I was Reggie’s third mother when I adopted him. He was a 6-year-old Golden Retriever whose first home was in Wisconsin with a family that adored him. Unfortunately, his bad hips made him suffer greatly in the winter, so he had to move to Florida to live with relatives. Four years later, he weighed just 45 pounds.
They intervened and got him to the Golden Retriever Rescue of Mid-Florida, where he waited a very long time to find his forever home. When he and I first met, he paid me no attention whatsoever and instead danced with the water from the garden hose and demonstrated every trick he knew. He was showing off, and I figured he’d be a good dog for me. I just hoped he’d give me some attention.
He gave me all of his attention. Once he moved into my home, he never left my side. It has been nine years since I went to the bathroom alone. When I showered, I’d see him poking his face in from the other side of the curtain. When I dried my hair, he wanted to be dried too. Reggie was always right next to me, and it was annoying.
My sister-in-life Tina Proctor noticed this and blurted, “Oh my God! He loves you so much!”
Suddenly, I got it. I got him. He wasn’t trying to take love from me. He was trying to give it to me.
We assume needy means “clingy,” but Reg taught me that there is nothing needy about unconditional love. Reggie loved me more than anyone on this earth had the capacity to love me. At night, he’d try so hard to keep his eyes open just so he could watch me for a few more minutes.
A couple of years ago, I tracked down his first mama — Heather Purdy — and wrote her to let her know that his life had a happy ending. Ever since, we have had a close friendship. She and the family came to visit Reggie a little over a year ago. Before they arrived, my friend Suzann asked me what I’d do if he didn’t recognize them. I said, “He’s a Golden. Even if he doesn’t recognize them, he’ll act like he does.” But, when Heather got out of the rental car, Reggie ran straight to her. She dropped to the ground and he buried his head in her chest. He stood there for the longest time, reconnecting with the first mother he’d missed so much. That day, he loved and cuddled every member of his old family. I didn’t get much attention, but when I put him in bed that night, he flopped over top of me as if to say, “You’re still my mommy.”
Parenting a 15-year-old Golden Retriever is not easy. In human years, “Grampaw” was about 105. Nine months ago, it appeared he had suffered a terrible stroke. I was on the road for a speech, but the minute I got home, I called the vet to come out and give him a merciful goodbye. Dr. Patrick Hafner — the best vet on earth — came to my house, took one look at Reggie and said, “Oh. Old dog vestibular syndrome.” “What does that mean?” I asked. “It means he has really bad vertigo and will be fine in about three weeks.” Dr. Hafner said it was the one stay of execution he was able to give.
After that, Reggie enjoyed everything his life had to offer him. He enjoyed eating and sleeping on my lap and, apparently, pooping whenever there was poop to be pooped. For the last six months of his life, he pretty much forgot that he was supposed to do his business outside, on the grass. I always kept a sheet on top of the bed because there would often be a 3-a.m. night deposit. He was happy all the way until the very end.
His actual birthday is April 18, and I scheduled a small party for the 16th and invited Heather down. But, Reggie pretty much stopped eating on the morning of the 14th, and although it looked like he would rebound, I knew his time here was ending. That night, I took him to the Whistle Stop Cafe and he didn’t touch the delicious hot dog I’d ordered for him. He wouldn’t make his party, but he’d be able to leave this world in the arms of the two mothers who loved him forever. The odds of that were so slight, and the fact that it happened had to be Divine.
Don’t feel sorry for me because my heart is broken. I was so lucky to have that precious boy. Look at what he taught me:
First: God is dog, dog is God. The unconditional love of a dog is the closest thing to the Divine that I have ever experienced. It is pure, it comes without strings and it is eternal. Simply magnificent, magnificiently simple.
Second: Don’t assume that those who are clingy or needy want to rob you of anything. They may just be trying to give you their world.
Third: Aging ain’t pretty, but it beats the alternative. I wouldn’t give up one minute that I had with my pooping pup. Not one minute.
Finally, with every goodbye there is a time for a hello. I’ve already lost my babies Honey and Vinny and Chelsea and Buster. My world changed with every single goodbye, but soon after, there was another animal who needed a home. If not for losing Honey, I’d never have had my beloved Vinny. If not for losing Vinny, I wouldn’t have my Louie.
Reggie lived 15 amazing years. My bed will have an empty space tonight, but it won’t be empty for long. I know Reggie would be happy about me giving his spot to some other dog who needs a mama. He was that kind of guy.
Rest in peace, my sweet boy.