Written by Leslie Criss
“The bond with a true dog is as lasting as the ties of this earth will ever be.” — Konrad Lorenz
My father loved most dogs, but he possessed a mighty affection for Golden Retrievers.
Two Goldens stole the hearts of my parents through the years. Those same dogs ultimately caused great heartache when they crossed the Rainbow Bridge. It’s their only fault really, these pets who allow us to love them: They just don’t live long enough.
My father was a firm believer in one-syllable names for his canines. Sam came from south Mississippi, Max from Alabama.
After Mama died, Dad and Max were forced into the bachelor life. Somehow, my sister and I felt better about our father without our mother simply because he had Max. When Max died, it was not long before Dad began rumbling about wanting another pup.
I asked my friends at the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society to be on the lookout for any dog that resembled a Golden Retriever. Within a week, the call came. I visited first, then called Dad who drove from Corinth to check out the fluffy possibility.
The brown-eyed pup ambled into the visiting room, nudged my dad’s knee and gazed into Dad’s eyes. Dad was instantly smitten.
“You want to go home with me?” he said. “You want to go home with me?”
The bond was set, and another Golden made his home in my father’s heart. A visit to the veterinarian brought a small bit of news from Dr. Glenn Thomas concerning Jake’s DNA: “If he’s got something other than Golden Retriever in him, it’s not much.”
As time has passed, we’ve decided whatever breed is mixed up in Jake Criss, it’s a big one. He’s a handsome pup, but looks like a Golden crossed with a small pony.
Four years ago, Dad moved to Tupelo to live with us. Jake, of course, came along, joining the three dogs who already called our house home. There’s George, a near-perfect pup whose mama was a Jack Russell mix who had an encounter with a Lhasa Apso with papers; Thom Thom, a 14-year-old black Chihuahua; and Presley, a pug from William Faulkner’s hometown of New Albany.
There’ve been some chaotic moments, but mostly our quartet of furry, four-legged friends have gotten along like family — which is exactly what they are.
Still, ultimately, Jake belonged to Dad, and Dad belonged to Jake. He slept on his dog bed each evening on the floor next to Dad’s bed. Some nights, Jake would get sleepy and give up the day before Dad, but most evenings, the two would turn in together.
Early on Sunday morning before Christmas, paramedics took Dad to the hospital. Less than 48 hours later, my sister, my niece, my friend Cheryl and I gathered in the small Critical Care Unit to say goodbye to him, and our hearts broke.
We later left the hospital and came home. Dad, of course, did not.
In the days that have followed, our hearts have ached even more as we’ve watched Dad’s beloved Jake look for him around the house. We’ve watched him grieve for his best friend, who gave him his forever home. When it’s bed time, Jake goes into Dad’s room for a time and stares up at the bed where Dad slept, before finding his way into our room where his bed — and Dad’s robe — wait for him.
We continue to lavish him with love, and we hope he understands his home remains here with us.
I’ve lost pets I’ve loved; I’ve lost people I’ve loved. Grieving along with a pet because we’ve lost a person we both loved is a new experience for me.
But we’ll get through it, as long as we have each other.
And our memories of Dad.
Leslie Criss is the executive editor of Invitation magazine. Read her columns at invitationmag.com/between-the-lines.