Monday, November 23, 2015

Goodbye, my friend.

Dear Gillian:

When a dog gives you her love, it is without reservation. No matter that you are at times grumpy or a slob or simply oblivious to what she offers – her warm nose and wagging tail revive your heart.

And when she is gone, she leaves a hole in your soul.

Saffron, the beautiful white whippet that shared our lives for 15 years, died Sunday morning this Nov. 20, her head lovingly cradled by your brother. She could outrun the wind, turn on a rabbit’s footprint and jump like an Olympian. But she couldn’t beat the cancer that wore her away.

Saffron wasn’t my dog; she was very much the dog of my son Garrett. But she and I had a special relationship based on unspoken words. I’m a professional communicator, a journalist, a man of words. But I’m in awe how another species can tell me exactly what she wants, guide my footsteps or tell me I’m better than I think merely with a wag, a glittering eye or a warm nose laid in my lap.

We bought Saffron in Oregon as a present to a boy who had put up with the indignities of student housing while I worked on my degree. You had grown up with Maggie, that beautiful English springer spaniel. Garrett deserved his own chance to feel the love of a good dog.

At the kennel, Saffron was the little white puppy who left the litter to come cuddle him. There was never a doubt about their bond.

She owes her name not to a spice, but to Tom Cruise. Hot cars and “Days of Thunder” were the rage of junior high school boys at the time. “I’m just mad about Saffron,” was an ode to high speed.

And Lord was she fast. She delighted in running down a cottontail or squirrel. She would embarrass sweating joggers by flying past them at a gentle lope. She was once attacked by a mean cur at the dog park. She let it chase her, slowing to let him near her tail and then jetting ahead again. Eventually, the bully dropped to its belly panting and whimpering. His good ol’ boy owner ran over the help him, muttering “Damn, no one has ever done that to him before.” I swear that Saffron grinned.

When Garrett finished school and move to his new career, Saffron went with him. Greta, a pretty little brindle whippet, became the new warm spot on my lap. On her frequent visits, Saffron never let Greta forget who was the queen hound. The two were my fishing buddies at the creek behind our house. Greta tiptoed around the edges of the water or splashed across the shallows at high speed. But Saffron loved to swim. She would slip into a deep pool without a splash and glide around in long loops in her doggy version of water ballet. When she had enough, she would find a sunny spot to bask until her fine short hair dried.

That hair was so fine that you could see freckles on her skin through it. It was closer to fur than dog hair, so silky it would startle people who petted
her. And she love to be petted. A walk downtown with her was a parade – she posing for adoring fans and they clamoring to stroke her back. You were never short of company with Saffron on a leash.

As she grew older, she just watched the rabbits bound away and spent more time in a sunny spot near the window. Her eyes were still bright and still eloquent, but we all could see she was slipping away. When Garrett and Brittany moved to Knoxville, I watched her age, text-messaged photo by text-messaged photo.

Last week the vet said the time was near. But yesterday, she perked up as if to take one last tour of her world. She ate, she cuddled and even trotted a few feet on a walk of the neighborhood. Then she quietly said goodbye.

Pet your dog Nigella tonight, Gillian  Look into her eyes for those words that only a dog can say. Be loved.

Thank you, Saffron. You, too, were loved.

-- Dad


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