On two occasions, I submitted articles about my golden retriever and wonder dog, Gus. Those stories told of his antics chasing rabbits, getting into trouble during our daily walks and obsessing about tomatoes.
Unfortunately, Gus passed away recently at the ripe old age of 14 -- 98 in people years. Considering all of his health problems in recent years -- kidney disease, degeneration of the spine and hips, severe allergies and lymphoma, to name a few -- his longevity was incredible.
Most unbelievable, however, is how spunky he was until his last few days. He would still limp over to his toy basket every evening, ponder which one would be the most pleasing to him and noisiest for me, and then limp back to me with his choice dangling from his mouth. Though I was no longer able to drag him around the living room, we would have a gentle round of tug-of-war before I let him win.
As a friend stated in a sympathy card, "Gus left holes in the yard and in many hearts." I found myself wondering what made him so endearing to so many people with whom he came in contact. Each person's connection with Gus was different, yet he genuinely touched them, some quite literally.
My dear friend Helen resided in a nursing home. She was in her 90s, but still sharp. Each week when I visited with her, she would first ask, "How's my boy?" Only after she was given a report of what Gus was up to would she ask how I was.
Gus wasn't certified as a therapy dog, so I couldn't take him inside the nursing home, but Helen came up with the idea of waiting for me on the bench outside the building. The first time Gus visited, she said while beaming, "Bring the boy to me!"
Next to Helen, in another wheelchair, was an elderly gentleman. He asked if he could pet Gus, and so I brought him closer. The resident gently patted him and started to cry. He stated that Gus reminded him of a dog he had when he was a child. Surprisingly, though Gus could be a little on the wild side, he knew that he had to be on his best behavior. He sat completely still, enjoying his stereo petting from Helen on one side and his new friend on the other.
On our walks around the neighborhood, we would sometimes bump into Shirley, a sweet woman who became very attached to Gus. She would join us outside her house to walk, always handing out a pocketful of treats.
If for some reason she wasn't there, Gus would make a turn up the sidewalk to her house, wondering what was keeping her and her snacks. She asked for a picture of him so that she could always see him. If she didn't see us for a while, she would call and ask if Gus was OK. Once assured that he was fine, she would ask how I was.
My dear friend Dave used to bring his granddaughter, Mia, to visit. Mia had a dog of her own, so she was quite comfortable around Gus. She would pet him for a few minutes before Gus would start licking Mia's ear. She showed no reaction at all, and so he would continue. Gus would lick to the point that you half-expected his tongue to appear in the opposite ear, until Dave would say something about Mia's ears being cleaned out and that they could go home.
Emily and Joseph are two young children who live across the street from us, and they, too, loved Gus. Joseph would look out his window, and if he saw us out in the yard, they would seek permission to come visit. Emily was a little bit afraid of Gus because of his high activity level, but she eventually trusted him and could hand him treats -- or tomatoes. Joseph liked him, but from a distance, as he had severe allergies.
The highlight of their relationship with Gus occurred each Christmas. They gift-wrapped toys and would throw them in his direction and laugh hysterically as he flipped the gifts in the air and ripped off the wrapping paper.
As for me now, the house is very empty and quiet. It is amazing how much of your daily routine is devoted to a loving pet. Every morning, I wake up and think that I need to go downstairs to take him outside and then feed him.
I catch myself and then just think, "Good morning, L'il Man. Hope you have a great day today!"
Carol Martin of Cheswick, a retired physical education teacher, can be reached at email@example.com.