If you’re one of those people who’s never had pets, or who thinks it’s silly to treat dogs, cats and other animals as family members, feel free to move on and not read this. if you are one of those, I feel badly for you.
As for the rest of you, I’m going to tell you a love story.
It began in the early morning of January 2 or 3, (my memory’s hazy), 2002. I was driving home from work in Reading, north on Route 901 between Locust Gap and Excelsior. it was about 1:15 a.m. and the temperature was about 15 degrees. Suddenly, I saw a dark shape on the shoulder of the road. As I drove past, I noticed that it was unmistakably a dog.
Being a dog guy from way back, and being that it was so cold, and that this dog was in the middle of nowhere, I figured it was in trouble. I turned around and slowly came up the southbound portion of the road, until I noticed the dog walking slowly in the middle of the highway toward Locust Gap.
I pulled over, got out of the car, approached the animal and said, "Hey, what are you doing way out here in the cold?"
Amazingly, the dog sidled right up to me, let me take it in my arms and into the warm car. it was shivering, had no collar and was cuter than a child at First Communion. it was mostly black, with a broad white chest, brown legs and paws, all long hair and tongue. All mutt.
I took it home, fed it something and gave it milk, and noticed it was a female. a very friendly female. she followed me upstairs with no hesitation and spent the next hour or so jumping on and off my bed while I tried to eat something and watch TV. When I said it was time to turn out the light and go to sleep, she quietly did just that on the floor.
In the morning, she introduced herself in a whirlwind to my folks, both of whom were well into senior citizenship and (supposedly) had had their fill of dogs. In my lifetime, there had been Printz, a toy manchester; Jet, a stray my dad rescued from a highway; Archie, whom my sister and some friends rescued one summer afternoon at the Project swimming hole when a man was going to drown him as a pup, and finally Black E., who just started hanging around the house in the mid-1980s, decided he liked it and hung around until he had to be put down with cancer in 2000. Black E. even lived another three years after being hit by a car on Lincoln St. one awful morning.
They were all wonderful dogs, all with their own distinct personalities. But there comes a time when people of a certain age figure they don’t want the hassle of keeping a pet anymore. Yet it was obvious from the outset Mom and Dad were smitten, and since I was living with them and had brought the dog home, I spoke up.
"look, I’ll make some flyers and post them at Wal-Mart, Boyer’s, Weis’s and let people know we found a dog and she’s safe. maybe someone will claim her. In the meantime, I’ll take care of her for a couple of weeks and if no one does claim her, I’ll take her to the SPCA," I said.
In the next two weeks, one couple came to look at her, while I was working. she wasn’t their dog. Amazingly, they didn’t take her anyway.
When the two weeks were up, I knew there was no way she was going to the SPCA. I had given her a name by that time (Girl-Lyn – she was the first female dog I’d ever had, and I’d found her close to Boylan’s Gas Station, so instead of Boylan, she was Girl-Lyn, soon to be just Girlie) and it was just a matter of talking the folks into it.
It didn’t take much talking.
Within weeks, she was neutered, had her shots and was full-fledged princess of the house and thief of my heart.
In the 10 years since, Girlie became the light of my life. I’ve never had kids, and I don’t want to offend anyone by comparing an animal to their children, but I think I understand their feelings a little better now. As I said, I’ve always been a dog guy, but this one was my responsibility, almost totally. neither Dad or Mom could walk a 65-pound dog (she was pretty much full grown), so that was up to me, three times a day, in all weather. I fed her, gave her water, took her to the vet, got her groomed (not enough), did all the ownership things.
In return, she loved me and tried not to let me out of her sight. Ever.
In the morning, we’d walk by the Independence Fire Co., where the guys waiting to have coffee would fuss over her, and in later years, Joe and the gang in the kitchen would feed her bacon. sometimes she’d see her friend Snowball and cavort in the grass on Arch Street. then it was on to the Midtown Car Wash and Keystone Masonry. she had to stop so the guys there could fawn over her. On the return trip, we’d usually stop in the Market Street park plot for a rest and so drivers could admire her at the red light. then it was on up Arch St. to the Shamokin Area Annex, so she could nuzzle up to the young schoolchildren and annoy the teachers, and finally to our neighbor Sue’s place. Girlie would brazenly go up on Sue’s porch if she wasn’t leashed and start eating the food Sue put out for her five cats. Incredibly, the cats let her do it, and looked forward to playing with her.
Our afternoon walk was usually to the Shamokin Cemetery, where she made a variety of friends, animal and human. On the way to the cemetery and on the way back, she made even more friends in the Academy Hill neighborhood.
When the weather got ridiculously hot, we walked on the path by the Shamokin Creek behind the Lawton Shroyer Memorial Pool. she loved running up and down the hill back there. one time one of the kids who hang out back there said to me, "You work for the paper, don’t you?" I nodded and he turned to his buddy and said, "I told you he wasn’t a cop."
Apparently, some of the kids thought Girlie and I were working undercover.
At night, after work, we often walked back up Market Street. or up Independence Street.
Everywhere we went, Girlie made friends. it was her calling.
Some years ago, we started going down to the benches on Market Street, where Bob Getchey and a bunch of similar hoodlums loaf away summer nights. Girlie became a full-fledged member of the bench gang, with her own membership card and everything. she was the "Security Dog" although what she really was was the unofficial greeter.
Girlie would make her rounds, get her treats from "Uncle Bobby," Andy, Chiefy and others, then demand her walk. We’d usually go behind the Weis Store, sometimes far out into Coal Township, or make a lap around the Cameron Bridge and up Dewart Street to the News-Item. always, we’d go back to the bench, and when the gang broke up for the evening, getting her home was not easy. She’d have slept on that island of grass if I’d let her.
In the cold months, when the gang moves to Knocker’s, we’d go up there, and she’d sit patiently on the entrance ramp until the guys got her Slim Jims.
She had other loves. she loved the Shamokin High School nature trail. much of the time, she’d carry a plastic bottle or jug with her on our walks. People thought I trained her to do that. No way, she just did it. Actually, I didn’t do much training at all. she was mostly housebroken at the start, and she was incredibly smart.
She loved sitting on our porch and watching the street and pedestrian traffic go by. she particularly loved it when the Annex kids had their fire drills or Halloween parades.
For 10-plus years, her health issues were practically nil. In 2010, she tore the canine equivalent of her ACL while running in the cemetery, and had it surgically replaced in Wilkes-Barre. (It was on that trip that Getchey bought those saddle shoes he wears to basketball games). she recovered so well, I honestly am not sure which of her hind legs it was now. she developed arthritis in her front legs, and began to limp a little.
But up until several weeks ago, she was the picture of health for her age. So I thought. We were never actually sure how old she was. they thought she was about nine months old when we adopted her, which would make her 11 years and some months old now. she may have been older.
In early June, Girlie started not eating. When she did eat, she threw up. Not much, so I didn’t worry too much. But after about a week, she was noticeably losing weight and acting lethargically.
I took her to her veterinarian. before Dr. Butler even ran some tests, he pointed out jaundice in her eyes and ears.
"I think she has hepatitis," he said. a series of more tests revealed that, and that perhaps she had gallstones. But he also said something even more chilling – "I can’t rule out cancer."
Still, he seemed reasonably confident she would get better. she stayed in the hospital for three days, was fed intravenously and got a series of shots.
I picked her up to take her home on Monday, June 25. We took home with us an array of drugs and a pate-like food which I was to mix with water and feed her by syringe.
For the first two days, she seemed to improve. she ate some boiled chicken and some dog treats, kept them down, and began to act like she was home.
But the following two days, she refused to eat. she just laid on her side or on her stomach and sadly stared into space. she drank lots of water but hardly displaced any. she didn’t have a bowel movement.
The dog who once loved walking and walking, would just lay down in the grass across the street when I tried to take her out.
The vet moved up her followup appointment two days, to Saturday.
Another ultrasound revealed that her gall bladder was twice as big as the week before, and filling with fluid.
"from the look of it, I’m pretty sure it’s cancerous," Dr. Butler said.
He explained that I could spend a lot of money having her undergo emergency surgery but that at her age, I’d likely have the same sick dog when it was done.
"have you thought about euthanasia?" he asked.
I was prepared for that question, and even gamely answered yes. he said he encouraged owners to stay with their pets while the shots were being administered. it was perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
To the end, she was as cute as can be. When they wheeled her out on a gurney to get a catheter for the series of injections, she looked like the queen of the world. But Girlie had lost 10 to 15 pounds, about a quarter of her body weight, in two weeks. I don’t think she was in pain, because I never heard her whimper. But she was obviously weak.
When they rolled her back, we said our goodbyes. I asked for and got a last kiss, then stared into her eyes as the doctor gave her a series of three injections. Some seconds went by. After the third shot, her body twitched three times. Dr. Butler listened to her heart and said, "okay, she’s gone. I’m sorry for your loss."
Though her eyes were still open, there was plainly no sight coming out of them. I lost Girlie at roughly 12:30 p.m., Saturday, June 30. I hope the last thing she saw was me.
I don’t like the term ‘best friend’ because it tends to limit other friendships, and even best friendships can be transitory. But Girlie was my loyal friend and companion. My mother always said she worshiped me. But I’m no god, and I’m filled with self-doubt that I could have saved her if I had read some of the signs sooner. I still can’t put my arms around how quickly she became sick.
She was truly a great dog. she did not have a mean bone in her body. I probably only heard her growl about three times, and those were when she was approached by another dog that was threatening. she liked everybody and everything, and probably loved most.
Every night before bed, I’d tell her that "she was the best doggie in the whole, wide world", and that I couldn’t have written a prescription for a better dog.
Pet owners and parents, give your animals and kids an extra hug for Girlie. they represent all that’s good in a world that seems crazier every minute. All they want is your love.
I’d like to thank Dr. Mason Butler and the entire staff at Leighow Veterinary Hospital in Danville for their help, care and professionalism.
Girlie, rest in peace.
I love you.
Beyond a best friend