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One goodbye, lots of football
One goodbye, lots of football
I know this is the biggest football weekend of what has been a very strange season, and I have plenty to say about the two games I witnessed in person ( Donovan McNabb became an NFL man in Chicago) and the two I didn't (New England sports lore added a Snow Bowl classic) and the dumbest rule we've all ever seen (sorry, Raiders). I hope you don't mind if I put those thoughts off for a few paragraphs. I'm going to write about our family's golden retriever.
We had to put Woody to sleep last Wednesday. He was a month shy of 12. Four tumors, including one puffing out of his neck like an oval goiter, and a bad case of arthritis in his legs had left him a sick old man of a dog. I had to carry him into the house after he used the outdoor facilities for most of the last couple of weeks, and when I wasn't home because of my job, my wife, Ann, and daughters, Laura and Mary Beth, were left to do the same. I'd toss him his beloved tennis ball at Mount Hebron School up our street in Upper Montclair, N.J., and he'd catch it, feebly, and fall awkwardly to the cold ground. His legs just couldn't hold him anymore. And that is no way to live, even for this low-maintenance dog.
Everyone has great pet stories. Ours are no better, no worse, except to us. But they are everlasting. In 1990, Laura was 7 and Mary Beth 4, and we told them we would investigate the idea of getting a dog. Laura immediately researched everything dog. We got her a book, The Right Dog for You, and she went about memorizing every trait about every dog. We'd quiz her at dinner. "Dalmatian," I'd say. "Not good around children, needs a big yard," she'd say, shaking her head. She narrowed down the list of breeds we should consider to a small group including golden retriever, labrador retriever and Bernese mountain dog because they were so good with kids and so easy to live with, and not very rambunctious in comparison to other breeds. One July afternoon in 1990, we found a poor golden at a going-out-of-business sale at a pet store in nearby Cedar Grove. He had outgrown his cage, and when we took him out of it, he stumbled around like a POW who'd been in solitary for six months. We got him for half-off. Ann thought of the name Woody, and the kids loved it.
Right away he fit in perfectly. One bathroom accident before he understood. One! Affectionate but not a licker. Loved to wander, but always came home from his forays; only once did we have to send out a search party. Loyal. Ridiculously loyal. I used to wait with the kids in the morning at the bus stop, 50 yards away and around the corner, with Woody and the neighbor kids. One late afternoon, the kids weren't home yet, and Woody was missing. I couldn't find him. And some business-suited guy just off the New York bus at the same corner saw Woody laying by the bus stop with no collar on. (We weren't much for collars.) "Go home!" the man said, and Woody trotted to our front doorstep.
Woody liked me. He loved the girls. But he worshiped Ann. She was the one who fed him usually and she always had a stray piece of fish for him at dinner. She used to tell him she liked him better than most humans. "Remember when we used to play, 'Woody, come?'" she asked at dinner a couple of nights before the end. "We all stood in corners of the room with Woody in the middle and we'd say, 'Woody, come!' And he'd come to me. Then I went into the kitchen and you did it again without me, and he ran into the kitchen."
"Remember when we used to play doggie in the middle?" Mary Beth said. Two kids, a tennis ball, 30 feet apart, throwing and catching the ball, Woody pirouetting to try to steal it.
One Sunday last winter, with Woody two surgeries into his demise, we had a good snowstorm. I decided to take both our dogs for a five-mile walk. Much tail-wagging over that one. A mile into it, we passed a house that had its front door left open for some inexplicable reason. And a black lab, a young one, sprinted out of the house 30 yards down to the sidewalk and began doggie-playing with Bailey. "Go home!" I told the dog, but he wouldn't leave, and we were powerless to keep walking because the dog was magnetized to Bailey. I tried pulling the collarless dog by the scruff of the neck and prodding him home. No use. Bailey sensed my frustration and began barking at the dog. The dog pounced on Bailey angrily, barking rapid-fire and baring his teeth. Something triggered in Woody, a bored spectator to this point. Woody leaped up, grabbed the bizarro dog's neck with his mouth, shook it a few times menacingly and let go. "Yelpyelpyelpyelp!" the dog whimpered, running back to the house. "Good dog, Woody!" I said, petting his head. "Good dog!" Unimpressed, Woody looked straight ahead into the snowfall at dusk, as if to say: "Can we continue the walk now? I've got some snow to eat."
Last Monday, after I returned from Green Bay, Ann said Woody had had a tough weekend. We decided to make his appointment with his Maker for Wednesday, the day after I drove Laura back to college in Boston. Laura had a tough goodbye with Woody Tuesday morning. And even though she loves Tufts -- as do her parents -- she was filled with such melancholy when I dropped her off Tuesday afternoon. "I don't know why I'm so sad," she said. I did. Woody sickness. I had the same affliction.
Ann and I asked each other if were doing the right thing a few times Wednesday, in between 67 phone calls I made about various NFL coaching jobs, and we wished the other would come up with some good reason to hold off another week. We decided there was no reason, other than our own selfishness. And so at 4:40 p.m., Mary Beth, who would stay home (we thought it was best, and she agreed), said goodbye. She tried to be brave. It was no use. I lifted Woody's shrinking and lumpy 84-pound frame into the back of our Explorer. He always loved going for a ride in the car.
"I'm sorry, Wood," I said, closing the trunk hatch.
"When you drove away," Mary Beth said later, "I was wishing so hard that you'd come back. I thought you'd come back."
We were ushered into one of the examining rooms at Brookside Veterinary Clinic in nearby Bloomfield. We have a terrific vet, Keith Samson, who we know prolonged Woody's life with deft surgery in June 2000. We began to say our goodbyes. But how do you say goodbye to one of the best friends, and one of the most loyal, you've ever had? How do you tell him how incredibly sorry you are for doing this? How do you tell him, with moments to spare before he dies, what he has meant to you for the past 11 years? How do you tell him you've learned so much from him about things like dignity and love and friendship? How do you tell him about the spot in your heart that no living thing will replace when he dies?
Words failed us. That's because there were no words.
Ann, voice cracking, tried it this way, cradling his head in her arms: "Good dog. You're a good dog."
I looked him in his whitened face. "There has never been another dog like you, and there never will be," I whispered. "We will never forget you."
Now Dr. Samson was trimming the golden hair from the area around a vein in Woody's right forepaw. He swabbed the two-inch shaved area with alcohol. He'd told us death would come within 15 seconds when he injected the syringe of Sleepaway sodium pentobarbital euthanasia solution, and so we were ready when he found the vein. The injection took five seconds. The moment Dr. Samson finished, the absolute moment, Ann said, "Ohhh," and she gently let his head drop to the table. Woody's eyes fluttered shut.
"That's it," Dr. Samson said quietly. "He's gone."
Typing these words makes my eyes go wet. I can't help it. The powerful sadness will only go away with time. It's hard to believe how powerful it is, in fact. The death of a dog cannot equate to the death of a loved human being, can it? It shouldn't. But it does. With Woody, it does. Because Woody, those who knew him would tell you, was the best dog in the world.
There is one thing I do know. The only way not to feel such intense sadness is to never feel intense love. And that is certainly no way to live.
Well, I guess I've now broken the gridiron journalistic record for Column Most Far Afield From Football. Woody wasn't much of a football fan. He liked the orange ball in field hockey, but football ... well, I never took him to a game. He wasn't much for TV either, so there's a good chance he wouldn't know John Madden if he smelled him. But I like football. And I'm going to take a deep breath and start writing about football now because I love to do that, and it's what I do.
I love Peter King the man for Sports Illustrated who writes two on line columns each week during the football season. Several years ago he started a column with this story. I cried like a baby when I read it then, I cried like a baby when I read it now. I post this for my blog buddy DirtyLittle Secret who just had to say goodbye to her 4 legged companion for many years. If there is a heaven I believe our doggies will be there on the other side waiting to jump up on us and kiss us and welcome us home for the rest of eternity
10/17/2005 5:13 pm
Dammit, I knew I was going to cry when I started to read your post and sure enough...|
Thanks for sharing.
10/17/2005 10:42 pm
I had to put my girl Maggie down this spring. It was hard to do and I had to do it myself. SHe is in Doggie heaven with Woody and Buddy, and all our other fur children.|
HUGS to you and your wife and girls!
10/17/2005 10:57 pm
Tom E. Boy|
I'm very sorry that you had to write a blog like this. Having had pets most of my life, I can truly empathize with your profound loss. Perhaps a quote from Shakespere (or some other famous person) is most appropos... "A short time, but in that short time, it was most greatly lived."
One thing I have always liked about your blogs is your honesty and the fact that you are not afraid to reveal your emotions.
10/18/2005 9:33 am
i can't say i understand how you feel because i never had any pets and i'm not huge about animals. however, my heart goes out to you, your family and most importantly, to your dearest woody. may woody rest in peace |