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Georgie Boy

My wife and I married in college, after sophomore year. We’re not sure why. We just
wanted to. We had been an item since junior year in high school. My wife’s brother, three
years her senior, once commented that in high school we had a college-level relationship.
So maybe in college we had a post-college relationship? After the wedding we spent a
leisurely summer camping in Hawaii but when we returned we were in a big hurry to start
a family. We rushed off to the Animal Rescue League and fell in love with an 8 week old
male golden retriever-ish mutt. The dog was roughly the age of our marriage. We weren’t
21 yet -- the minimum age to adopt -- so my wife’s father had to sign the papers.

There’s some unclarity about which exactly was our first date, but we agree that the first
movie we saw was a dark comedy called ‘Georgy Girl’ with Lynn Redgrave. We loved
that movie. When it came time to name our little pooch we dubbed him George. My wife
had an uncle named George. He was offended. Apparently he felt that dogs were a lower
life form. We couldn’t understand his pique.

We wanted a big dog. We were ‘big dog’ people. The folks at the shelter confirmed that
we were making a wise selection because the front paws were very large. We did
everything by the book, but George topped out at 22 lbs. When you see people with a
small dog, you figure they’re ‘small dog’ people, along with everything that means. For
this reason pretty much anyone we met who admired George got the whole story. We
were big dog people with a small dog.

At that time leash laws either didn’t exist in Cambridge or were honored in the breach.
We lived in a section of town presided over by a very large male golden retriever named
Lancelot. As we saw him make the rounds with a princely prance -- marking posts, trees,
and hydrants -- we imagined a cosmic connection between our little Georgie and the
grand Lancelot. Sometimes they would pal around. Well, George would jump around at
his feet. We considered them pals.

In our first apartment, with the trippy Marimekko fabric stapled to the walls, George
developed a pretty cool trick. When we’d first get home or someone came to visit he’d
run laps around our little living room. His track included the arms and back of the sofa.
He’d be good for 10 or 15 roundtrips before he’d settle down. We never did a study of
how long an absence was needed to unleash this spasm. I suspect it wasn’t much. George
was exuberant and loved to show off his speed and agility.

George was an unusually smart, clever, and handsome animal. From the very beginning
he was a gifted communicator. If we left him too long one day he would drag our socks
out of the closet. If we left him too long the next day, he would drag the socks out of the
bedroom into the living room. If we still didn’t get the point, the third day he would bring
the socks into the living room and chew out the heels. As he came to his adult
dimensions, he grew a graceful, upward curving feathered tail and sported feathers on his
ears and legs. We convinced ourselves that he looked like a perfectly scaled (down)

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golden retriever. This was clearly not the case and on some level we knew it, but we
never let the truth interfere with what we wanted to see.

George was a lover, not a fighter. He never met a person he didn’t like and he seemed to
be on a crusade to convert everyone he met to become a dog-lover. In the extended
family alone he patiently counseled my wife’s grandfather, mother, and aunt to abandon
their confirmed fear of canines. He was a smiley and personable gent who declined to
conflict with other dogs.

As George matured, learned (to my great relief) to lift his leg, and experienced puberty he
developed an additional reason to smile. It was really more of a leer. George became a
ladies’ dog. Though small in stature George lacked not for ambition. We don’t know how
many litters he sired over his career. We do know of one for sure -- a collaboration with a
black standard poodle next door in Weston. He was caught in the act and his bloodline
seemed to be traceable in the resulting brood. At that time we lived on the edge of a
gentleman’s farm where the landed gentry raised basset hounds. George soon wore out
his welcome with the farmer’s wife as the breeding females regularly went into heat. As
she also happened to be our landlady, when she called and instructed us to ‘Come get that
damn dog’ we were out the door in a flash. George was an intellectual but he also had
that special ability to throw off the mantle of higher thought and sink to the basest male
behavior. Think crazed frat boy on Spring break.

We moved out of Harvard Square to an apartment in Watertown for senior year. Rather
than leave him alone all day, I commuted with George to school. I on my bike, he
running alongside, responding flawlessly to hand and whistle commands to stop and
cross, we traversed Watertown and Cambridge at rush hour. At the Radcliffe quad I
would ‘trick’ George. We had discovered at some point that when George saw one of us
disappear behind a door he would wait until we reappeared. We verified his reliability
going in and out of shops around Harvard Square. I exploited this thrilling devotion by
taking him into the quad every morning and then walking through one of the dorms to the
other side and off to class. George could always be found in the quad later that day. We
didn’t know exactly how he spent those days, but we knew he was acting as an
ambassador of his species and probably also filling in his little black book.

George was a confirmed land mammal. He never swam, except by accident. He never
bathed, except by coercion. He was blessed with a coat so fine it seemed to be self-
cleaning, to the point that we were often accused of grooming him. The rare exceptions to
George’s cleanliness were those times when we had to retrieve him from his marauding
behavior at the bassets. While George would always come when called, when under the
spell of basset pheromones he answered to a higher (lower) power. On hearing our call
he’d bolt through the swamp in back to be found later smilingly (leeringly) waiting at the
back door, wearing suspicious-looking black mud knee socks. The cold hosing he’d get
probably helped in more ways than one.

When we started having kids George had been an only child for six years. As far as we
could tell, he didn’t have a jealous bone in his body. He welcomed our daughter and son

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into his family. He found these new life forms very interesting and wanted to be with
them, right next to them, from the start. We interpreted this behavior as protective and in
his own, non-confrontational, way maybe it was. His courage was never tested. For a
small dog, he was tolerant of what the kids dished out. When he’d had enough he’d
gracefully retreat to a neutral corner.

George loved snowstorms. When it snowed he’d reprise a version of the living room
trick, running around in successively tighter circles, front shoulder nearly brushing the
ground, running and jumping to eat the snow in the air. He was good for such a display
until he was 13 or 14, though as time went on he reduced the routine to its essence and
conserved his energy.

George lived to seventeen human years. He escorted my wife and me from late
adolescence to later adolescence. By that time he was hunched over, didn’t see or hear
too well, and had a neurological problem that caused him to walk endlessly in circles
around the house, bumping into things. When we finally decided to let him go we built
him a box, went to the vet, and tearfully put him down. Then we put him in the box with
his blanket and a few mementos, and buried him on a little rise in the backyard.

A couple of years after George died we got another dog, an Airedale. We loved and
admired George and knew we could never replace him. Getting Lily confirmed that, and
much, much more. After nearly twelve dysfunctional years we saw Lily off to the other
side, and grudgingly interred her ashes on the same rise in the backyard. Unlike with
Lily, there had been no puzzle to living with George. He was one of us. Or we were one
of him. We were on the same page. I doubt we were ever in the same library as Lily.

As I think about it now, I’m confident that had my wife’s uncle not been so small-minded
he would have seen our naming as an act of aggrandizement. In fact, knowing him, the
leer alone would have made him a fan.

Stan Dolberg 617-283-6250