Back in 1999, the family made a decision to get its first dog. I was working from home, the oldest children were out of the house and there was just Noah, so we said, "OK, what the heck... it won't hurt to look. We got our Miss Java. A year later I took a position with a Manhattan law firm and after a few months, we decided that Java needed a companion as she seemed so lonely. So off we went to the animal shelter and found this scruffy looking chow-shepard mix.
He sidled over to the kennel door and licked my hand. He bared his teeth -- but it was not in aggression, but that "smile" chow-chows do. We put him on a leash and walked him... that was all it took to convince us that he was meant for us. We have never regretted it a single day.
He was a dog that probably should never have been adopted out. He was the original junkyard dog -- literally. He had been malnourished and was food aggressive most of his life with us -- NEVER try to take food or a bone from him once he had it in his mouth! He didn't much care for most other dogs and some people -- although it was hard to tell how he would react, so we always took caution when out with him. But once Virgil was your friend, he was your friend.
He LOVED chasing squirrels. When we lived in New York, we never had a squirrel or ground hog in the back yard once Virgil came to live with us! He loved baths. Most dogs are not fans of being bathed -- Virgil couldn't be kept out of the tub! In fact, when we lived in a house with tubs that had shower curtains, when someone got in the shower, he would ease first his nose into the shower, then one leg, then the other... and before you knew it, Virgil was in the shower WITH you!
And he loved being groomed -- whether it was brushing him or clipping his thick dark fur for the summer months -- he would sit contentedly and finally fall over as you combed through his fur. But don't ever try to clip his nails -- Lordy! If you brought out the clippers, he would move to the furthest corner and give you a, "Don't even think about it -- I'm serious!" growl. And he only growled when he meant it.
But his most favorite activity was what we called "surveying the castle grounds". When we lived in New york, our rear deck was a full story above the ground; you could see our yard and all the surrounding yards and streets from the top step of the stairs to the yard. He would spend hours sitting on that top step surveying all his world... and being sure it was safe for his pack. Same when we moved. Even yesterday as he sat on the top step overlooking our property, he managed to leap up, assume the "don't mess with me" stance and give a few hearty barks as a jogger passed by on the trail behind before he had to lay down to conserve his waning strength.
He never much cared for veterinarians... our vet in New York (who was a close friend) used to ask whenever we made appointments for the dogs, "Is this the good dog or the devil dog?" (always said with affection... he had Chow-chows). But he came to love Dr. Smith, his vet here... and because Dr. Smith had a death in the family, and has been away these past few weeks, most recently, he befriended Dr. Baxter (after many visits and many tries LOL).
He never seemed to like children -- often saving his wildest barking for them. Since we didn't have many details about the first year of his life, we weren't sure what the genesis of that dislike was, so we were always especially careful not to bring him anywhere there might be children. When Thomas came to live with us we became especially vigilant, but our worries were for naught -- Virgil and Tom bonded and Virgil became protective of the littlest pup in the pack. I know because Tom is just 2 that he will soon forget Virgil, but he will notice his absence. Even while Virgil was hospitalized earlier this week, he asked every day, "Whar Birgil?" and put his little hands up in a questioning pose. Virgil was really Tom's first dog.
Back in May, just after we had to have our Miss Java euthanized, our Mr. Virgil was diagnosed with Cushings Disease. He had all the tests and he did not have adrenal tumors, so likely pituitary in nature. Virgil had already developed chronic pancreatitis and chronic bowel inflammation besides his thyroid problem; since his Cushings symptoms were moderate, we decided (along with our vet) to not administer the harsh medications for Cushings. With or without treatment, the life expectancy is the same, so why make Virgil miserable? Three weeks ago, his appetite (which has always been VORACIOUS) diminished to half, and two weeks ago to nothing. Tests revealed that he had also developed diabetes. After a hospital stay and unsuccessful treatment, his appetite still had not returned. We kept him here at home and comfortable as long as we could... and as long as Virgil wanted.
Yesterday he was tired. Hard for him to stand and walk. But he could still wag his tail whenever we entered the room. This morning, we knew it was time. His breathing was labored and he was exhausted. He still wagged his tail. As I had with Java just a few months back, I snuggled up next to him on a quilt brought from home, held him in my arms and told him how much we loved him... and how happy we were that he had come to live with us... and just how happy he had made us. And I meant it. Virgil always let us know -- whether we had been out of the room for 10 minutes or away for weeks -- how happy he was to see us!! As much as we always let Virgil (and Java) know how grateful we were that they shared our lives, Virgil (and Java) always let us know in their wagging bodies and gleeful yips and barks that they, too, were glad to be here with us.
Today, as I had with Java, I stroked him and told him about all the family's favorite dogs that would be waiting to jump and play with him... and he sighed a deep sigh and pressed his nose to my cheek and gave me a last kiss... and I asked him to wait for me at the Rainbow Bridge...
VIRGIL, July 4, 1999 - November 28, 2009
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals that had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. Her bright eyes are intent; her eager body quivers. Suddenly she begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, her legs carrying her faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again.The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....