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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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