George by Marji / Marji

It was Christmas 1992 and my Dad had given me the largest sum of money I had ever held in my hot little hands at one time. I was excited, what 22 year old wouldn’t be – cash! My dad said “Buy something you really want” and I guarantee he uttered that fateful phrase without any inkling of what was to come for the next 17 years.

I hung onto that money for awhile showing admirable restraint for a 22 year old, deciding to wait to spend this rare Christmas present instead of squandering it on frivolous nothings. One day I saw a small fluffy puppy sleeping in a pet store window by accident and somehow I knew that what I wanted more than anything was my own dog, a best buddy, a co-conspirator. I had never had a dog, only cats (I adopted every stray I could find, to my parents dismay) and a bunny, and I had always wanted a dog. I was given a chance to meet the little fuzz ball in a meet and greet room, and the pup yawned, stretched and walked right into the wall. She then got up, shook her puppy head and walked right into my legs. That was the dog for me! Give me a dog without coordination or a sense of direction. It was puppy love at first sight.

Everyone gathered ’round to hug the little pup and coo over how cute the little imp was. I decided to name the pup George – named after that high minded and classy cartoon episode of “Bugs Bunny” where Marvin the Martian “rabbit-naps” Bugs and takes him to his planet where the poor bunny is hugged and squeezed within an inch of his bunny life by the big furry Yeti-like Martian and called “George”. Other pet owners named their dogs after Greek gods or heros, former presidents, celebrities or foliage but I named my dog after a cartoon. And of course I named George without bothering to check the plumbing. Yep, a girl dog with a boy dog’s name – veterinarians would be confused
for the next 17 years.

I took the sleepy fuzz ball of cuteness home and that might have been the last time she slept so peacefully in 3 years. George was a bouncing, barking bundle of spastic energy: faster than a speeding German Shepherd, hungrier than a posse of wild raccoons, nuttier than a fruitcake and able to clear furniture in a single bound. She was a chewing machine – shoes (but only one in a pair), potted plants, sofas, carpet, woodwork, my mom’s antique desk’s legs, the cat’s tail – life was a smorgasbord. The tennis ball became her favorite toy and she could chase that slobbery ball for hours until she would collapse in a smiling, panting, joyful heap for about 10 minutes, and then be ready to do it all again. George could unwind rolls of toilet paper throughout the house – setting new land speed records in a race to make as big a mess as possible before my mom got home from work. Huge walks, or drags, on a leash several times a day, ball throwing, rope tug o’ wars, wrestling matches, nothing wore this pup out. She was 18 pounds of crazy dog energy and not afraid of anything. Squirrels, chipmunks, geese, Rottweilers – she would bark them to death; a little sheltie Napoleon taking on all comers with a wagging tail. She was the only dog kicked out of puppy obedience class (they gave us our money back and wished me luck; I was humiliated, George ecstatic and unrepentant). At times, defiance could be her middle name. But you couldn’t be angry with the fuzzy munchkin – she just loved life and she loved you even more.

My mom was the only one who could exert any control over George. She housebroke her (thank the gods), and taught her a rota of stupid pet tricks by giving her yummy treats (George’s motivation was food we learned) – until George porked up to 23 pounds upon which our veterinarian said “Enough. She’s a dog not a small piglet. It’s diet time missy.” Mom was devastated – and continued to sneak her treats on the down low. I just ran the piglet more and she slimmed back down to 18 pounds in no time – but now we had a trick up our sleeve to get her to start to learn to behave. George would wait by the hall windows everyday for my mom to come home from work. She would greet her with a frenzied boogie dance of joy on her hind legs – this became George’s signature family greeting and earned her the nickname Boogie Oogie Oogie. She also danced and wiggled to 70’s disco songs and show-tunes, regardless of how tone deaf the singer was, but that is another embarrassing story. Needless to say, George was a happy and well loved dog.

When my mom died of cancer, George was 6 years old. She waited for weeks by the hall windows every day for my mom to come home to greet her with the wiggle dance. George knew something was wrong and after awhile would whine, looking everywhere for my mom who never came back to her. George and I started moving around the country after my mom died as I took jobs that shunted me up the corporate ladder. George was my comfort and my link with my mom during those dreadfully hard times and she probably saved my sanity. She would know when you were sad and come up and put her paw on your lap or bring you her ball as if to say, it’s okay I’m here and you can have my favorite toy if it will make you feel better. George would drive in the car with me to a new park, lake, ocean, forest, or meadow and greet each place as if nothing could be better. George was so excited and happy with each new place to explore – each place was fabulous in her mind and George enthusiastically embraced each new experience and life in general – a good lesson for a grieving daughter.

At 10 years old, little George developed arthritis in her front ankle but she didn’t seem to let that slow her down. We had moved all over the country by this time, eventually ending up in San Francisco and she loved Washington Square Park in North Beach where we lived – so many pigeons and people and dogs to meet and bark at, especially the crazy man that took a bath in the middle of the park, which could drive her into fits of hysterical barking. Walks 3 times a day in a hilly city didn’t dampen her spirits, and she really enjoyed messing with hordes of fat lazy pigeons who weren’t smart enough to move along, and getting a startled bark in at the occasional late night rat darting into alleys – ah, the joys of city life for a dog. She especially enjoyed walks with her pet sitter – George adored her pet sitter and would pretend I didn’t even exist when she was there – and she would make sure no other dog could get within 5 feet of her buddy. There was no job more important than defending the “masters” – even though the defenseless masters outweighed her by a good 100 pounds. She was like the elderly poster child for the “No Fear” sticker campaign. Other dogs learned to steer clear of the crazy senior citizen sheltie or incur her barking wrath. Funny to think, but I learned bravery and standing up for yourself and your loved ones from my dog.

At 15, George started to develop cataracts and lose some of her hearing, allowing for extended bark-free periods when she didn’t actually hear a pin drop 10 miles away and go off like a rocket. When we moved to a little house in a suburb of San Francisco, she would spend time lolling in the grass in the sun in the backyard, enjoying the heat on her arthritic bones and eventually snuffling around to see what the flowers were up to. George began to noticeably slow down – dog walks that always seemed like a frantic sprint became more like leisurely constitutionals where all plants and interesting patches of ground needed to be sniffed before moving slowly along. Dogs became less interesting, squirrels didn’t register as her eyesight became worse. But the nose never failed. Two of her great joys: going for the world’s slowest walk at her favorite park in Los Altos after a chiropractic appointment (where the nice man who kept her moving was given the “hairy eyeball” as George would give him dirty looks for touching her butt during an adjustment) and going to the beach at Linda Mar to bark at the waves (and occasionally getting drenched in the process).

We moved to Chicago in the late fall of 2009 and it was hands down the dumbest move her owner (me) had ever come up with – leave sunny California for the rain, mud and snow of the Midwest? In the late fall, almost winter? You could see George thinking “What the *@#% Mom?!” Wearing silly jackets and boots (that were kicked off like she was a Rockette), shoveling snow to find grass for peeing, miserable weather that made old joints feel their age. Profuse apologies and promises to move back to California in a year after my 1 year job commitment was up were made – George was having none of it. She would have drop kicked me all the way back to California if she could have
gotten her leg up that high.

George became ill in late October with a seizure and suffered the indignities of GI problems that were unknowing harbingers of things to come. She was recovering by her November birthday but old age was catching up with her. Seventeen years is a long time to have a dog, but I was selfish and hoped for more – another year, maybe two. Later, despite thousands of dollars spent on rehab for her arthritis and loss of muscle mass, she became weaker and was eventually unable to stand on her own to eat, drink or pee without support. My super fast, agile tennis ball chaser and indefatigable walker became so tiny and weak – no strong muscles for jumping or running or even standing anymore – and arthritis in her tiny spine made her crack and pop like a box of Rice Krispies. Christmas came, along with a foot of snow and George slept more. A trick elbow came with the New Year and George was uncomfortable and unable to stand up on her own and became uninterested in food. She was only comfortable sleeping like a baby in my arms wrapped in a blanket for warmth. My little sheltie was losing her battle and in mid January, GI problems resurfaced and food became intolerable for her. The dog who loved to eat her food (and beg for mine or even strangers’ food) didn’t want to eat anymore. I gave her water through a syringe until she was able to drink on her own for awhile. She wanted to sleep but pain would keep her up and me with her – we were both exhausted and I was becoming frantic – how to save her?

The GI problems worsened and George was down to under 11 pounds quickly and so terribly small in her little pink fleece sweater. After several desperate days of trying to prevent the inevitable, her kind vet helped her with the nearly constant pain and I stayed with her as she went to sleep very calmly, quietly and quickly for the last time. She looked just like she was sleeping and I stayed with her and sang her a little song and cried like a little child instead of the adult I was supposed to be. George died on January 13 – a bright sunny day after so many grey and dreary ones.

A day with melting snow and a brisk wind. A fitting day for a dog that would have loved to walk around in that sunshine and smell the wind – a fitting day for a dog that was the sunny happy part of all my days. May my little happy 17 year old sheltie who loved life find comfort and may her gentle good soul rest in peace.


Until we meet again little one...