My brother Barry and sister-in-law Ellie are currently dealing with the serious illness of their dog, Hobbes. Hobbes has been a figure in many of their stories over the years, so I felt like I already knew him when I met him 18 months ago. He was every bit as lovable as I had been led to believe and I quickly became besotted with him. I could understand why Ellie’s imitation of Barry coming in from work went like this: “Oh Hobbes, I’m so happy to see you, did you have a good day, oh, I missed you today, [aside to Ellie] hi, Ellie, Hobbes, you are just the best dog!”
Thinking so much about Hobbes in the last couple of days has made me remember some wonderful dogs in our family over the years. One of the paragons of dog-dom was my dad’s dog, Lucy. Lucy was a mini-toy poodle that we gave to my dad for his birthday when I was in high school. Although I like most dogs, small dog breeds were not among my favorites. Lucy changed all that. If, as I read years ago, poodles are more inclined than most breeds to mirror their human’s personality, that explains why Lucy was not hyper or yappy—just calm and good-natured. Among her outstanding characteristics:
- She would sit on the couch with my dad and me and watch Texas Rangers baseball on TV. A friend of mine who rented a room from my mom for several months didn’t realize that to get Lucy to sit on the couch with him, he had to turn on the TV!
- She was a great ‘guard dog’ in that she barked when people came too close to the house, e.g., the mail carrier. We found out from the man who had the route that she only did that when we were home. I never knew if it was because she wanted to impress us or if she wanted to be sure she had backup or both!
- She had multiple identities, courtesy of my dad. He called her Luciana (that was her Italian signorina identity) and Boris (that was her spy identity, presumably from “Rocky and Bullwinkle”). I can still see my dad looking down at Lucy as she sat by his chair at meals, opening her mouth and saying “Boris, are you in there?”
- She became increasingly deaf as she got older, but almost to the last, could hear a scoop of ice cream hit the bowl.
After my parents divorced and my sister Nancy married, Lucy went to live with Nancy and her husband Bruce until she died. When my mom called me at work to tell me that Lucy had died, I had to leave the office for a long walk around downtown Boston to compose myself enough to finish out the day.
My sister Susan had two dogs, Jake and Jill, that she had rescued. I think those dogs were thankful every single day of their lives that my sister was the one who rescued them—they had a good life! They were part of a menagerie that included another dog, two horses, a donkey and a cat. When I would talk to or email Susan, I frequently ended with “scritches to all the animals and tell Jill she is my favorite.” I always cautioned my sister to say that to Jill very quietly so as not to hurt everyone else’s feelings.
My own dog Mab was the best! Mab was a golden retriever and somehow survived my inept management of her puppyhood with her sweet personality and shining intelligence intact. One of my favorite stories about Mab features my then-boyfriend Jack. Jack gave Mab a ‘voice’ early on in our relationship. One night we went across the street to get ice cream shakes and brought them back to my apartment. Jack, against all my dietary strictures, was giving Mab spoonfuls of his shake in her dish. He asked me a couple of times if I was going to give her any of mine. I kept saying ‘no, she shouldn’t be eating ice cream, it’s not good for dogs.’ All the while, Mab was sitting in front of me, looking hopeful. I got to the final slurp and made it emphatic. Mab ‘said’ under her breath, “bitch.” Here’s the thing: instead of reacting to Jack, I looked at Mab and said “what did you say?”
I repeated so many of these conversations in the ‘Mab said, then I said’ format that one day a friend of mine said to me, “Melissa, you do know that it’s Jack talking, don’t you?”
Mab’s death several years ago broke my heart. Her death and the death of many beloved pets of family and friends over the years brings to mind something I read in an article once about the death of our pets: when humans die, there are almost always unresolved issues—guilt, disappointment, anger—that temper our grief. When pets die, it was unconditional love, so it’s unconditional grief. So true.