Clink, tinkle, clink..I heard the sound of something metal dropping in the next room, probably my car keys, better go retrieve them before I forget this moment and launch on my umpteenth frantic key search of the week..(ugh, 49 year old brain, I guess I have just used up my available space, the rest must be stored up in The Cloud , if only I knew how to download it). Upon investigation, I found not my keys, but, an old dog collar with tags still attached..Bailey’s. Oh, hey Bailey. Old man. You trying to say something? A wave of emotion grabbed me as I stood with his collar, rubbed his name tag and sniffed it (you dog lovers will understand that last one), stalling it’s return to it’s rightful hook. I owe you one , Big Brown Hound, this one’s for you.
On St.Patrick’s Day, 17 years ago, I received a call from a surgeon I worked with, imploring me to take his puppy, a Chocolate Lab, he could no longer care for. He was studying for his Boards, never home, and not suppose to have a dog in his rental anyway. (Sometimes the smartest people..*sigh,* don’t judge Tess.) I had spent the prior few weeks coaching him on all things Lab, since we were the owners of Clancy, another Chocolate, our first dog, Joe and I had discussed getting Clancy a friend, wondering if he was lonely during the day. After spending a fortune trying to diagnose why Clancy’s fur was falling out, the vet guessed that he was just licking it obsessively out of boredom or stress when we were at work, though we never saw him do it . We ultimately decided that we could barely afford the care and feeding of one big dog and should probably not get another..until the St. Paddy’s day call. Fresh off a round or two of Guinness, my normally logical husband, was, er, a bit loosened up and agreed we should go “take a look” at the pup. We were greeted by a little brown bear when we arrived, insanely cute, he was ours. Enter King of the Goofs. Bail-holio, a Beavis and Butthead spin off of “Cornholio’.. all code for asshole.
Bailey was thrilled to have a friend in Clancy. They were the odd couple, Clancy a product of backyard breeding (we didn’t know any better) often mistaken for a female, and Bailey., an overgrown Lab, strong of personality, a presence at the front door, most salespeople just gave up trying to shout over his barking and walked away. Thanks for that, Bailey. Bailey, who devoured every pile of crap he could steal from my constant surveillance, even after I laced it once with a bottle of hot sauce..he loved it. But, if I had a video of his first bite of it, I’m pretty sure we would have won big money. Bailey, who had to be sawed out of trash cans wedged around his rib cage. Bailey, who escaped from the house during our new furniture delivery, only to return from his mad dash, covered in mud and slobber which he immediately covered the new furniture with, just as the shocked deliverymen were lifting the protective plastic off. Clancy was so busy worrying about Bailey’s antics, his fur grew back. Clancy would be waiting for me at the front door when I returned from work with the “you’re not going to believe this” look on his face, right before Bailey would enthusiastically greet me covered in evidence from a latest exploit. He cracked the code on every trashcan I ever bought, working diligently until he figured it out. I thought I had him stumped with the disappearing trashcan, sliding out from under the counter, until I discovered him at night, lying on his back like a repairman, trying to work the door. He did it. We loved Bailey and Clancy, they were our kids, we weren’t having kids. We were married nearly 9 years, no kids we said, guess it wasn’t meant to be. Not so fast, luck of the Irish, we added our first son a few St. Patrick Days later. Our second son two years later.
Clancy and Bailey loved their little humans, easy food targets that they were. I wish I had a picture of finding Bailey on his back, sucking the final drops of formula from a bottle held between his paws, looking at me like, “is this wrong?”. Bailey loved it all, formula, pureed jars of baby food, dirty diapers and finally, solid food, joy! A child’s birthday party was punctuated by screams of “he stole my ice cream!!” Besides being a vacuum cleaner, Bailey appointed himself Guard Dog. While Clancy would greet every stranger who approached his fence with his ears down and his tongue out, Bailey turned Cujo if the boys were playing outside and a stranger approached. Hackles up, a “Get The Hell Away From My Kids” bark, that set me running to see who was there. He never failed me. I don’t know what the strange looking man was intending on doing that day when I saw him reaching over to unlatch my gate , perhaps to pet my dogs, perhaps not. But he quickly walked away when Bailey turned on. I called out to the man, but he was gone.
Clancy died at age 8, old age not to be for this sweet, worried boy, cancer took him quickly. Joe and I were heartbroken, our sons were still too young to fully understand, ages 2 and 4 at the time. We buried him before the boys arrived home from daycare, Bailey stood over the open grave, staying with his buddy to the end. Bailey stayed an only dog for years. He helped raise his boys, knew what time the first school bell rang, and would bark his head off at the front door at 7:50 a.m. every morning, “HURRY UP” he insisted. He drove the kids to school, riding shotgun. He was greeted by his fan club at St. Mark School, barely visible sometimes beneath the crushing love of little people and accepted it all calmly and happily. He grew lumpy, gimpy and gray, but never lost his love of people, food and yes, crap. His hearing became selective and he would trot off on little old man jaunts, launching a frantic neighborhood search with reinforcements called in, only to have limp back in a few minutes, “huh? what’s the big deal?”.
Around age 13, the tables turned on Bailey. The babies he kept safe (and cleaned from all food residue) were now strong boys carrying him up the stairs, or snuggling with him on his dog bed when getting up was just too much. We welcomed a beautiful Black Lab puppy, Beau, to our family, and Bailey immediately shared his bed with him and was a calming presence. He was like an adoring grandfather, showing the lad around the yard that he would one day inherit, keeping his cloudy eyes on him, the way he had done with his human boys. Bailey became a crash course on aging, teaching my children tolerance and patience, watching their kindness with him was powerful stuff for me, the memories bring tears still. Shortly after his 14th birthday, Bailey died peacefully in our arms, blessed euthanasia. We brought him home, wrapped in a sheet. His head was exposed and he looked so peaceful and distinguished that an impromptu wake ensued. Family came, and we gathered around him, thanking him and giving the kids an unhurried time to say goodbye. A private letter between my son and Bailey was placed in his grave….if there is a dog heaven , I hope Bailey brings that letter when I get there, I’m dying to read it. Still miss you Bail-holio. Good old boy, I hope there’s a million overflowing trashcans where ever you are.