In Loving Memory: Angel McGarry

October 24, 2002 – December 1, 2013

Buried in the mud somewhere in either our front or back yard is an expensive universal TV remote. It’s not the first remote that was buried. The first one we found and was able to resuscitate, in addition to the two more recent attempts made at burying the Roku remote. But no such luck for the universal remote.

It’s surely not alone. The reality is that our 1.2 acre plot is fairly littered with items stolen and buried by Angel the Kleptomanic golden retriever. It if was left within reach, it was fair game. Hundreds of socks and dish towels have met with a muddy grave. Lego mini-figures. Too many stuffed animals to disclose. Sippy cups. Toys. Pens. Gloves. Hats. Blankies. Underwear (I’m still missing a sports bra from 7 years ago.) Even diapers (used.) Shoes, naturally, but just one at a time.

But we knew she had upped her game to consumer electronics when she, at first, buried a white cordless phone in the snow – and then the remotes started going missing. It’s a minor miracle she never took my iPhone. In her defense, she frequently dug things up and brought them back into the house, returning the muddy, sometime mouldy or frozen item to us with a hint of pride and anticipation of the reward of a treat.

We got Angel just before New Year’s Eve on 2002 – she was just 10 weeks old and as cute as a button. She was our first child. She provided us with two years of practice – remembering to feed and care for her, house train her, walk her, teach her basic commands – all great preparation for the future trials and joys of parenthood. In return, she adored us, nibbled us, was mischievous and adorable.

She didn’t start her thievery until child number one came along. Was she jealous or seeking attention? Probably. But this was the only form of punishment she exacted upon us: in all other respects she was entirely gentle and loving with our babies, demonstrated by what we fondly called the “fly by” – when, as mooching past a baby/toddler on the floor, in a chair or crawling, she’d suddenly whip out her long drooly tongue and take a long hearty lick of whichever part of the kid’s anatomy was within reach. And, as any dog-owning parent knows, during the high chair years, dogs prove their worth over and over again, happily licking up spills and catching projectile food items.

Angel was not your typical retriever. Yes, she would retrieve, but only sticks and only in water. Go figure. She loved sticks. She also loved to chew on rocks and pebbles. Maybe it was her way of flossing her teeth. Also, she had an uncanny ability to roll in something that had either died or defecated seconds before guests arrived. She was a very vocal dog: she’d express her indignation if a plate of leftovers was nearby and not offered to her. The only time I ever saw her bare her teeth would be when some randy dog tried to mount her. After all, no means no.

But mostly, I’ll remember her for being sweet and kind and gentle. As we all said our goodbyes to her that unexpected and fateful recent Sunday afternoon, her milky eyes took in our love for her and returned it. Eleven years of unconditional love is quite a thing to behold. And there’s so much we humans can learn from dogs, especially golden retrievers – enthusiasm, forgiveness, the art of laziness and more (all of which I blogged about last year, you can read it here.)

My grief aside, it’s been fascinating and heartbreaking observing my family deal with this. My husband mourns quite privately: he feels Angel’s absence most because, in reality, he actually spent more time with her over the last 11 years than with me, his wife. As for our kids, well this is their first tangible experience with death.

My 6 year-old daughter seemed to deal with it at first by just facing the facts. “Now we only have a cat,” and “We’ll never go to the doggy park again,” she exclaimed that evening. Two days later, upon observing Angel’s grave, she asked: “I wonder what she’s doing down there?” The next day she inquired as to when Angel was “coming out of her hole?” We did our best to explain again that death meant Angel’s body had stopped working and that when animals and people die, we usually bury their bodies in the ground. She thought about this, then countered with some muddled explanation about the messiah and Jesus’ birthday and everything and everyone rising up again. (Oy, can you tell she’s a tad confused on the religious front having a Jewish Mom and a Catholic Dad?!) I’m seriously concerned that she actually expects Angel to suddenly re-appear on Christmas Day.

For my 9 year-old son, it has been much more visceral and heart-wrenching. The evening that followed Angel’s death, he didn’t cry. He was very quiet, processing. That night was filled with bad dreams. He did not want to go to school the next day. Each day has been better though. He draws her a lot but doesn’t like to talk about her. One moment, he’s his happy, carefree self and then all of a sudden he remembers and is somber. He explained to me the other day, after a particularly tough evening when he and his sister were in bickering/whiny overdrive, that he was grumpy on the outside because he was sad on the inside, which made my heart hurt. But I do see progress in his journey of grief. This morning, he woke up with a big smile announcing he’d had the best dream ever. “Angel was young and fluffy and happy,” he explained!

Already people have asked us if we’ll get another dog. I guess that’s a natural question. Personally, I’m not ready to even go there yet. It’s not even been two weeks. Every day, when I come downstairs in the morning, I’m jolted by the realization she’s not here. Coming home is hard too, when she’s not there and so incredibly pleased to see us. I’m haunted by the absence of her: last night I was sure I heard the jingle of her collar. I feel the fictitious brush of her fur against my leg. I sense the gentle breeze and the glimpse of a shadow of a wagging tail. I’ve heard similar stories from other families who have lost their pets.

I’m not quite sure how to bring this post to its conclusion. The cat rejoices in her new domination of the homestead. There are more crumbs on the kitchen floor than before. There’s no barking when Fedex delivers. Angel’s life force is missing from this house and the absence is deep. But she had a great life. She had regular meals, treats, walks, belly rubs, ear scratches. And, most of all, she was loved.

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Life Lessons From A Golden Retriever

On Friday morning, I came downstairs dressed in my workout clothes and sneakers, ready to shake my booty at a Zumba class. Upon seeing my attire, Angel, our almost 10-year old golden retriever bounced up, ridiculously excited. Of course she assumed, from my clothing and footwear, that we were going for a W-A-L-K (shhh, don’t say it, dogs can spell.) Much to her disappointment, off I left, without her.

Guess what happened though when I came home, sweaty and exhausted, an hour or so later? Yup. She saw my workout clothes and sneakers and leapt to her feet grinning, assuming once again that we were going out for a W-A-L-K. But, of course, I went upstairs and showered.

I felt bad for giving Angel false hope however, when I came downstairs later on, there she was, happy to see me, eager for a belly rub. And I thought to myself: if we humans modeled our behavior on the character and boundless optimism of a golden retriever, we’d all be a lot happier and chilled. Think about it.

  • Golden retrievers are enthusiastic about almost anything. They perk up at the mere hint of a treat, a trip to the park, grooming or just a good rumpus in the backyard. Every time you come home, they greet you exuberantly, as if you’d been gone for weeks.
  • Their aptitude for forgiveness is endless. So I didn’t take her for a W-A-L-K. No biggie. Maybe she didn’t get that slice of bacon being cooked at breakfast-time. Ah well. She still loves us, ready and eager for the next opportunity.
  • Laziness, one of my favorite characteristics ….. Golden retrievers make it an art form. Lounging on the front porch, car slows down ….. she’ll barely open an eye, flip an ear up an inch to see if it’s really worth bothering getting up for. Snoozing at the bottom of the stairs, she lets out a huge sigh. Ah yes, life is good.
  • Golden retrievers are not picky eaters: children take note. They will cheerfully consume pretty much anything that’s available. If you’ve dropped it or left it within reach, double points.
  • Good manners: Golden retrievers listen to instructions and generally do what they are told. More so than most children I know.
  • Like many other canines, for Angel, exercise is fun, not a chore. To dogs, it’s not about burning calories or getting ripped, it’s about the sheer joy of running, jumping, swimming, rolling in the mud, digging.
  • Exploration is a constant. We humans tend to err on the side of caution and stick to the known, whereas golden retrievers with their big brown sniffy noses will happily check anything out. Maybe give it a little chew. If it’s really smelly, maybe roll in it.
  • They’ll be your BFF. Not just you, their master, but pretty much anyone. The mail man, kids, visitors, vets, strangers, other dogs, even the cat. Golden retrievers love everyone – no matter their race, color, religion, creed or smell.
  • Goldens are humble, never vain. They are blithely unaware of their beauty and general cuteness. They appreciate being groomed but not for the silky coat, rather for the fun and attention. They don’t care how they look or smell, whether they are muddy or even if there are dingleberries hanging from their behinds. They don’t even need fancy, expensive toys. Often, a simple stick is the best-toy-ever.

But I’m not saying that golden retrievers are without fault. Ours is affectionately known as Angel the Kleptomaniac. Yup, she’s a thief. Not only does she pinch stuff – she buries it! Socks, dish towels, toys, sippy cups, shoes, cordless telephones, even the TV remote … the list of things she’s been stealing and burying for the last seven years is fairly extensive. I’d love to know whether she she’s just acting out or if she’s genuinely trying to protect these items.

Check out what I dug up today – three socks, a cutting board, a pair of goggles and some random toy parts.

They say it’s a dog’s life.

I think they are on to something.

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