Jump to content

Perfectly imperfect: Old stone steps and a succession of dogs...


Peter McCormick

1,686 views

There are two sets of stone steps at my home in Vermont. One, leading up to the front door, was freshly hewn at a local quarry when we built fifteen years ago. The other, old and trodden, was rescued from an old church about to be torn down. The new steps are all crisp edges and smooth surfaces, appropriate for a formal front entrance, a testament to craftsmanship and quality of manufacture. They are beautiful but at the same time somehow sterile.

The old steps are across the drive and lead uphill through a stone wall to a garden path. They are worn, rough and tumble, yet appropriate for their use and place. One can only wonder at the life events — weddings, funerals and christenings in addition to regular worship — that they hosted over a couple of centuries in a Vermont country church. Their flaws give them character. One might say they are perfectly imperfect.

stone_steps.jpg

These old stone steps surely have stories to tell.

My wife and I have had eight dogs over our 45 years of marriage. Five were perfectly purebred Golden Retrievers, the other three imperfect mixed breeds of various flavors. Our first was a black Labrador mix who we selected from a box of puppies for $5 at a flea market in NJ. We were relative newlyweds; Gretchen was our first baby. What a character! Over the next 15 years she mothered our girls and amused us with her antics. She loved to swipe worn socks from a laundry basket or bedroom floor and hide them in sofa corners, for some reason. We could punish her no worse than to keep her inside while the girls were outside playing. But as all things do, that came to an end when she lost use of her hindquarters. Carrying her out in the snow to do her business one January night, I slipped and we both landed in a snowbank and pile of frozen poop. It was time for her to go to the Rainbow Bridge. One of life's most crushing decisions and difficult journeys, but we had a great 15 years together

We then had a succession of four Goldens — Cassie, Kody, Callie and Rosie — as many as three at one time. All beautiful dogs with personalities of their own. Patty and I found ourselves over those twenty years or so becoming "Golden snobs" (my words), where other breeds were just a notch below. But popular dog breeds often develop problems of their own due to overbreeding, and these were no exception. They all had frequent ear infections, and three of the four succumbed to hemangiosarcoma, a cancer of the blood that is too common among purebred Goldens. Only one lived to 12.

To keep the funnel full, we decided to put our Golden snobbiness aside and tap the rescue market for "Golden mixes". We figured Golden puppies can easily find homes but older dogs often cannot. Perusing Petfinder.com, Patty soon found Marley, a "Golden mix" who we brought up from Georgia. A bucket-fed yard dog who was only allowed inside during thunderstorms, she became redundant when her family had to move and (allegedly) couldn't take her with them. So we brought her north, to both her and our delight, no adjustment required. Even with her broken teeth (from chewing on chain link, we suspect), small head with Yoda-like ears and chubby, somewhat lumpy body, she was beyond friendly and instantly loving. Definitely imperfect, yet perfect in her own way.

marley_patty.jpg

Patty with Marley on her Gotcha Day, December 2017.

A subsequent DNA test to satisfy our curiosity showed that among the dozen or so line items in her genealogy, Marley actually had no Golden Retriever in her. The only things she had in common with a Golden were her coloring and her appetite. But if a rescue agency wants to market a dog of indistinct lineage, call it a Golden mix. Works every time.

Only two of our eight remain, both also rescues. Ellie is a purebred Golden who came to us from a shuttered puppy mill in Kentucky, perfect bloodlines but a flawed experience that left her sweet but damaged. Frosty was marketed as a Golden mix and looks very similar to an English Cream Golden, but like Marley has nary a drop of Golden DNA in him. He's a Great Pyrenees/Labrador Retriever mix who we got as a young adult of unknown history. Not well socialized and with Pyr genes that prompted him to run, we suspect he had been passed around a few times. He was a project for us, but a diamond in the rough that took some honing and shaping. He has turned out to be a wonderful dog who unfortunately lost his eyesight about four months ago, at about nine years old.

goodlife.jpg

Life is pretty good as a McCormick Dog. Frosty, Ellie and Marley.

Just a few weeks after Frosty lost his eyesight, Marley was diagnosed with lymphoma. Even with prednisone treatment, the prognosis for lymphoma in dogs is two to four months. Four months was about right, and her time to go to the Bridge came this past Monday.

Of the six dogs we've loved and lost over the years, this one is the toughest for us, and particularly for me. She imprinted on me quickly and became my shadow, following me everywhere. When I worked at my desk, she laid alongside. When I got up to refresh my coffee in the kitchen, her footsteps were right behind. Playing the piano, she was my sole audience. If I sat to play the guitar, she either laid at my feet or hopped up on the sofa next to me. Along with Frosty, she was my afternoon nap buddy. When in the kitchen, she was always at the ready to snap up any tidbits that dropped, particularly fond of red peppers and raw cabbage. I made coleslaw the other night and for the first time in years had to sweep up the cabbage that had fallen to the floor. She would have taken care of that for me.

marley_naptime.jpg

Marley at nap time.

Every night while we watch TV, Marley was right there with us. And at lights out, she curled up in our bedroom along with the other two. Rinse and repeat the next day.

We're at our summer home now so I dug her a nice spot in the sun down by the water, lined it with drainage stone and balsam boughs. We had a 90 minute drive to the vet on Monday, so we all had pizza and ice cream on our way to St. Andrews, where the vet was wonderful. Couldn’t have been nicer or more empathetic. We took a different route and brought Marley home on the ferry, on a beautiful day. And now I’m crying again.

Sometimes the quest for perfection can lead us to minimize or ignore the beautiful imperfections that impart character and provide flavor in life. Marley was absolutely perfectly imperfect in her quirks, and we miss her dearly. This too will pass, but in the meantime it's a tough slog. Rest well, Marley, and thank you for being you.

three_dogs.jpg

Frosty, Marley (front) and Ellie.
  • Like 5

4 Comments


Recommended Comments

I’ve always admired and enjoyed your Cheap Seats through the many years. There’s been many great ones and many with sage advice and life lessons.
This one was a tough one. Those of us who have pets can sympathize. It’s never easy losing our adorable furry friends. Our thoughts are with you and Patti. 

  • Like 1
Link to comment

Peter,

My condolences. Having just lost my last dog eight weeks ago, this was a tough read. The day before the rains came and took away so many homes and businesses here in VT, I lost the last thing that made my house, "home." Sadly, Mother Nature has not given us time here to breathe or grieve and having lost two dogs and my last parent the last couple years, I'm resisting the urge to jump right back into dog parenthood.  This is the business we've chosen I guess. I undoubtedly will have other rescue dogs in the future, just not in season.

Thanks for sharing.

And now I'm crying again.

Cheers,

Howard

  • Like 1
Link to comment
On 9/1/2023 at 12:51 PM, Tony Girardi, CGCS said:

I’ve always admired and enjoyed your Cheap Seats through the many years. There’s been many great ones and many with sage advice and life lessons.
This one was a tough one. Those of us who have pets can sympathize. It’s never easy losing our adorable furry friends. Our thoughts are with you and Patti. 

Thanks, Tony. You’ve been a good friend of mine and TurfNet for many years, so thanks for that, too.

Link to comment
On 9/2/2023 at 11:34 AM, Howard Nosek said:

Peter,

My condolences. Having just lost my last dog eight weeks ago, this was a tough read. The day before the rains came and took away so many homes and businesses here in VT, I lost the last thing that made my house, "home." Sadly, Mother Nature has not given us time here to breathe or grieve and having lost two dogs and my last parent the last couple years, I'm resisting the urge to jump right back into dog parenthood.  This is the business we've chosen I guess. I undoubtedly will have other rescue dogs in the future, just not in season.

Thanks for sharing.

And now I'm crying again.

Howard - I’ve thankfully been away from Vermont this summer but of course have heard about the 20+” of rain that VT has received. Unrelenting. 

Sorry to hear about your dog(s) as well. There’s nothing but heartbreak in that. I’m trying to hold my wife back from getting another rescue right away, preferring to give two a chance rather than three — which is a handful, in many ways. But of course there’s the argument that the best salve for losing a dog is another dog. If it’s meant to be, one will find you.

Link to comment
Guest
Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...