Where do you include a tribute to a dog when you write a dad blog? It’s not exactly the kind of post you’d see on a regular basis. Of course, we don’t have long time canine friends die every week to write about. And, since dogs are considered man’s best friend, I thought I was safe sharing my tribute to my dog right here on the DadPad.
This morning was the last day we were able to look into the big brown eyes of our 15 year old Golden Retriever, Ginger. A few months ago we went through a dress rehearsal of today. She had started to list to the left (or the right depending on how you were looking at her 😉 and had trouble standing up. I thought for sure she had a stroke and I wasn’t going to be able to carry a 70lb Golden Retriever out to go to the bathroom for too long. I remember crying at the thought that this might be it. It wasn’t. I was surprised how hard it hit me at that time that this might be it for her. Now, if you had spent time with me daily you’d realize that I kind of had a love-hate relationship with Ginger. That may be a little overstatement but she was such a pain in the rear sometimes. Always wanting attention right while I was in the middle of something. But, somehow she knew that the threat of her leaving a puddle (or worse) on the kitchen floor would get me up out of my chair. She was smart that way.
It was a spring day more than 15 years ago. We gathered up the family in the Chrysler Town & Country and headed out for our trek across the border into neighboring Wisconsin. We had been searching for our first family dog. I finally acquiesced as most dads do. What started out as a vehement “no, we are NOT getting a dog” turned into the trip into Wisconsin to pick up our 5 week old Golden Retriever puppy. Ginger became her name. Officially it was Gingersnap Blossom. That’s what you get when you let a 6, 8 and 10 year old collaborate to name your pet. The name fit, kind of. She was a lot lighter in coloring than many Golden’s. The excitement level was high as we loaded Ginger into the van and she became the 6th member of our family. Of course I did what most dads do. I made a laundry list of things that the kids needed to do in order to secure my “yes” in the purchase of a pooch. And, as frequently happens, those promises quickly fall by the wayside leaving mom and dad to perform most of the duties we swore we wouldn’t do. All for the love of our kids (and the quick attachment we had begun to feel toward the furry ball scurrying about the home). Well, that was the beginning of a long and memorable relationship with our “6th” man, er dog.
She was a terror in the home for the first few years. She loved to terrorize our youngest daughter, Jaclyn. So much so that we actually had a “dog psychiatrist” (fancy name for a dog trainer) come out to our house to help us understand what was going on in Gingers head and how we could keep both her and Jaclyn (we were leaning toward Jacs ;). She was a strong-willed dog for sure. And, her teeth were sharp. More than once I had to stare her down to let her know who was boss. We did learn a few helpful things from the “dog whisperer” that we used to some level of success. We just waited for that day when she would become the dog we were told we were getting…so good with kids and people, gentle, fun, etc. The years went on and she finally started to calm down and she DID become that model dog. You know…the one that leaves you alone, lets you pet her, comes when you call. heels when you walk…that one. Well, Ginger didn’t exactly do all of those things but she did calm down and that was good enough for us.
Then we made the move. at the ripe old age of 6 we moved the family and Ginger to Little Rock, AR from Minnesota. That trip took it’s toll on Ginger. At least on her fur color. She went from already being a lighter shade of beige to nearly all white. Apparently she wasn’t sure how she would transition from being a Yankee to a Southern Belle. Ginger was always an indoor dog. We paid for that by constantly living in dog hair. But, it just didn’t make sense to me to have a dog and than keep it outside all the time. Part of that may have been watching my childhood dog live in an outdoor pen and fight flies in the summer and the freezing cold of MN in the winter. Maybe subconsciously I had determined I wouldn’t do that to my dog. In any event, Ginger definitely loved being in the house. She did like being outside to play and walk. She chased a yellow football when we would throw it and made it difficult to walk her around the neighborhood always wanting to chase a scent, like Al Pacino. She also protected us. She barked madly at UPS guys who came to the door (must have been the brown uniforms) and helped keep solicitors a few yards away when they came to the door. I liked that.
She had some funny little mannerisms that I’ll never forget. If you were sitting down and your hand was within reach of her snout, she would nudge you with it as if to say, “put that hand to work and pet me already.” More recently, when she had to go to the bathroom at night she would stand behind us and kind of hop on her front paws hoping we would hear her and let her out one last time. Then, she would wait for us to go to bed before she would head into our room and her pillow bed. Though every once in a while it would be as if she said, “I’m not waiting for you guys anymore, I’m going to bed now.” She always greeted guests with a smothering welcome. That was great as long as the guest liked dogs. We’ve had a few over the years that weren’t as crazy about Ginger as Ginger was about them. Bottom line…Ginger loved being with people and hated being alone. She would always find the place where almost instinctively she knew you would need to step and lay there. It was uncanny. She would lay right in the middle of the chaos when we were decorating the Christmas tree. She never missed a crumb that hit the ground. She loved to eat. And, she was adamant about eating at a certain time and wouldn’t let you alone until you fed her. She took liberty with that time as she got older. And, we relaxed our feeding time a bit too.
Then she began to decline. Her hearing and seeing began to wane. Her legs began to get arthritic and it became more difficult for her to get up out of her laying down position. Then, a few months ago, she went through the episode I described earlier. I thought that was it. But, the veterinary doctor diagnosed her with an inner ear infection and after proper treatment she regained her balance and mobility. I was grateful because she was a load to carry up and down four deck stairs to go to the bathroom outside. I’m not sure she ever completely recovered though. Soon, she was walking awkwardly and almost with stiff legs. We called her “peg-leg”. Then, she started having trouble in other areas and finally, yesterday, Easter Sunday, while we were visiting our son and celebrating his birthday in Northwest Arkansas, our wonderful neighbor who often watched Ginger when we were gone, called and let us know she didn’t eat her breakfast. That was NOT Ginger. When we got home she had wet the carpet (again something she never did) and she couldn’t walk. After having a couple of seizure-like episodes the last few weeks, we knew when we saw her last night that it was time. Her last night on this earth was a hard night. I had to carry her outside four times. But I wanted her to finish her time in comfort. She earned that. She had given us so much as a pet I would’ve done it twenty times if necessary.
We brought her into the vet this morning and the inevitable was soon going to be the reality. I didn’t want to be there but I couldn’t leave her either. She laid on the cold steel table, unable to walk. Then, with one quick injection, her heart stopped and she was no longer with us. But she was. She will always be with us. I wailed louder than I could’ve imagined as I hugged her one last time. Sue and I cried as we left her one last time. The drive home was hard. She wouldn’t be there to greet us, nudge us, stomp at us, or lay in our way. And, the tears would flow throughout the day. All for a dog. But, not just any dog. She was our dog. She embedded herself in our hearts from the moment she came bounding through our front door. And, we will never forget her. Good bye, Ginger. Thank you for 15+ years of loving us with your doggy smile, your desire to be with us and always making us feel like we were the only ones that mattered to you. We loved you and will always remember you.