I never wanted to have a male and female dog at the same time. I read Where the Red Fern Grows in the fourth or fifth grade. I knew what happened when a pair of dogs bonded, and one of the dogs passed, and I was having none of that.
But...within a two year span at the start of high school, we rescued JJ (we didn't realize it was a rescue at the time, but it turned out to be a life saver for her), and my mom finally let my dad have a German Shepherd. And that Shepherd we named George Bailey.
Bailey, like his fictional counterpart, had some worries and fears about his family, but he always patrolled the backyard each night and protected us all as best he could.
I worried, as the two dogs got older, about what would happen when JJ passed, because she was older and had more obvious health problems. How would Bailey handle it?
Bailey was ever the devoted "husband." JJ wants to eat his food? Okay, go ahead sweetie. Bailey has done something that displeases JJ? Alright, Bailey will stand while JJ lifts her mouth to his ear and growls right into it.
If JJ went out for a walk, or to the vet, when we returned Bailey was waiting at the gate. He would investigate JJ's entire body, smelling, licking where necessary, and then come over to the humans and butt his head against our legs, as if to say, "Thanks for bringing her back...I might trust you to take her out again."
As JJ aged, her legs began to fail her. Her eyes are saggy and unfocused. She spends her days resting in the sun, wagging her tail and getting frequent pets on the head.
As Bailey aged, his once athletic body, one he used both to chase rabbits and once to protect my father against a pack of dogs roving the streets, began to turn against him. His hips ached. His nose, the source of much of his knowledge, became clogged and useless. During the mornings and the evenings, his pains were the worst. He stayed on the side of the house, away from the other dogs, out of sight of the humans. When his body warmed up, he moved to the grass and would smile and allow us to pet his proud head.
Several months ago, Tosh joined the family. Bailey perked up. He had someone new in his life! He needed to teach! And chase! And play! All when his weary body would allow him.
JJ exists simply to growl at him when the humans are around and to snuggle with him when she thinks we can't see.
Over the past seven months, Bailey has bestowed his knowledge onto Tosh.
Tosh would walk the yard with Bailey. He learned that JJ requires special attention and that she may always eat any of the food, not just her own. He took on the JJ habit of cleaning Bailey's ears.
They made a wonderful little family.
With a thirteen year old German Shepherd, though, the future is short, and Bailey has failed fast in the last month. His clogged nose? Probably sinus cancer. His aching hips? Hardly supporting his weight at all. After a terrifying moment last week that involved an unstoppable bloody nose, it became clear that our hero, our proud German Shepherd had reached the end of his life.
JJ took to sleeping by his dog house, something she's never done. Tosh cleaned Bailey's entire face, not just his hears, and took over the nightly patrols.
The opposite of what I had always worried about came true, and it would be JJ who would be left behind.
My dad made that final call.
Sunday morning, we walked beside our Bailey as he stumbled into the vet's office one last time. My dad and I went into the little room to be with Bailey. My mom and WG (what a superstar) waited outside. Bailey's passing was peaceful, just what he deserved after all of his hard work to protect and love our family for more than thirteen years.
And when my parents returned home, with an empty backseat, JJ was waiting at the gate, hoping to welcome home her Bailey.
George Bailey - 1995-2008