I can count on one hand, the number of people I have known that reached the age of 90 years old or older. But none perhaps have had a bigger impact on me, than that of one that I said good-bye to today. Okay technically, he was not 90 years old, but using the formula for figuring a dog’s age, my Golden Retriever Pollo was approaching his 15th birthday in February which put him at approximately 98 years old.
I bought Pollo, a fourteen pound, 8 week old Golden Retriever. He was this little energetic bundle of blonde fur. I was more than ready to accept the rigors of puppy training, which meant cleaning up lots of “accidents.” Pollo loved to play and fortunately was not a big “chewer”. He grasped the concept quite easily of the smell of grass = puppy treat, all for going to the bathroom.
Over the years, Pollo and I would share lots of memories. At around six months old, during the Summer, Pollo suffered some sort of episode that left him unresponsive and appearing to have stopped breathing. With no known cause, the veterinarian made the recommendation that should the incident occur again, that perhaps a heart monitor would be placed on him. To assist the vet, I sought out health information of the mother and father of Pollo figuring that if either had any known condition, the information would be of benefit to the vet.
Instead, I discovered that Pollo had come from a puppy mill in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. What started out as an effort to make something right, just acquiring a little information, turned out to be a 60 Minutes type investigation that led with a televised appearance on the Peoples Court for both Pollo and I. I had filed a civil suit against Pets Plus locally here as I felt that they sold me a dog that was not what they had promised me according to the bill of sale. Information was wrong on the paperwork making the registration of my pure bred golden, impossible. A newspaper writer joined my pursuit which brought in the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the USDA. Then I received a letter from Warner Brothers studios. The studio wanted me to bring my case to television and they wanted Pollo to appear as well. I was convinced 100% that I was in the right and questioned how the studio would get Pets Plus to appear and I was told that they had already accepted. Here is the link to the review of my appearance:
Since then, there were less notorious events and a lot more happy moments that I will have forever in my memory. Pollo was a true water dog retriever and took every advantage of our inground swimming pool. This included his secret talent of diving off of our pool’s diving board.
But he also loved the winter months. He could smell snow in the air and would spend extra time out in the yard waiting for the flakes to begin to fall. Pollo did suffer from snow-deafness, a condition that occurred with any amount of white covering on the ground. He loved making doggy angels which resulted in a frosty ice-ball matted long haired coat. It took using a hair dryer to melt the frozen snowballs from his fur. And as much as he loved to chase after tennis balls, he loved chasing snowballs more. Whether I smashed the snowball into the shed wall or the sphere simply disappeared into the snow on the ground, his nose went right to the sight of impact as if to confirm “direct hit”. And if I was shoveling snow, he was always by my side waiting to get in my way of an occasional dumping of the shovel.
One big fear that many male dog owners have is that of their canine “humping” guests, or other dogs. That was not a problem for Pollo. From the age of six months, having never seen a female dog and not “maturing”, he expressed his love interest in things stuffed, like toys and cushions. As he grew, we went from a medium stuffed carnival toy to a large size toy we called “Humpy Bear.” In a stunt that would rival David Letterman’s Stupid Pet Tricks, Pollo got more than just excited when he heard the garage door open as he knew the arrival of Humpy Bear was near. Anyone who witnessed Pollo going to town on the carnival toy gone wild always got a good laugh. But Pollo never mounted any human or any other canine.
To anyone who groomed Pollo, he was known as the “happy golden” as he always seemed to have a smile on his face during his appointments. The only part of his grooming he did not enjoy, and he let it be known, was being restrained by a leash. He had chewed through numerous leashes that simply held him in one location while waiting for the next grooming station. The staff soon realized he needed to go from one station to the next. It cost them too much money replacing leashes.
Pollo got along with all the numerous other animals in our house whether another canine just visiting, or the four cats, two guinea pigs, and two frogs.
Importantly, he got along with both of my children. One of a parent’s worst fears is that of their dog biting their child and then being forced to get rid of the dog. Pollo was true to his breed’s reputation. He doted over my girls and they adored him. And when Pollo and I played “alpha male”, we could be in the middle of a rough house session, with Pollo’s jaws clenched around my forearm, my youngest daughter could sneak up behind him, grab him, and he would just take one look and realize it was just my three year-old daughter, ignore her and continue to play with me, never causing her any harm.
But this is how I saw my friend. For up to ten hours every day, I would leave him at home while I was at work. Yet every day, I could come home, open the door, and there Pollo was, wagging his tail, “don’t worry about it, you’re home, that’s all that matters” every day. He was never mad at me. We travelled together in his younger days as I often stayed in hotels that allowed dogs as travel mates. He loved walks. And to the surprise of many, he loved sleeping inside of his cage at night. I would just say “bed” and he would go right upstairs, crawl inside of his cage, and remain there in spite of me never closing the door. A dog being a pack animal feels comfort and safety. But by the morning, I would wake to find him on the floor by my side of the bed.
Always an excitable “puppy” his entire life, I also knew his compassion. I found out first hand after being hospitalized for open heart surgery. I had never been separated from Pollo for any length of time, and knew every day, there was a chance that he would jump up at me to greet me. In fact, the odds were very good that after not having me in the house for six days, this was going to be a guarantee. But instead, I was greeted by the wagging tail, and a calm Pollo. Yes, he was happy to see me, and I happy to see him. But somehow, he knew that he had to be gentle with me without me even saying a word.
Pollo also had a ridiculous craving for yard mushrooms. Yes, nothing funnier than a dog getting stoned on “shrooms”. He would get sick for hours as the effects ran their course, and yet it would not stop him from doing it again and again and again.
But two years ago, he finally began to show his age. His muzzle had begun to turn back to the blonde color that he was born with. His “puppy energy” remained. But he had developed issues with some fatty tumors and some hip stiffness. But his tail had never stopped wagging. Taking care of animals as I have for the last fifteen years, I am extremely sensitive to the comfort of animals and had always had it in my mind, as long as Pollo’s tail was still wagging, it was not his time, and I would simply do everything I could to make sure that he was comfortable.
This morning I had to face a moment I had hoped my friend would help me avoid by going to the Rainbow Bridge on his own. In recent weeks he had been losing his sight, his hearing, and it was getting increasingly difficult for him to walk. But his tail continued to wag. This morning, he was completely blind, completely deaf, and clearly scared. His tail did not wag this morning. I will spare the rest of the morning, but I made the call to our vet who has taken care of Pollo his entire life who met me in the parking lot when I pulled up with Pollo.
There were so many tears. While both of us were extremely sad, these tears were also filled with happiness and good memories. But also, relief in knowing that Pollo was going to finally be at peace, and as he lived his life, so in his spirit, forever a puppy. The vet pulled out his stethoscope, listened to Pollo’s heart which had always been strong, now showing weariness, and his breathing had been a struggle. “Paul, you’ve made the right decision.” I laid on the floor with Pollo, and talked with him, telling him how much he meant to me. I rubbed his ears like he always enjoyed. The vet assured me the compassion that would be taken and how everything would occur.
And then he was free. Off to the Rainbow Bridge, a storied legend of where animals are reunited with other loved ones, and other pets. Free of his discomforts. Free to run wherever he wanted to run. I stayed with him another fifteen minutes, crying my eyes out for the friend that I had to say goodbye to. At home, I now see the empty cage. I have to dispose of his food that is left over. I no longer have him laying on my feet, my canine slippers.
Pollo, good-bye my old friend. I will miss you. I will miss your friendship, and your loyalty. You were truly the best dog anyone could ever hope to have in their family. Run free, run long, run often. And I will see you some day at that Rainbow Bridge where I know you will have that tail wagging just for me.