Your Family Dog Is Forever By Your Side — Even If Only In Your Memories And Dreams
When they say there are two kinds of people in the world, cat people and dog people, I fall pretty squarely on the pooch side of things. From the time I was eight until I was married, I had a dog. I played with them, held them, and relied on them for many things. But I never actually thought of them as a family member but more as a friend or a roommate. How wrong I was. Everything changed when my wife and I adopted our beloved hound mix, Georgette.
I remember the day we first met her at the shelter. She was a small pup, brown with beautiful puppy eyes. Already named Georgette, we loved here instantly. As if it were yesterday, I remember clearly the very first thing I ever said to her: “Hi there. Do you want to come home and live with us?”
Georgette was a great and unfailingly loyal girl. Oh sure, she had the appetite of a sumo wrestler like most hounds, and was prone to stealing food out of kitchen cabinets from time to time. Then there was the problem of chewing shoes and furniture during the teething stage, and leaving nose art on the windows. And, of course, she insisted on sleeping packed between my wife and me in our king-size bed. But besides all that, no man could ask for a better dog. My wife and I were just starting out. We had a new house, new job and two children, who Georgette adored. I will forever remember how she would stand on the street corner with our boys each morning waiting for the school bus. There’s just something magical about watching kids and their dog grow up together that cannot be duplicated with other pets like a turtle or hamster.
One thing about Georgette, I remember, that separated her from other dogs I had growing up was her ability to know instinctively when we needed attention. While she wouldn’t have given Dr. Phil a run for his money or ace a psychology class, she was one smart pup.
It’s no surprise, then, that she made life a little easier for my wife by providing affection and comfort after her father suddenly passed away. The unexpected death was a shock, and I will always remember the magical, therapeutic effect Georgette had on my wife when she approached her ready to be pet. It was her way of reassuring my wife that she was not alone in her loss.
Although Georgette is long gone and our children are now married adults, even today when my wife thinks of her father she refers to Georgette as an angel. Anyone with an ounce of sense knows that there is no way that dog could have known that my wife was living through a life altering experience, and yet there is little doubt in my mind that she did know.
But for me personally my fondest memories of Georgette, besides that she loved me no matter what I looked like or how bad my breath stank, center on the sacred bond between us that formed during our daily off-leash walks together. And it’s a recent, extraordinarily vivid dream of those walks that caused me to write this piece.
When my wife and I were just starting out, we lived in a quaint suburb north of Chicago. On a dead-end residential street not too far from our house was a cluster of red-brick buildings that were once occupied as a school for handicapped and disabled children. Most of our neighbors had never visited the site. It was located adjacent to a nature preserve and the buildings were hidden among the trees. The property had almost a Colonial Williamsburg look, at least from what I remember from my childhood trips to the Virginia historic district. The property is a career and senior center today, I read somewhere. But back then, it was just an abandoned school.
With that background, a peculiar thing happened the other night after a waiter brought me a regular coffee when I asked for decaf. I had been dozing more than sleeping for most of the night. But when real sleep finally came, it was not like I was dreaming. I know of no other way to put this but to say that I felt as if I had had been lifted bodily and still awake to the school. As bizarre as it sounds, I found myself walking near the rear of the property, behind the red-brick buildings, through an open grass field.
Beyond the field was a narrow graveled road that bordered the woods. This is where we first spotted the squirrel. Georgette saw it first. She cocked her ears, tensed her hindquarters, and thrust her head forward. Then she ran across the field, over the graveled road, after the squirrel, barking, and disappearing into the trees.
With the disconnected atmosphere of a dream, I suddenly found myself walking the narrow road — it was not really a road, more a trail covered with loose gravel and fallen leaves.
In the old days, this had been a daily event with us. Chasing squirrels. We always started at the school, as I remember, and then headed to the heavily wooded nature preserve. When Georgette spotted a squirrel in the distance, she would let out a yelp and take out after the fuzzy-tailed creature, closing in just as the squirrel barely made it up a tree. Then the squirrel would turn around halfway up the tree and look back at Georgette as if to say something unkind about dogs. This would make Georgette mad, and she would move around the tree to the other side and bark some more. The bark was as clear in my dream as it had been all those years ago. I was about to call out her name but when I opened my mouth, Georgette was gone. All that remained were tall trees standing in an autumn fog.
I woke up with a smile remembering that Georgette had never actually caught a squirrel. But my dream also reminded me of a sad reality: Despite so many years of walking together, I will never see Georgette again.
In my memories, however, and sometimes in my dreams, Georgette is by my side. Most family photographs taken when our kids were young include her. As I type this sentence, glancing over to the bookcase where the urn that holds her ashes sits, I regret that dogs can’t live longer given the joy and companionship they add to our lives. It’s like Mother Nature waltzed into a casino and bellied up to the roulette wheel when assigning animals a lifespan. Outside the dog family, other animals live much longer. Asian elephants, for instance, can live 60 years, and giant tortoises 100 years. Bowhead whales can live over 200 years.
Georgette’s relatively short life seems so unfair, then. And yet it makes sense. You see, the life expectancy of an average dog is about the time it takes to raise a family.
Our sons were active in sports, and Georgette always went along. From youth soccer and little league to high school football and lacrosse, Georgette was always there. She was also there when our sons learned to ride a bike and later how to drive a car. She watched them outgrow Legos and take an interest in girls. She participated in backyard campouts and celebrated birthdays around the pool (that dog really loved the water).
And then, all too suddenly, she left us. It was shortly after our sons went to college. It was as if she knew her job was done.
Just like I remember the first words I spoke to Georgette the day we met, I remember the last thing I said by her side at the vet’s: “I love you, Georgette.” Typing those words now is to remember a time that seems so close and yet so distant. After all these years, I still feel the love I had for Georgette. That’s because right up until the very end, Georgette taught me the value of unconditional love, the sort of love a family member gives you. Yes, Georgette was family. And that’s why in spirit she is forever with me.