Requiem for a Dog
On Friday morning, my wife Ann and I woke up in our Manhattan apartment. I put my feet on the floor and looked around. No Bailey. We’d put our 14-year-old golden retriever to sleep the day before. I started to do the math …
I don’t have a dog. I’ve woken up every day for the last 23 years owning a dog. Until today.
And I had to catch myself before I broke apart again. You wouldn’t have wanted to see me Wednesday, the day we knew it was coming, or Thursday, the day it happened. I was not a pretty sight. Our second golden retriever (Woody, our first, died in January 2002, when Bailey was 2) was euthanized at 9:14 a.m. Thursday.
So many thoughts. So many reverential thoughts about a great dog. But a little history first:
Did you know Daniel Snyder was responsible for the King family owning Bailey?
Did you know if the King family hesitated in the adoption process for just a single day 13 years ago, Bailey would have been Darrell Green’s family dog? That’s the Darrell Green, the famous Washington cornerback.
Bailey! I am sorry! You could have been a Hall of Famer’s dog! You could have been on the stage in Canton with Darrell Green and his beautiful family!
I’m not saying history would have shown me to be a better owner. But I do know no one threw more tennis balls to a dog than I threw to Bailey, and so I hope she was happy where she landed. In Montclair, N.J., her third home in her first 10 months. Bailey was born in Champaign, Ill., to a breeder, and given as a gift to a friend of our family. I’d met Doug Green when he was an assistant PR man with the Bears, and he’d moved on to be Ron Turner’s director of football operations at Illinois. Then Doug moved to Washington to study for the bar, and while in Washington heard that Snyder was looking for a PR man. (A common occurrence in those days.) Doug applied, got the job, and soon realized he couldn’t keep a dog with the demands of an NFL PR guy. For a while, Bailey lived at the home of former Washington GM Joe Mendes, but when training camp ended and Doug had to take Bailey, it just wasn’t feasible to keep her. So one day in August 2000, with our Woody in his golden years, we offered to take Bailey. Doug and I met on his lunch break at an exit on the Beltway around Washington. “This is something I really don’t want to do,” Doug said, and I could see how sad this made him. And here came this fireball, reed-like retriever, a 2.7-in-the-40 sprinter with the longest tongue, and she bounced into our Ford Explorer, and off we went.
I didn’t know about Darrell Green’s interest until last week. Doug told me the star corner asked one of Doug’s PR aides the day after the handoff if the dog was still available. Nope, Darrell was told; missed it by a day.
That was our great fortune. Bailey fell right into the suburban family life with us and our two high school daughters. Field hockey, ball-chasing, softball (she was the mascot for three teams I coached), and learning the ropes from Woody. One day, a sliver in the front door allowed her to escape, and she sprinted onto busy Bellevue Avenue in Montclair … and I thought, This dog is dead. She leaped into the side of an Astro Van. BANG! The poor minivan driver stopped and jumped from the vehicle. “I am SO SORRY!” the distraught (and faultless) woman said. How did Bailey survive? Who knows. She got off the tar, shook herself as though leaving a lake, and sprinted back up to the house. I’ll say this: Bailey never ran into traffic again.
Actually, she was a chicken dog. When my wife put a vinyl beach bag by the front door one summer day, the bag made a crinkling sound. Bailey’s tail went far between her legs and she ran out of the room. And for the first three or four years with us, Bailey had one maddening habit: She had to be touched in every waking moment, or she was miserable. If we sat and watched TV, Bailey had to snug up against one our legs. I remember peering in at daughter Mary Beth doing homework one day, writing left-handed in a notebook with her right hand on a sleeping Bailey’s head.
I was traveling one time when we lived in Jersey, and Ann was home alone with Bailey. She went to bed, and after about 10 minutes heard a loud crash downstairs, jumped up and turned on the lamp. Bailey jumped up too. Ann went into the hallway and turned on all the hallway lights in the house, and she looked at Bailey in the doorway of the bedroom and said, “Come.” Bailey didn’t move. Again Ann said: “Come!” Bailey turned around and went back to her dog bed, leaving Ann to investigate by herself. Turns out a framed photograph had fallen from a wall and crashed to the floor. But the chicken dog couldn’t bear to go see.
I’ve never seen a dog that loved running as much as Bailey. We had a hill in Montclair, above a stately iris garden, and I took her there three or four times a week, throwing the tennis ball far down the hill so she could retrieve and run. Mike Martz, at the time coaching the Rams, returned a call during one such session and asked me what was that loud panting noise in the background. Bailey would ride home in the back seat of the car, drooling down the side of it; when we sold the car in 2007, try as we might, we couldn’t get the drool stains out. That was okay. All in all, Bailey was a piece of luggage. She went everywhere. She stayed at Tufts for a week in daughter Laura’s senior-year house.
I used to wash Bailey in our front driveway because the hose was convenient. On one May day in 2008, in mid-lather, my phone rang. It was Brett Favre. Not loving retirement. Having second thoughts. I was trying to talk to him and wash the dog at the same time, and finally I had to tell Bailey to lay down and wait—for about 40 minutes. There she lay, all soaped up, just doing what she was told, as she always did.
Mostly, she was just an incredible companion. Didn’t bark much at all. Never whined. Went nuts when any of us came home, as dogs do. (She saved her going-craziest for Doug’s occasional visits over the years. Ten years after we adopted her, a Doug visit still prompted Bailey to go into orbit. Amazing how dogs remember so well.) And that’s why the last few days have hurt so much. My wife and I wake up and look on the floor; no Bailey. We walk back into the apartment, and we look down in our foyer; no Bailey. What an empty feeling. I assume we’ll have that empty feeling for a long time. A month, two months … I don’t know. I wish I didn’t have to feel that pain in my heart for the next month or two or three.
But by my calculations, we had Bailey in our lives for 159 months. I will endure a few weeks of the occasional dark thought, and I will think: Pretty good trade, 159 months of companionship and friendship and unconditional love for one or three months when sadness creeps in. In fact, that’s a fantastic trade. I feel the same as I did when Woody died: The easiest way to not feel this grief is to never have a dog. And what an empty life that would be.
In her final days, Bailey had been given some steroid pills to treat a bad limp. She had arthritis, and we had to lift her to stand, and she couldn’t put much weight on her right foreleg. So we’d take her out for her regular trip to the sidewalk four times a day, and by Wednesday, it was unbearable to watch her struggle to make it outside. First thing Thursday morning, when I approached her to tell her it was time to go outside, she wagged her tail so hard it hit the wooden floor like it was a drum. This dog was still into life. But the limp … just too painful to watch. We went to the vet a couple hours later. I had to carry her more than half of the three-and-a-half-block walk. We told the vet, Keith Manning, about her trouble, and he was nice and avoided our beseeching looks about the next treatment, and said her longstanding bulging disk was pushing on her spine and preventing her leg from working and, well, there wasn’t much he could do, and …
“Give us five minutes,’’ I asked him. He left the room, and Ann and I said our goodbyes.
Ann gave Bailey her last milk bone. “Good girl!’’ she said one last time, through her tears.
Then Dr. Manning came in, with his assistant, and we lifted Bailey up on the table. Ann and I held Bailey as Dr. Manning shaved her left forepaw. He took the long silver needle with the red poison, found the vein and pushed it in.
I whispered into Bailey’s ear: “Go play with Woody.”