When Chester Burnette died, and Hubert Sumlin almost died from grief, George Washington arrived on the scene and saved the day. George was the sort of pushy goofball that everyone loves–he had his faults. To his dying day (literally) we could not persuade him to leave strangers’ crotches alone, and his mission in life was to get to any kleenex in any available trash can (which, let’s be blunt, means I was an idiot to keep throwing kleenex in the trash). Someone told us his breed was “Austin Red Dog,” meaning he was one of the many combinations that ends up in a dog between 70 and 100 lbs., red-orange coat, sort of stand-up sort of hang down ears. (In George’s case, he had one of each.)
When we’d had George for about a month, we got a call from our vet’s office. If you’re doing the math, this means we got the call at the end of January when everyone in Austin is dying from cedar fever. This fever is particularly bad if you live in a place called Cedar Park–people are walking into walls either because of allergies or because of allergy medicine. Personally, I was on both. They explained that the local animal shelter (which, as I understand, has since been closed) had a limited number of cages for dogs; when they got additional admissions, they just euthanized whatever dogs were at the end. These end-cage animals were euthanized at our vet’s office, and so the vet’s office was calling the customers (aka “softies”) who might be able to foster some of the puppies who were in that last cage.
There was one, they said, that looked just like George. “Sure,” I said. [As an aside, you might note I did not ask my husband first. He has never upbraided me for this, although he could have.] The 12-week old puppy we got was an only slightly mini-me version of George. Even we often had trouble telling them apart. Feeling guilty about having landed my family with a foster dog without asking, I was determined I would find this dog a home. Instantly, we started obedience lessons, at which he was outrageously good, and I started asking everyone I knew if they wanted an adorable and smart dog. In the interim, he had completely bonded with George. He did everything George did, literally looking up to him. There came the question of what to call him. “Ha ha,” I said, “he follows George Washington around and looks up to him–we should call him Marquis de Lafayette.” I had forgotten that my son was in the midst of a revolutionary war geekocity (thanks, “Liberty’s Kids”), having just named our new dog George Washington. And my husband has considerable history geek cred. They loved the idea. “No!,” I said, “we’re in Texas–we need to name him Cowboy or Buddy or we’ll never find him a home!” I was outvoted.
I found him a prospective home–which wasn’t hard–after two weeks. He was, after all, smart and highly photogenic and the perfect size (headed for around 70 lbs.). The prospective parents were going to come over one Saturday, and the night before I told Jacob (six years old). Jacob didn’t throw a fit (which I might have been able to resist); instead, his lower lip trembled, as he tried desperately to be brave. I said, “Now, Jacob, we talked about this. We knew that he wasn’t going to stay with us.” He said, “Yes, I know, but good-byes are so hard.”
I fell back on the parental [blarghy blargh ohnowhatdoisaynow] filler, and said, “What do you mean by that?”
He said, “Well, we had to say good-bye to Chester, and then to Coolhand Luke [a very old cat who died during that January], and now to Marquis.”
I said, “Um, I need to talk to your dad for a minute.” And I went into the study, where Jim was playing a computer game. I said, “I think we’re keeping Marquis.” He said, “I know.” He didn’t even turn around or hit pause.