Recently I've been enthralled by my friend Holly's story about finding a stray dog. Her story reminded me of George, a best-loved dog from my own childhood. I don't even know if I own a picture of George, but he looked very much like this ~ right down to the knowing eyes.
George came to our family in a most unusual way. At the time we lived in the back of beyond, a remote house on a remote road, without running water or electricity. My Dad had gone out to buy us a wood-burning cookstove. I was never clear where he bought it ~ he knew a man who knew a man who had a stove for sale, that sort of thing.
When it arrived, it was sadly in need of a cleaning and had probably been stored outdoors. While it was still on the back of the truck, my Dad opened up the oven and out popped a very frightened puppy ~ who skedaddled right off the truck and headed for the hills. What I recall of that day was my family wandering along the road and through the bush calling "Puppy! Puppy!" until it got too dark to see and we were in danger of getting lost ourselves. That night, as we talked and read around the kerosene lamps, we were all pretty solemn, thinking of that little puppy ~ cold, frightened and hungry ~ and knowing there wasn't even the remotest chance that anyone else would find him, and worse: that he might wind up as a bear's dinner.
But - happy day! The next morning on our way out to the woodpile, there he was ~ shivering with cold and hunger, still very frightened but having found his way back to us, willing to give us the very slimmest benefit of a doubt that we were better than the wild wild woods.
The first order of business was a name. My Mom said call him whatever we wanted, as long as it was anything but George. None of us could come up with anything that seemed to suit him, and for the first few days we called him Anything But George. Eventually (of course!) it just got shortened to George (sorry, Mom). Wherever he came from, he'd obviously been treated very badly. He crept along the walls in the house and whenever my Mom picked up the broom to sweep the floor he'd pee in fright. Making Jiffypop popcorn would drive him into a frenzy of fear, and he'd have to be put in a "safe" room. But, being a puppy, and surrounded by four kids who were like *so thrilled* to have a puppy, we gradually won him over.
Nobody really knew what sort of dog he was. From the knees up, he looked very much like a Border Collie, but his legs were so impossibly short that it's hard to imagine him herding anything but mice. With such short legs he couldn't run, so he "bounced". And I don't mean that figuratively ~ he actually moved like a springbok ~ he could bounce at least three times his own height. I remember he used to meet us at the school bus in the winter by bouncing OVER the snowbanks. The other kids would all gather on one side of the bus just to watch this crazy dog come to meet us. He also had an unusually large plume of a tail that cleared off the coffee table if he happened to walk past it while wagging happily.
If anything in my young life taught me how deep devotion can go, it was George. He followed us everywhere and was possibly the sweetest animal I've even known. He did this weird verbalization thing ~ sort of yawning and gurgling and nodding ~ like a baby might before it has words. Late one night after attending a concert, my brother and I were trying to sneak quietly into the house so as not wake anyone ~ but no dice, there was George at the top of the stairs, loudly "saying" how happy he was that we were home, and the more we giggled and told him to stop, the more happy, verbal and loud he got. Since mostly we lived in remote places, he'd grown up without other dogs to show him how to be a dog, so I think he thought he was one of us. He sat on the couch like we did (back straight, feet out), and got pretty miffed if he was left out of a treat that all the *other kids* were getting.
We always thought he was incapable of barking until we moved into a little neighbourhood that had three (count'em THREE houses!) and each house had a dog. One night at dinner we could hear a dog barking. It wasn't the deep voice of the German Shepherd in the house west of us, and it wasn't the soft yap of the little dog east of us ~ it was our very own George, who'd finally found his doggie voice ~ we all ran outside to see if he was okay, and he seemed as surprised as we were to find him barking. I was so darn proud of him in that moment, and even though we'd had him for years and loved away all the memories of how badly his life started, I felt like this was the moment he'd finally become "his own dog".
George was an important part of our family, but eventually I did what all children do ~ left home and started a life of my own. George was always happy to see me when I visited, and the other *kids* too, as they moved on. At the end of his life, he was quite infirm, and eventually in great pain. My parents sadly did the decent thing even though it broke their hearts, I'm sure. He lived a grand old life, adored by all of us, and he was, as far as I'm concerned, irreplaceable.