George: For Love of Dog
Tonight when I made dinner for the dogs, there were two bowls. When I made it this time last week, there were three. When I made it this time last year, there were seven.
A year ago, the house was filled with dogs: mine, my mother’s, my sister’s. The string of deaths began with my oldest boy, Andy. Annie followed less than a week later, after we discovered that her persistent limp wasn’t a sprain but osteosarcoma. Sparrow, ancient but seemingly indestructible, finally proved not to be in the fall. A month later, a brain tumor took Duke. This week it was George who left us, claimed by heart failure and kidney disease two weeks before his 13th birthday.
George was my first small dog. Before him, I had been a devoted lover of big dogs, having lived for 12 years with my black Lab, Roger. But when a friend’s Chihuahua gave birth to a litter on, appropriately enough, Cinco de Mayo, and my then-partner and I were offered one, we said yes.
When George came home, he could sit in the palm of my hand. I was terrified that I was going to break him. Yet he immediately scaled a mountain of laundry that was sitting on the bed and tumbled down the other side, completely fearless. He was an odd, alien-looking thing with huge eyes and a tiny head, and I couldn’t even picture what he would turn into.
He grew into a handsome five pound gentleman, with a leonine ruff and soft golden-brown fur that earned him the nickname the Butterscotch Piglet. He was almost unnervingly quiet, seldom barking and behaving not at all like I had been led to believe Chihuahuas would behave.
For the first year, I would often worry that something was wrong, as he so seldom asserted himself. But always when I went looking for him to make sure he was okay, I found him happily curled up in the sun, watching the world revolve around him.
When my partner and I separated six years later, George came with me. On the drive from California to our new home in Texas, he rode in his bed on the passenger seat, sleeping on his back with his paws in the air. He did the same a few years later when we drove to Utah, then again when we made the move to Maryland to come here to help my sister care for our mother. Wherever I went, he was by my side, one constant in a world that seemed to change with dizzying frequency.
Living here, he immediately took to life as a country dog. He loved the barn, the grass, the horses. He loved the truck and going to the feed store. I took him everywhere, often earning laughs from the farmers from whom we bought hay, who saw his tiny face peering at them through the open window and weren’t quite sure what to make of him.
Four years ago, during a routine vet visit, the doctor informed me that George had a heart murmur. Because I am who I am, I thought this meant that he would be dead within minutes. My fears were not allayed any when I asked the vet how much longer I might have with him and was told, “Who knows?”
I asked the gods for a year. When I got it, I asked for another. Then another. Perhaps I got greedy. George’s murmur grew worse, to the point where I could actually feel it thumping wildly if I placed my hand on his tiny chest. But still he acted as if nothing was wrong. His medications caused him to have to pee a lot, and we quickly settled into a routine of one or two middle-of-the-night outings every night. But I saw these as times to enjoy being with him alone for a few minutes, away from the other dogs, and never once begrudged him the interrupted sleep.
When Andy died unexpectedly last year, followed by the three others, I hoped against hope that 2018 would not bring additional sorrow. And when George started to visibly fade last week, I hoped against hope that it was temporary. I looked at his birthday circled on the calendar and prayed for a miracle.
When it became clear that we would not get it, I carried him one last time around the farm. Then, as I’d done with his brother last year, I held him in my arms and sang “Lavender Blue” to him as the vet helped usher him out of this world and into the next. “They always break your heart,” I said to her afterward. “Yes,” she said. “But they only do it once.”
The hole that a five pound dog leaves in your heart is enormous. I know from experience that it will grow smaller with time, that the space occupied by the remaining dogs will expand to fill it. But there will always be an unoccupied corner there, just as there are corners where Roger, Andy, Spike, Sam, and other dogs I’ve loved and lost once curled up. Goodbye, my little friend. You were loved. ▼
Michael Thomas Ford’s most recent novel, Lily, is a Tiptree Award long list title and is a finalist for the Lambda Literary award and the Shirley Jackson Award. More Michael Thomas Ford