rescue animals. Animals make us human. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Lynn thank you for the wonderful story of Lilly. I believe that every dog that comes into our lives is there for a reason and to help us grow more human. This story made me miss Muffin and Toby, the dogs of my childhood.

    • Thanks for reading, Molly. My late husband would say, “dogs are good people,” and I’ve always said animals make us human.

  8. Lynn, what a great dog and a great story. Animals are so intelligent – I often think more intelligent than we are – they know when we need them, when we are low and sad. I, too, am blessed to be surrounded by many animals and can’t imagine life without them. What a blessing that you found Lily (or that she found you!).

    • Thanks, Gosia. I’m pretty sure Miss Lily came into our lives for a reason, as they all do. Even when I found myself with six cats one time (generally double what I allow myself), I can explain them all … really! 😉

  9. Great read, Lynn. I like pieces about what’s difficult to talk about. Honestly, I’m not a small dog person. It’s snob-awful, but I just….don’t really get it. I loved and lost a canine–a beautiful, you-gotta-get-by-me-to-get-to-her Shepard I raised from a puppy while I was still just a kid, and he taught me what unconditional love is at its best and helped me practice extreme independence. I was actually untouchable when he was at my side at a time when every other message I was receiving was that I was in danger from everyone everywhere and I shouldn’t venture anywhere by myself. I still feel his void 20 years later. Little dogs by comparison just seem so…impotent, and needy and anxious, and, ugg, loud. It takes a person with a whole lot of love. What a loving nature you have! Your piece is great, and I think you’re even more caring than I knew before.

    • Thanks for your comments, Jennifer. You know, I only had big dogs growing up … BIG dogs, as did Jim. Because I grew up with cats, I always assumed small dogs were more like cats. I wanted REAL dogs! Then one day, for some reason I wandered into the animal shelter without telling Jim, and came home with Maggie. I quickly learned something – small dogs are JUST LIKE DOGS! Really! I was amazed. Lily is half the size of Maggie, and she’s more dog than most big dogs. My last big dog was a 120-lb hunk of love. He wanted to be a lap dog the same as Lily. I have learned I was wrong about small dogs … bonus points that picking up their poop is so much easier! 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s