Last week, on Friday the 13th, we lost our wonderful Ginger. At 16 ½, she had outlived the average Golden Retriever by almost five years. But still, her end came too soon.
It all started when Mindi wrote a grade school report about Goldens. After our first dog died in 1998, she was adamant that if we ever got another, it had to be this breed. About a year later, we began our search, and in October of 2000, we learned of a family that was looking to sell a two-year old, pedigreed Golden.
As Al arrived at the owners’ home, he noticed an electric company truck in their drive. It turned out that the family was behind in their utility payments and about to have their power shut off. So he went to the bank, withdrew $200 to pay their bill and got Ginger in exchange. She jumped in his car and never looked back. That afternoon, Al greeted Mindi and Emily after school with Ginger in tow. At first, they thought he was just holding her for another parent. Needless to say, they were ecstatic to learn she was our new pet.
Neglected by her owners, ten pounds underweight, loaded with fleas (we soon discovered), never spayed, she needed a lot of love and attention. She took refuge under the kitchen table, and that’s where we placed her new bed. But she often liked to sleep on the hardwood floor, perhaps because that’s all she knew before coming to us.
At first, Ginger didn’t have quite enough energy to walk all the way around the block. But as she put on weight and gained strength, she gleamed and grinned. And, despite the former owners’ claim that she would swipe the baby’s meal, she never stole food.
In fact, she never stole anything that I can recall. She never climbed on the dining room table to snarf up a pound cake, like my childhood beagle, Snoopy, nor snatched socks and tissues, like our first dog, Sukki. She never snapped at us, only at dogs that got in her space. She only ran away once, chasing after a skunk on a frigid January night. When Al found her and brought her home, she reeked as she galloped around the house. I don’t recall how many baths it took to remove the scent.
Simply put, Ginger was just a love bug. Hugs and ear-scratches and snuggles were her ambrosia. She adored company and was totally oblivious to social cues from anyone who was skittish around dogs. Any resistance to her sweet face just encouraged her to persist until she got a pat on the head.
The squirrels always got away (thank goodness she never brought dead animals to our door), but she loved the woods. She would race back and forth between Al and me as we hiked, making sure we were both there, then wander a ways to sniff and explore. Her fur, such a beautiful russet, always blended with the fall foliage.
For the past five years, after I was laid off and began my consultancy at home, she was my constant companion. By this time in her life, she had mellowed considerably and was content to sleep, curled up under my desk or next to me in my office as I worked. But come 2:30 in the afternoon, somehow her internal clock would always go off and she would rise to nudge me for a walk, often nosing my hands off the keyboard to get me going. A good thing, for both of us. Those walks always cleared my head and gave us quality time together. I even finally taught her how to heel and not chase other dogs that passed us. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
Most of all, she was a loving, comforting presence. We had our own way of communicating. She would let me know what she needed by pacing to and from the desired object—her water bowl, the back door, the kitchen to remind me it was time for pills (in ricotta cheese, of course), the back door again. Whenever I came home, she would always be there to greet me. And whenever I offered a walk, she was ready to go. On Shabbat afternoons, she would curl up nearby while I napped on the couch, and, sometimes, she could still climb up to cuddle next to me.
A hardy girl, she was beloved by her vet, who called Ginger her favorite Golden and always remarked on how she still had such “pep in her step.” But by last year, she was finally beginning to show her age. Arthritis, thyroid issues, weakened sight, loss of hearing in her right ear, lessened smell, confusion—all took their toll. Two weeks ago, she began to have trouble keeping down any food, and after a blood panel, we learned that her liver was failing. I thought she was rallying with medication and new bland food that she loved, but that was wishful thinking.
On Friday, I was writing at the kitchen table before going to the vet for some more anti-nausea meds. I got up to put on my coat and began telling her I’d be back soon, thinking I had let her back inside from her morning rituals, only to realize she wasn’t there. I called for her and looked all over the house, upstairs, the basement, out back, out front, in a total panic. It was as if she had vanished. Finally I clambered through the deep snow in the back yard, following the path she’d carved for herself in the drifts, and found her, collapsed. She was hemorrhaging. Blood stained the snow by her muzzle.
I stumbled back through the snow to get her a blanket, then called Al in hysterics. Thank goodness he could come home from work, because there was no way I could lift her and my fingers were going painfully numb in the frigid weather. He carried her to the car and we took her to the vet, but we knew it was over. She died, peacefully, in loving hands.
Of all the things I learned from Ginger, here’s what I will remember most: Live each moment fully. Be sure to take a nice, long stretch when you wake up. Ask for what you need. Find the good in everyone. And remember that whatever is troubling you, love is the strongest force in the Universe.
Rest in peace, Ginger. You are forever in our hearts.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.