Monday, February 28, 2011

Gone but not forgotten

As I continue on with life, it's amazing the number of people who approach me to inquire about Erin's whereabouts or check on the status of her health. "Out of sight out of mind" is an old expression that is often used whenever someone is removed from the public spotlight but obviously that doesn't apply to beloved animals. Without any prompts or cues, distant friends and mere acquaintances in passing ask where she is or how she's getting along and that is touching in many ways mainly because she has been gone for six months now. Even folks who know neither my name nor her name ask for information regarding my constant companion, she was a true dog about town. On a weekly basis, someone surprises me with an Erin inquiry and these days it's not expected at all as there is little mention of her from me in daily conversation.

I'm guessing everybody is surprised to see me in public without Erin or the impression she made upon their life's is so great that forgetting her is an impossible task, either way it's flattering that she is remembered so far removed from August 16. Unfortunately, I have to inform them of her sudden passing but it's okay as she didn't suffer while leading a fabulous life unmatched by very few canines. As months on the calendar elapse and days become a blur, I expect her face and memories to fade as those who have gone before but it would not surprise me to hear her name occasionally uttered on the wind as her net was cast wide and deep. She was a special unique dog who befriended and loved many and that is evident based upon the continued response to her absence in this world. Erin would be so thrilled at the ongoing attention paid to her by those who knew her afar and I believe that we should all be so lucky to live on in the memories and hearts of so many. RIP Erin!!

"To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die." ~ Thomas Campbell

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wind in the Fur

There are many simple pleasures in life for dogs but near the top for many is a car ride and this was certainly true for Erin. From an early age she was exposed to the unyielding wind that whipped through the vehicle like a vortex as a result of multiple windows being lowered. There was no whining, yelping, or panic in her eyes just a look of contentment as the airflow swept downward and pounded the tiny creature for all its worth. The little butterball of a dog's face displayed nothing but happiness and that expression would continue for the remainder of her years. As Erin grew in stature and was able to see out the window, she discovered the ultimate source of bliss...shoving her head out the window. Generations of canine dna ensured that a car ride was not just a car ride but an experience to be enjoyed time after time.

"Go for a ride" was the magical phrase to get Erin's tail wagging while immediately moving towards the door. As the driver door was opened, in a flash she leapt upwards onto the seat, over the center console and into position upon the rear seat where she often gave me the look of "why are we not moving." Without fail the right rear window was lowered so she could scope out the passing scenery and enjoy the ride at her discretion, which usually meant her standing to fully extend her head out or in a sitting stance with her eyes darting in every direction. The right rear seat was her vehicle throne, where she maintained order in the castle on wheels and from this perch her sworn enemies could be easily spotted.

Squirrels were of the utmost importance and never far from Erin's mind, lucky for her they could often be seen scampering across the roadway, sprinting parallel to the car, or enjoying nature unaware of ogling eyes. A squirrel being spotted was as exciting as life got, there was uncontrollable passion when one was spotted and I'd do my best to slow down so the occasion could be extended. It was not unusual for me to chauffeur her around residential areas until the sun set, often passing the same house several times during these periods of elation. Whenever the urge to return home hit, a peek in the mirror convinced me otherwise as Erin's big beaming smile propelled me onward during these joyful moments.

Car rides in Europe were not spent crisscrossing adjacent neighborhoods but rather journeying great distances to view some of the most breathtaking scenery imaginable. Snow rain or shine, her head darted in and out of the window as the horizon was scanned for something of interest which was usually found in the form of some animal wandering near the roadside. If boredom overtook her, a sprawled out sighing dog was the result and that was totally unacceptable so the first available rest stop was sought for rejuvenation. The roads of a dozen European countries were trod upon with Erin's happiness being a major reason that we traveled frequently, her wind in the face smile gave me infinite joy and that was enough reason to keep on moving.

Regardless of the destination, rate of travel, or route taken, a car ride was as exciting as it got for Erin. It's impossible to not see her facial profile in the side mirror after so many years together, often I swear she is still in the back seat glancing my direction then surveying the passing landscape. It was a simple pleasure for sure but it meant everything to her and that's all that matters. RIP Erin!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Holy Canine

Whoever declared dogs don't belong in the church never met Erin, witnessed her impact upon others, nor felt the persuasive power of her personality. I never believed animals could be allowed into a place of worship and the notion wasn't given much thought but sheer luck or a higher power would convince me otherwise. Sunday mornings were usually spent strolling about downtown Savannah and the route took us past a major congregation where folks were often spotted outside engaging passersby into a conversation about the perks of attending service with that particular church. Usually Erin was guided to the other side of the street to avoid conversation in which I was unwilling to enter but one day a dialogue was initiated by me with a young lady bustling about the doorway.

She was promptly disarmed at the sight of a dog thus the topic of conversation revolved around my fur-kid instead of whether I wanted to attend church. Turns out her name was Erin as well and she was impressed by her canine namesake accomplishments as a therapy dog and then an invitation to attend church was extended my direction. It was revealed to them how I'd only attend if they permitted Erin to accompany myself inside the sanctuary and while I figured there was no possibility of that happening; the pastors decided she would not be a distraction so permission was granted for upcoming services. It was really surprising as who permits non-humans into a place of worship but then again there are very few four-legged creatures with the charm, temperament, and obedience skills of my girl.

We appeared the following week prepared to blend in with the crowd to hear God's message but instead of being shown to our pew, Erin was used as an instrument and immediately we were asked to be door greeters where her irresistible personality would put congregation members at ease, nothing like stroking a lovable pooch to ease tension. The masses that streamed past us offered nothing but compliments, positive remarks or paused to give Erin the attention she yearned for, it was a great beginning to our religious days. Over time, we continued in our capacity as door greeters with occasional stints as bulletin distributors thrown in and regardless of our function, the feedback remained upbeat.

Once the service began, an available seat was located near the back where Erin laid at my feet for the duration; she remained prone as I stood during hymns and I reiterated the command “stay” as she remained alone during communion. She waited patiently, not moving an inch as I departed the vicinity and upon return, she happily greeted me with a tail wag while praise was heaped upon her as that’s a difficult feat for any dog. On occasion she would drift asleep and snores could be heard much to the delight of folks around us, I’d be embarrassed but neither Erin nor our seat mates seemed to care. If nothing else, I learned to have thicker skin while being more tolerant of snoring doggies in public :)

Due to Erin’s background with children and her popularity amongst the church youth, it was suggested that we become part of a youth group. That was an easy decision as I loved to see my angel interact with kids; it was so satisfying to watch her neck being hugged, belly being rubbed, or to witness her lying atop some youngsters lap without a care in the world. Unfortunately, this only lasted a few weeks as I witnessed the kids battling for control over her leash and undivided attention so we stopped participating and returned to greeting duties. It was a good assignment with great kids but my fur kid overshadowed everything else so it ended despite the protests. Life at church continued for several years until I felt a break from service was needed and Erin deserved to become a dog again. I’m very proud as I recall how she had so much fun, positively touched life’s, broke another ceiling for canines, and made many new friends along the way; it was an amazing experience that will live on forever in the hearts of many!!

"You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us" ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bookstore Dog

A quaint cozy independent bookstore in the heart of Savannah's historic district was frequented by Erin thousands of times or so it seems upon reflection. Over the years, she spent alot of time in the 12 room establishment where the staff of E. Shaver Bookseller became familiar faces, loyal friends, and part of our extended family. Whatever my schedule or section of town, it was a priority that she step paw upon the squeaky wood floors as often as possible for a session of socialization and a handful of dog treats. Visitations began upon return from Europe after someone mentioned the "dog-friendly bookstore" in passing and they continued until the very end of her life, it was a major source of happiness for all involved.

Erin's tail became a blur of a stub while the leash tugging increased as Madison Square was approached, she was always so excited to see her friends and receive whatever bounty of treats was on hand. It was never a good idea to impede her path to the doorway as she had no problem barreling around or over whoever stood between her and what she craved. When the door was opened, a liver and white streak of lightning made a beeline behind the counter for a quick hello and then over to the water bowl, which was promptly drained of every precious drop. It was obvious when we stopped by for a visit as the evidence was a trail of water around the checkout counter, thus the ongoing joke about not having to mop the floor because Erin already had.

During the numerous visits, Erin lounged underfoot making eye contact with the friendly staff to gain attention or delicacies from the doggie treat jar and throughout the visits there would generally be lots of both. When not utilizing her charm for personal gain, she spent time entertaining the masses who browsed the bookstore on a regular basis. Adults and children alike fell under her spell and she gladly allowed them the pleasure of stroking her fur or massaging those droopy ears while smilingly she leaned against their legs for support. While this doting continued she would glance over at me with a huge smile and I'd reassure her it was okay to carry on and she'd refocus her eyes upon the new best friend until the customers remembered they came to purchase books. Children took a special interest in Erin and the feeling was mutual as she loved to entertain youngsters, it was touching to see them lying on the floor or relaxing in the children’s literature room, just the two of them.

Often there would be several visits in a single day and each stopover was regarded as the most important thing in the world. After a long session at the dog park, extended squirrel chasing outings or many other dog-related events that Erin routinely took part in, we would swing by to say hello, get some refreshments, and allow her the opportunity to catch her breath. It was endearing to see her fall asleep wherever she desired and occasional snoring could be heard much to the delight of the staff and customers. Even when the shop was closed, Erin would stare at the door anxiously waiting for it to swing open so the spoiling could begin but regrettably I had to nudge her onward, “Tomorrow we can come back and see them” and tomorrow always came. 

Our friends at E. Shaver Bookseller shared our accomplishments, happiness, anguish, and the daily adventures of Erin throughout the years and were arguably her biggest supporters. When she performed in a local production of “The Miracle Worker”, they were in the audience on opening night with my family and nicknamed us “Boy and Dog” years ago and the tag has endured even after the passing of my angel, it’s a moniker which I proudly wear. They suffered as I did whenever sickness came and were amongst the first to be informed of Erin’s sudden passing. I still visit my longtime friends to share a laugh, reflect on the past, and to visit the site of many glorious days. Boy and Dog will always live on!!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Good Death

It is often referred to as "Death with Dignity “,” Mercy Killing” or the “Good Death” as these are gentle sensitive descriptions of the term Euthanasia which originated with an ancient Greek doctor of noble status. The name sounds so clinical and matter-of-fact while not displaying the slightest hint of compassion, humanity, or sympathy. I've always despised the word, never referring to it in discussions on the topic of pet loss, and have absolutely never linked it to my departed friend hence Erin passed away or departed this world. While I'm not a proponent of the name, the act itself when applied correctly is a humane dignified method of ending an animal’s suffering as is often the case when age, disease, terminal illness, unforeseen accidents, or human neglect are involved.

"Dogs do not have many advantages over people, but one of them is extremely important: euthanasia is not forbidden by law in their case; animals have the right to a merciful death."
~ Milan Kundera

As I reflect upon that fateful day, it seems the decision was quite easy considering the topic of discussion was the most important thing in my life while arguably my reason to live. Erin's right to a gracious transition surpassed any selfish thought I entertained and while I’d have given anything to spend more time in her presence, it would have been incredibly wrong to demand that of her. There's no remorse or second guessing in my heart, just satisfaction knowing Erin's best interest was served until the very end. Our animal friends deserve a pain-free dignified ending whenever possible but too often humans’ self-serving nature takes priority and in the end, the animal pays the price with unwarranted suffering.

While I'm very open to discussing Erin's life, her exploits, impact upon others, and our beautiful relationship, I refuse to convey what transpired in the final stage of her life. I deeply feel it will disrespect her memory and betray the trust she had in me, thus only a select few friends and my mother have the intimate details of our final time together. Those people are folks who loved Erin for years, friends she absolutely adored and most importantly, those who could recognize and respect the sanctity aspects of our final moments. Be assured, it was a beautiful sacred ending between two loyal friends, a lovely final chapter to our fairy tale story.We should all be so fortunate to go gently into the night feeling the warm embrace of love. RIP Erin!!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Anatomy of Grief

Missing someone is the easy part about grieving; it’s a natural process that requires no effort on anyone’s behalf other than inhaling and exhaling.  The difficult aspect is acknowledging future days will never be the same again and that realization is a bitter pill to swallow. Every facet of life is rearranged, altered, or eliminated from the moment our loved one ceases to breathe, and despite the bucket of tears nothing will ever be the same again. Soon after Erin’s passing it was discovered that trips to the grocery store, walks in the park, work schedule, house decorating, social events, etc were all accomplished in a different manner. It’s a very somber thought knowing my remaining days on earth are permanently transformed and never ever will life measure up to the glorious days of the past 12 years.
It’s irrelevant if you are ready or not for the train barreling down the track as the brakes are off and the sorrow locomotive is heading in your direction. When the time arrives, there will be no denying the fact you’re in a grieving state but the larger issue will be whether the engulfing sadness is accepted or flatly rebuffed. This decision will have a major impact upon recovery time as eventually all must be broken upon the rocks of agony and only then can the body truly begin to repair itself. As for me, it was a decision in which there was no alternative as I was going to mourn Erin with the intensity and duration that was befitting for such a loving loyal friend.
I was never going to be one of those folks who lost a friend and put on a stoic face while pretending life hadn’t changed one iota as I was certainly going to mourn the creature that had given so much to me. How anyone can suffer a deep emotional loss while not mourning for the deceased is unthinkable to me but I guess people are wired differently and they can conceal the pain in a little corner of the mind. Eventually though, that box of unresolved emotions will open and those grief issues will tumble out in a messier state than before. I’ve found that in facing this directly instead of burying my head in the sand as former friends suggested was the best thing I could have done, thus there will be no lingering feelings of guilt in my heart.    
If I had to suffer through a thousand deaths of Erin, a thousand occurrences of sorrow would overtake me as my love for my beloved friend will never be trivialized or diminished. The manner in which I have mourned the passing of my angel has always been respectful and with the intention of exalting my beloved friend. If there’s anything I was born to do, it was to be Erin’s loyal friend and spread word of her exploits as world traveler, therapy dog, church attendee, and stage dog: she was certainly a special dog and is missed by many. As the days pass, my tears become less frequent as joyful memories begin to erase the pain and in time, I expect to have nothing but fond recollections but until that day, please allow me to shed a tear for my departed angel.

“When we lose one we love, our bitterest tears are called forth by the memory of hours when we loved not enough.” ~  Maurice Maeterlinck

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


The six month anniversary since Erin passed away is staring me down while weighing upon my shoulders like a ton of bricks. It's still hard to believe she shed her physical shell and is now pursuing squirrels through billowy white clouds high above. Surreal is the perfect word to describe how I feel about the entire ugly episode as my life definitely feels out of balance and belonging to someone else. Pieces of the puzzle are still missing and honestly I don't know if they will ever be recovered, maybe life will be fractured until the very end. It's possible when someone suffers a tremendous loss, the departed carry a portion of the survivor’s heart to the other side and it will be returned as the two parties reunite under a blanket of love.

What I do know is my life was enriched for knowing and loving Erin and despite the million tears cried over her absence, our years together was the happiest time of my life. I'm positive that the nearly 12 year relationship with my beloved fur friend will be the gold standard upon which all future relationships are judged. Love will wander into my life in the days ahead and whether she has two or four feet remains the question but it will be difficult to not compare them to the blissful days of yore. When one finds true elation with a creature, it's only natural to expect ensuing loves to measure up to that benchmark but it will be a formidable task to equal what was shared with Erin.

I often wonder if Erin can hear me as her name is spoken aloud and in silence. The many good times we experienced are recalled with regularity and I apologize for being unable to save her life but there’s no one who was capable of that feat expect God and he wanted her back in his kingdom. She served her purpose on earth as I was rescued from self-destruction and so many others were touched during her years as a therapy dog, it’s only right that her creator would want such a loving loyal companion near his throne. There’s nothing I desire more than seeing Erin’s face as my heart ceases to beat, it would be so glorious to see her and Nana welcoming me home but there’s more living to be had so that sight will have to wait until nature runs its course. My fur angel continues to inspire me as time elapses and it’s amazing how much she remains in peoples thoughts. RIP Erin!!!

The one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of her master…

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Swiss Miss

The inclement weather and snow falling upon Erin's head did little to deter her excitement of exploring the Swiss Alps. As an English springer spaniel, she was bred to endure harsh weather conditions and the deluge of snow mixed with frigid temperatures would not curtail her fun. Upon arrival at Interlaken train station, transportation was arranged into the heart of the Alps. To reach the final destination of Murren Switzerland, my furry travel companion rode trains, a local bus, and numerous cable cars where she often mingled with attentive locals and flocks of tourists carrying snow skis and snowboards.  
Upon checking into the quaint hotel for an extended weekend, the quaint villages of the picturesque valley were explored at leisure.  Every inch of real estate was hers to sniff and since no other dog was spotted, Erin was the canine master of this white washed world. Eventually, it became known to us that vehicle access was limited or prohibited altogether and she could wander off leash without a care in the world; Switzerland had its perks for sure. Well-worn trails and other areas deemed suitable for a dog to romp around was investigated and a joyful time was had except for an occasional sled coming too close or Erin wandering uncomfortably near a steep drop-off. Swiss cuisine provided my co-pilot with the opportunity to gorge herself on ample amounts of meats, cheeses, vegetables, and whatever else appeared tasty to a dog. Unbeknownst to other restaurant diners, I was filling up my buffet plate for two mouths, it just so happened that the other mouth had four legs and was lying underneath the table.  
Despite the continuous snowfall and howling wind whipping across the Alps, Erin had a fabulous time while gazing upon some of the most breathtaking views in the world. Standing upon an ice caked observation deck, she viewed the longest glacier in Europe as a throng of over enthusiastic Japanese tourists doted upon her. This large group found my companion so fascinating and many politely asked for pictures with the snow dog. She was a pro at posing but eventually the fanatical crowd became overwhelming and thus we had to make a quick escape from our newfound Asian friends. With Erin’s admirers outside we wandered into the “Top of Europe” restaurant for some well-deserved feasting, attention from the local wait staff, and scenic views that are priceless.
Also of note Erin rode the Alps longest cable car, spent time at Europe’s highest railway station, dined in a revolving restaurant that was used in a James Bond movie, frolicked at the bases of waterfalls and rolling streams and marveled as a herd of cows exited a cable car. She gracefully strode through Europe’s ice palace where the slippery ice floor seemed to affect everyone’s balance except for hers: guess it pays to have extra limbs when crossing sheets of ice. Our time in Switzerland was beautiful in every regard and Erin’s experience in the heart of the Alps was simply amazing. She had so much fun, ate like a queen, and enjoyed nature’s greatest gifts; those days will live on forever in my heart. RIP Erin!!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Savannah Dog

For the majority of Erin’s years she was a fixture in the squares, parks, cemetery, dog-friendly businesses and tourist hotspots of historic Savannah Georgia.  From an early age, my liver and white floppy eared dog was often seen stalking squirrels from square to square with a primary concentration in Chippewa and Madison squares. While she gave the squirrels a break and only cared about the chase, there’s no doubt the furry menaces can now sleep a little sounder at night.  As the temperature rose and the brutal humidity overwhelmed everything brave enough to step outside, Troup Square became a frequent destination because of its doggie water fountain. The double-sided watering hole is a popular stop with pooches of all sizes and Erin definitely appreciated the endless supply of fresh cool water.  Tourists aboard buses and horse drawn carriages gawked and snapped photos as she obliviously lapped up the refreshing coolant; no doubt she is in many photo albums across the globe.

Colonial Cemetery was a place of much happiness and contentment to Erin and thus me. Significant time was spent exploring every inch of the hallowed grounds with that powerful snout of hers and it was not unusual to idle away an entire day in this manner.  The massive oak trees, flowering shrubs, ancient gravestones, and above ground crypts along with the usual graveyard recesses provided her with all the entertainment a dog needed. Often her canine friends or other four-legged intruders would make an appearance and there would be many games of chase, tug of war, tandem squirrel chasing, or a leisurely session of lounging in the shade begging for attention. She spent many days lying at my feet scanning the treetops for squirrels as tourist’s bestowed compliments while I read or worked the daily crossword. The cemetery held a special place in Erin’s heart and was one of her magical spots on Earth therefore it’s very emotional as I wander the expanse without her.

There were many establishments that welcomed Erin with open arms and she took full advantage of the fringe benefit. Amongst those places were coffee shops, eateries, an independent bookstore, clothing stores, and retailers that sold every type of merchandise imaginable.  As we made our rounds to say “hello”, her friends usually dispensed doggie treats and an abundant of love while they received much attention in return. It was not unusual for her to lie near the cash register pretending to be a throw rug as everyone had to constantly step over or around her lol. Despite the utterings of “she’s no trouble”, I’d call her to my side to avoid any unforeseen accidents but soon after she would wander over to the employee area for additional treats and affection.  The influx of tourists who frequented these businesses were often dog lovers or homesick for their own pooch so Erin received extra doses of petting and adoration from unexpected sources. We loved spending time with these great folks as they graciously gave of their time, love, and treats to and I’ll never forget the kindness shown to my angel over the years.

The streets, alleyways, corridors, and footpaths of Savannah were crisscrossed with regularity and Erin became well known, if not by name then certainly by sight. She was routinely greeted by dog lovers, students, runners, church attendees, tour guides, city workers, and anybody else who recognized her. It’s been said that she was arguably the most popular dog in the city and while I’m not sure about that statement, she was definitely well known and her absence has been felt by so many. Nearly six months after her passing and on a weekly basis, I’m still asked about her whereabouts and that’s a testament to her popularity in the historic district. Erin will be sorely missed by the people of downtown Savannah but surely she is smiling down upon her many friends. Beautiful memories for all involved!!!

Friday, February 4, 2011

My Angel

My guardian angel was sent from above in the form of a liver and white floppy eared puppy. Erin arrived at precisely the moment of my life when I was at the lowest of lows and was desperately in need of a loyal loving friend. She rescued me from the depths of self- inflicted purgatory, placed me on the path to redemption, and led me through numerous pitfalls that humans encounter on a daily basis. Over the years if there was anything I could rely upon it was Erin’s unwavering love and friendship, she remained a beacon of faithfulness despite whatever shortcomings was displayed.

It’s my belief that angels appear in all shapes and forms to guide and assist the human race as needed, they have an assigned task to accomplish before returning to the company of God. Everyone has angels at some point and often fail to recognize the ethereal being in their presence until years later but not so for me. As Erin lounged upon her doggie bed while gazing upwards, we’d make eye contact and occasionally I’d inquire if she was sent here to rescue me. Those soulful gentle eyes continued to melt my insides as she seemed to say “You found me out” and then I’d call her over for some well-earned TLC.

Erin was too special of a dog to be born out of an ordinary litter but instead was forged at the hands of my great creator. Before my furry cherub arrived, there was no desire to get involved with the church on a regular basis, give up my precious time to help the less fortunate, or bring a much needed smile to the downtrodden but she delivered these opportunities to my doorstep. So many experiences, so many memories and so many friendships occurred solely because she nudged me in the right direction and kept on nudging until the correct decision was made.

Erin entering my heart was life altering while very possibly life-saving and it’s doubtful another event will be as impactful to me or those in my life circle. Honestly, I’m not sure if I’d be alive if not for her love and inspiration over the years, she certainly played a major role as I redirected my life in a more positive manner. It’s very sad and disheartening as I journey on in life without her by my side but that must mean the mission to leave a permanent paw print upon me was complete. She befriended so many over the years and her impact upon their life’s are immeasurable but her greatest asset was as a guardian angel to one despondent man. Praying Erin’s life lessons will continue to guide me but no doubt, her unwavering love will never cease to inspire me.

Erin, thank you for everything!! RIP!!

 Like bells and trumpets,
violins, cellos, flutes, and drums,
The angel’s voices resonate throughout
our souls and play into our lives.