Have you read the one about The Dooze?
I sure have. I’ve read it so many times. Most recently, last night, because I’m a big believer in kicking myself when I’m down.
The link up there is, in my opinion, the very best thing Bill Simmons has written or ever will write – and I say that as someone who actually likes the guy quite a bit. But this isn’t about Bill Simmons or even about his beloved golden retriever – The Dooze – that he wrote so tenderly about.
This is about my beloved golden retriever, Grady Little’s Big Mistake, and the goodbye I said to him last night, even though he was already gone and has been 1,000 miles away from me since the summer of 2006.
I was on my way home from work last night, walking to the bus, when I saw that I had gotten an email from Jason. I saw his name and the subject “Grady” and the “Hi Jij…” and I knew. Grady was ten and a half years old and even though I hoped very much that he would live into his white-faced teens, I also had started thinking in the last year that there was a chance that the phone call or email I dreaded might come sooner than I wanted.
Grady had gotten sick in the last week or so and had gone downhill pretty quickly. It sounds like it was maybe cancer, and the vet came out and put him to sleep last night in the house in Wyoming where he had lived a pretty spectacular life since leaving Portland eight years ago. It was a great kindness for Jason to take the time to let me know that he was gone the same night it happened. He knew I would want to know.
I read the email walking on a sidewalk in downtown Portland. I wasn’t catching the bus in a place I normally do, but as it happened, I read the news in view of the building where Jason used to work and about two blocks from a place we used to go get margaritas. Sometimes the universe gives you tiny comforts. It wasn’t even a decision to go to Lair Hill, order a margarita and drink it in honor of the Dog and the Boy who brought him into my life. It was just what had to be done. And when I walked up to the bar to order my drink, I noticed that the Red Sox were playing on the television. Because of course they were.
I named Grady when Jason got him in early 2004. I may have even named him before there was a dog to go with the name – just the idea of the dog that we wanted to get. Grady Little’s Big Mistake was named for the much maligned Red Sox manager whose big mistake was letting Pedro Martinez pitch into the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, which cost them the game and the pennant, and ultimately, his job. Bad news for Grady Little, but the genesis of a kind of awesome name for the dog of a couple of Red Sox fans.
Grady was Jason’s dog, always. We were together when he decided to get him and I helped pick him out and was there the day he came home and so many of the days after for the next two and a half years, but I knew if it came down to it, if Boy ever left, Dog would leave too. And when they did, though it broke me into eleventy billion pieces, I knew it was how it had to be.
This isn’t even a story about the boy, but I can’t talk about the dog without acknowledging the tremendous debt of gratitude I owe Jason for planting the Grady sized seed that grew into the all consuming love of goldens that I carry with me today. They are quite possibly my favorite thing in the whole world and it won’t be a betrayal of Grady someday to have my own; it will be because of him that I will be able to be a great dog owner.
Because of Grady I will never be fazed by any dog’s allergies or other weird health needs. He was allergic to chicken, lamb and soy. Spend ten seconds perusing the ingredients of any of your average dog foods and you’ll quickly realize how problematic that was. Grady had special, fancy food and got allergy shots and took Prednisone and didn’t know that other dogs got real treats and not ice cubes and carrots. To this day, I have a tremendously hard time giving a dog table scraps or even normal treats. And I’ve had to restrain myself from reaching out to stop other people’s dogs from scratching themselves because it’s so ingrained in me that excessive scratching and ear shaking can lead to crazy bad hot spots and separated layers of cartilage and hematomas and poor drugged, 109 pound dogs in cones that can’t drag themselves upstairs and all that’s left to do is camp out with them on the living room floor for two days.
Grady was a Wyoming dog for most of his life, but we had some pretty good Oregon fun in his early years.
In early 2007, about six months after Dog and Boy left Portland, I was able to have Grady for about a week. It was so good and so hard. We took lots of walks and played with so many toys and wrestled and snuggled and I tried to begin to understand what it might mean to never see him again.
The day that Jason’s parents came to pick him up and take him back to Wyoming and the really great dog life he had there, we sat on the porch of the house where we had all lived together and I talked to him and petted him and looked down at his soft head and the white spot I loved so much and hoped beyond all reason that he knew how much Girl would miss him and always love him and how much he had changed my life.
I said goodbye to him that day and it was really hard, but it was also okay. He was young and healthy and going to live with wonderful people who I cared so much about and who would care for him in all the ways he deserved.
Grady had a good life. Not nearly as long as I would have hoped for him, but a good life. I’ve lost pets before, so this pain isn’t exactly new. The way I cried last night – like something was trying to claw its way out of me – was not unfamiliar. I know I cried that way when I was 15 and my childhood cat, Jethro, died.
But Grady was a huge, smiley, long-lashed, allergy ridden force in my life. He turned a lifelong cat person into someone irrevocably devoted to dogs, and more specifically, to golden retrievers. I will continue to smile and get the tiniest bit out of control and giddy every time I see a golden and it will always, always be because I’m thinking of Grady Little’s Big Mistake.