It has been one month since I lost my best friend.
I am talking, of course, about Molly, the world’s best golden retriever, who died unexpectedly while supposedly on the mend from a bladder infection.
We mourn the passings of our beloved fur babies because they are in our lives for such a short period of time, and because they ask us for so little, yet give so much affection in return. I grew up with dogs from infancy, and, like my parents and sister, have always treated them like part of the family. They sleep inside, not out (and on our beds much of the time). They have Christmas stockings and receive birthday cards. They go with us on family vacations.
But Molly was even more special. She was the love of my life.
So Many Dogs
During the first nine years of my life, I grew up alongside various dogs – Stashu, a mutt whom I don’t remember and whose life was cut short by distemper; Mac, a magnificent Saint Bernard whose jowls were always coated with drool; and Stella, a noisy Tibetan terrier whom my parents rescued from an abusive home. Later, our family adopted Toby, a purebred golden retriever from championship lines and raised him as a puppy – during which he destroyed all of the furniture in our home while teething. He lived a full life, greeting me when I would return home from college and, towards the end of his life, when I would come home each night after a long commute by train from the northwest suburbs to downtown Chicago.
Toby lived to be 12, beat bone marrow cancer, and died in his sleep. My mom was devastated, and my parents vowed that they would never get another pet…a vow that they keep for roughly six months. I remember returning home after working late one night, coming in the back door as usual, and being greeted by Timber, a five-year-old gentle giant. My parents pulled one over on me; I might as well have been a toddler who giggles after his biggest Christmas morning present – a ventilated box – moves, and a puppy emerges!
Timber, whose proper AKC name was Timberline Special Edition, was a champion show dog who was simply too sweet for the crate life. His master sought to give Timber the home he craved – that of being a simple family dog – and we were only too happy to oblige. Timber was big for his breed. He had a big heart, too – in more ways than one. For one thing, he wouldn’t hurt a fly. While Toby chewed up every shoe and slipper that wasn’t stowed inside a closed closet, Timber was so quiet and well-behaved that you could leave a ham steak in the middle of the living room carpet, tell him “no,” and know that you could walk away and the steak would be untouched by the dog. For another thing, he was a hugger, and anyone who would occupy the end cushion of sofa would be pinned against the wall until Timber got enough hugs.
Unlike the Grinch, Timber’s heart really was too big – literally. Later in his life – a few years after I had moved to California – Timber began having seizures. I never witnessed one in person, but I’m told that after having one, he would confusedly walk around in circles, and occasionally piddle. The seizures became more frequent and went on for longer and longer durations, but Timber remained as sweet as ever, which makes me selfishly glad that I wasn’t living there when he finally had to be put to sleep.
My parents mourned Timber for seven years. Their children were long out of the house and no longer living in Illinois, so mom and dad took the loss hard. My dad later admitted that it took several months for them to get rid of the dog’s food and water bowls, and said there were many times when he would return home from running errands, enter the house, and call out his name. My heart still aches at the thought, and I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t have a single picture of Timber.
Mom and dad swore once again that they would never get another dog. It wasn’t until November, 2013, when my sister was living in Memphis, I was living in Mexico City, and my parents were living in East Tennessee, that they broke the promise they had made to themselves. I knew they would cave! They contacted Tennessee Valley Golden Retriever Rescue and wanted a dog who was young but not a puppy, and who just wanted a loving home.
I suspect it was my mom in particular who had the notion that if she and dad got another dog, my sister and I would visit with greater frequency. It worked, too – I spent one month with them that Christmas and moved back home seven months later!
My parents fell in love with Molly at first sight. The TVGRR sponsor drove Molly to meet my parents at an interstate rest area, and I’m told that when he opened the back door of his van, Molly immediately raised her paw to “shake.” That was all it took.
With pet rescues, you seldom learn much about the history of the dog you are adopting, but what we did know was that Molly was three, and belonged to an East Tennessee family who had to give up her and her younger, yellow lab sister, Millie, after the medical bills of their special needs daughter became too much to bear. Knowing how sweet goldens and labbies usually are, I can only imagine how loved that little girl must have been, and how hard it must have been for her parents to make such a difficult choice.
My first thought was that my parents should’ve rescued both Molly and Millie, but as I got to know Molly over that long Christmas break, I knew how possessive she was and that while she probably missed that poor child, she didn’t miss Millie a whit. Some dogs belong in one-pet-households, and Molly is one such dog. Like Toby and Timber before her, she almost never barked, but staunchly disapproved of other dogs on her property, and would bark loud enough to break the sound barrier (okay, maybe not that loud) when a neighbor would walk his or her dog past our house. To Molly, the entire block was her property!
Molly and I bonded immediately. She was crate-trained, and would sleep there at night, but always napped with me in the afternoons. One night, my parents were visiting my sister, and I had the house to myself. I let Molly sleep on my bed that night instead of in her crate, and that was all it took. The crate was as good as useless.
Technically, Molly belonged to my mom, who bought her food, washed her food bowl, and paid her vet bills. But mom had a bum knee and no driver’s license, and the only person who would walk Molly, or take her to the park, or to Dairy Queen for a Pup Cup, was me. My mom has been gone for three and-a-half years (today, as it happens), and while I will always love her, this bears mentioning: mom had a jealous streak a mile wide, and I think she was jealous that Molly bonded with me instead of with her. After my mom died and her cousin sold the house we were renting out from under us, my dad and I moved into separate residences. I took Molly with me, of course, but that only made formal what had long been the informal case: Molly was my dog.
Molly loved our new place – a townhouse on the outskirts of town. While it didn’t have a window long enough for her to look out of from the comfort of my bed, it did have a patio door for a sunbathing, as well as a large open lot in the back that was perfect for sniffing and exploring. She found all kinds of treasures in the bushes along the periphery of the lot: stale pieces of garlic bread (usually hard as a rock); the occasional dead bird (great for rolling in!); bread crumbs tossed by a neighbor for the birds to enjoy. I collectively referred to all such treasures as “yard pizza.”
Molly liked hiking almost as much as I did. I have always been partial to less-crowded trails, so at some point on our hikes, I would let Molly off-leash. She would never wander out of my sight, and while she would often get ahead of me, she always stopped at some point and waited for me to catch up.
I took her swimming once. A failed experiment – she nervously entered the water after me, but as soon as it got so that her paws could no longer touch the bottom, she panicked. So much for dogs being natural swimmers?
She simply loved car rides. On long rides to Memphis, it would take her three hours of panting and excitedly looking out the window before she would settle down. She would just start to relax when I would pull over at a rest area and the whole routine would start over again. On shorter rides, she simply expected me to stop off at McDonald’s and get her a plain hamburger, which she would wolf down in a single bite. Once, she and I were returning from the park and she simply decided that she was going to ride in the front seat instead of the back. She put on the brakes, and that was that. Whole tufts of hair blew around the car as I drove.
Molly loved squeak toys. Some of the higher-end toys would last for several days, but her favorites seemed to be the $1.25 woolen bears, which she would shred within moments, leaving a trail of cotton throughout the upstairs. She never ate the squeakers, nor the stuffing, but the bear’s “skin” itself would eventually disappear inside her belly. I bought her a red one once, and found traces of it in her loads for the next three days. 😊
For the most part, Molly was obedient and well-trained by her first owners. She needed some leash work and had a tendency to jump at people (always in excitement, never in anger), but as I said before, she seldom barked and never had accidents in the house, despite being home alone for 11 or more hours most days.
Despite her love of DQ Pup Cups and Mickey D’s Hamburgers, she seldom begged for table scraps, and would merely sit at your feet while you ate. This changed in an instant, though, one fated night – she was resting by my side while I ate a bowl of soup. I was fumbling with a sleeve of Saltine crackers, and one of them flew from my hand and landed next to one of her paws. GULP! Down the hatch…and as the saying goes, that was all she wrote. From that point forward, everything was fair game.
In addition to Saltines – which we jokingly called “crackers from Heaven” – Molly’s favorite foods were chicken nuggets, meatballs, tuna, and whatever lunchmeat we happened to pick up.
Chicken nuggets – or “chimken nuggies,” as her social media idols Tucker Budzyn and Baby Yoda might call them – were a frequent treat. Whenever I would heat up eight or ten for my lunch, she would always get one.
Meatballs, eaten much less frequently, would make her fart with a potency that would bring even ISIS to surrender.
Canned tuna was a real treat. I eat a lot of tuna, and Molly made it a point of letting me know that I had to save her at least a third (hopefully more) of every can. She had perfect hearing – she could be sound asleep upstairs and would wake up and run downstairs at the mere sound of me setting the can opener on the counter.
Speaking of countertops, she once ate a half-pound of turkey, Saran Wrap included, when we left it unattended at the edge of the counter while eating lunch in the next room. I remember hearing rustling from the kitchen and my mom telling me to push the lunchmeat back from the edge. I walked into the kitchen, and there was nary a trace of turkey anywhere. “What lunchmeat?” I asked. Cue Molly, who sauntered into the dining room, sated and licking the last traces of brine from her chops.
Molly loved everyone she met, and seemed especially fond of whatever women I would bring by. (I certainly don’t mean to imply that I am a Lothario. Far from it.) But as possessive as Molly was around me, she knew that these two or three women, none of whom would end up sticking around very long, were not going to steal me from her. In fact, she liked these women so much that she once hopped on the bed next to me and a certain lady friend while we were in coitus, and farted so loudly that my “friend” and I burst into laughter. We then proceeded to pick up where we left off…until the smell hit, and I could no longer “rise” to the occasion. Did Molly have any meatballs that day, I wonder?
Molly and I may have bonded because I speak “Dog” fluently. If you’re wondering, the language of Dog sounds like English, but with a childish, falsetto pitch. I used to call my friend Steve on the phone and, after invariably getting his voicemail, say, simply, “Hi Steeeeeeeeeeeeve” in my best Molly voice. While he admitted that it was funny at first, he said the shtick grew old quickly. It should come as no surprise that Molly had her own Facebook page (who taught her how to type, I wonder?), and just to get under Steve’s skin, she (I?) would login and write “Hi Steeeeeeeeeeeeve” on his Wall. It was Molly’s and my plan to do this every day for a week and then stop, but by day five, Steve unfriended her.
I shared my faux-anger with my work colleague Tessa, who, much to my surprise, took Steve’s side. “The Molly voice just isn’t very funny, Scott,” she said, waving her finger. Geez, you guys!
Under the Weather
Molly was just nine when she died, and except for the couple of times when she ate something especially rancid from the bushes in the field behind my place, she had never gotten sick or had an accident in the house. She was mildly overweight, but was actually down five pounds during her November, 2019 annual checkup from the year before, so I naturally expected to have her around for another three years.
When she grew lethargic, started eating less, drinking more water, and laying on her stomach and not her side, my first instinct was “kidney failure,” which is what cost Stella her life some 35 years earlier. For Molly, though, symptoms were intermittent, and a day after I threw away some off-brand rawhide chews, she started to regain her appetite and her usual joie de vivre. I took her for a long walk on my day off and she seemed as lively as ever. ‘Shew! Maybe it was just the rawhides, I thought. I had my dad check on her one day when I was at work, and he said she was fine.
Two days later, she ate her breakfast like normal, but refused to go outside and relieve herself before I left for work. She took forever to walk down the stairs, and sat down as soon as she got to the bottom, like she was exhausted. I brought the water bowl over to her, but she didn’t take a sip. Worried but unable to miss work as I had just been promoted to a long-sought-after position, I gave her a kiss and left for the day, asking my dad to check on her again. He said she was sweet and seemed okay, if a bit sleepy. The next day – a Wednesday – she seemed fine, and I left for work but promised that the following day – my day off – I would take her to the vet. I returned home from work that night and she was as sweet as always, but smelled musky. I went upstairs and discovered that she had peed all over my bed, soaking the comforter, blanket, top and bottom, sheets, and mattress cover. Too exhausted to do laundry, I stripped the bed and went to sleep in my sleeping bag. I laid a couple of towels over the damp spot on the mattress, and Molly slept on it, by my side as always.
The next morning, she seemed fine. We went to the vet and spent a long time there. Blood test results were negative, but the ph count in her urine count was high, and the vet determined that she had a bladder infection. I was given some green horse pills to give her twice a day, and hid the first one inside a Zesty Pretzel Bite from DQ, which she wolfed down and then followed up with a Pup Cup. She was as lively as ever, and when we returned home, we went for a walk and then took a nap together. Our last, as it turned out.
I gave her the second pill that night, hidden inside a chicken nuggie, if I recall correctly. We had a relaxing night as I watched “Doctor Sleep” and she cuddled on the couch next to me, looking away in jealousy whenever the character of Azzie the Cat would appear on screen.
The next day was a normal, lazy day off – technically a Friday but my equivalent of a Sunday. Molly had her appetite and ate her breakfast and her horse pills, which I this time hid inside a bite of apple pie. We took another walk and she sat beside me in the back bedroom while I read and played on my laptop. That night I took my comforter over to my dad’s place, as he had an extra-large washer that could easily handle the load. I asked Molly if she wanted to come along for the ride, but she had become lethargic once again. I chalked it up to the horse pill being hard on her stomach, gave her a kiss, and left. When I returned a few hours later, she was gone.
At first, I was too stunned to believe my eyes. I will spare you the gory details and say, simply, that she had fouled herself, and that her expression was one of agony. I called my dad and my sister, neither of whom could believe it.
Suffice to say, it was a sleepless night. Before I could even think about sleeping, I had to clean the mess she made. I rolled her over onto a blanket, and the expression on that side of her face was even worse than on the other. She died in the back bedroom, next to my chair. All of her toys were there. As best I can surmise, she must’ve had a heart attack in the front bedroom, limped toward the back in search of me, and then collapsed.
My friends tell me that I gave her a wonderful life, and that I have no reason to feel guilty, but still…I wish I was there to hold her or hug her at the end. That would almost have been too much for me to bear, but I know she would have died happy, instead of miserable.
Life Goes On
For the first time in the two years I’ve been with my current employer, I called in sick the morning after Molly’s passing. I was doing okay but was running on no sleep, and had to have my 70-pound dog cremated. My boss was understanding, and as guilty as I felt for missing work so soon after being promoted, it was necessary.
I want to give a shout out to Pet Cremation Services of East Tennessee for their compassion. They returned Molly’s ashes to me in a lovely urn, along with a lock of her hair. The price was more than reasonable, all things considered.
I want to give thanks to my FB friends and relatives as well, The outpouring of support to my dad and I were as generous as they were when my mom passed in 2016. I received a couple of cards, a plant, a windchime, and many condolences. I am sure many of these well-wishers knew that Molly helped me weather my mom’s passing three years earlier, and – whether it is appropriate to say so or not – I think they suspect that I am taking Molly’s death harder than I took my mom’s. They may be right.
That being said, I’m doing okay. And life goes on. But as the Coronavirus epidemic has forced more and more workers to a new, work-from-home reality, I’m not sure that I am ready to telecommute. My home is a lonely place these days. The building was sold a few months ago, and the new owner is doing so much work to the place that I may find myself having to move soon (or pay a drastic rent increase) whether I want to or not. Maybe that’s for the best?
Two weeks ago, I gave Molly’s food – a 30-pound bag that had only recently been opened – to a friend, and I donated her remaining Heartgard and NexGard pills to the local Humane Society. I still have her food and water bowls, although I have stored them out of sight, and I’ve kept her collar and leash as well. Still, I won’t be getting another pet anytime soon. And I am definitely not ready to memorialize her Facebook page.
“Three-and-a-half years ago, I lost my best friend,” my dad said the first time he came to visit and found that Molly wasn’t there to greet him. “Now you’ve lost yours.”
Truer words, as they say, have seldom been spoken. I sure do miss my special girl.