Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In a New Dog State of Mind

“If you don't own a dog, at least one, there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life.”
~ Roger Caras

At this time of year, when my mind travels to holidays past and the news features stories about overflowing animal shelters, I find myself pining for a dog.

My first dog was a Golden Retriever who answered to the name Gay. Don’t read anything into it — Aunt Jo and Uncle Ken had named her parents Joy and Bliss. Gay was already on the scene when I arrived, predating me by several months. And what a swell companion she made. There we are with my mom at Westhampton Beach, where we spent the summers; this was back in the days when Dune Road was still a casual strip of shingled cottages instead of the McMansion-strewn eyesore it is today.

As dog owners know, a dog will form a unique relationship with each member of the family. To me, Gay was a best friend and confidant who knew how to keep secrets. When I was sad, she would nudge me and lick my face and make sounds so sympathetic, they sounded like sobbing. With my mother, Gay was an ever-present shadow and self-appointed guardian; once, when mom was swimming in the ocean, Gay raced out to “save” her and nearly drowned her instead. But with my dad, she was chief cheerleader and fan club president; whenever he came home from a trip, she became so excited that it seemed her heart would explode. She'd writhe on the ground, beat her tail hard and fast in all directions, yelp with joy, pipe and whine and tell him how she missed him in dog talk.

But Gay was not, repeat not, a guard dog. One day when she, an older sister and I were all at home, a burglar entered our house, robbed it and left with most of my mother’s jewelry. Gay never made a sound. Shortly afterward a Golden Retriever won the Westminster dog show. The breed expert talked about their loyalty and intelligence and excellence around children, but then added, “Don’t expect a watch dog. A Golden not only will not attack an intruder, he will fix him a drink and show him around the house.”

That's Gay, at right, with my cousin Joel on the back steps of the house that was robbed. She's probably looking for some nice stranger in a ski mask to invite in.

Gay lived to be nearly fourteen, but was almost crippled with painful arthritis. Agreeing to have her put down was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. It taught me a lesson about the quality of life that has served me well ever since.

Tomorrow: my last dog and why I don't have one today.

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