farewell, old fellow

RIP Dro LambWhat is it about dogs that is so affecting? Why do we love them so? And why do we grieve so when they die?

By now, half the people from Georgetown to Murrells Inlet know that MY DOG DIED!

I can’t help myself. I’m worse than the Ancient Mariner. I stop perfect strangers to tell them MY DOG DIED!

Yes, my sweet Dro-Dro, a red-nose pit bull, is gone. Dead at age 11! One day he was here; next day he was gone. Forever. Something was wrong with his spleen. Went from healthy to dead in a week’s time.

Toward the end, my wife and I had to carry him up and down the stairs, tote him in and out of the car. Broke my heart to see him suffer. Broke it again to hear he was gone. I didn’t know I had enough heart left to break again.

Sometimes I think this is what hurts worst: When I dropped him off at the vet’s that day, last Nov. 19, I knew he was sick, but I didn’t know I’d never see him again. Brings tears to my eyes even now. I haven’t even looked at his ashes. Can’t. Won’t.

It wasn’t the vet’s fault. I know that. They did all they could. Still it hurts. Boy, does it hurt.

I’d had dogs before Dro (we never called him Pedro, his real name), dogs that I really liked. But Dro was that once-in-a lifetime dog that I had heard other dog people (they’re a special class!) talk about. His bearing was regal, and though sweet and affectionate, he was aloof just enough to let you know he was somebody, not just any dog. He had presence. And he was handsome. Boy, was he!

True story: In the car, Dro always rode on the back seat, sitting up, gazing serenely out the window as if surveying his kingdom. Last spring, driving somewhere with Dro (as usual), I stopped at a light on Highway 17, windows down. Suddenly, from a car in the lane next to mine, I heard a sexy, sultry female voice say, “Hey there, handsome!”

She was not talking to me. She was talking to Dro. He took it in stride; he’d heard it a thousand times before. (I, on the other hand, have never heard it, but that’s a story for another time. Or not).

And I’m not alone in feeling this way about dogs. Listen to this:

This past December 3, I was the guest author at the North Myrtle Beach Library. In telling the audience how I came to be a writer, I said that the suicide of a young relative had spurred me to get busy writing. At middle age, I was already going to be a late bloomer if I was to bloom at all – and, well, none of knows when the Eternal Footman will say, “Okay, your turn!”

Hearing of the suicide, the audience of about 30 murmured in sympathy.

But two sentences later, when I told them that only two weeks ago MY DOG DIED, a chorus of groans filled the room! They had all been there, I guess.

My wife and I are now looking for another dog – not a replacement; there’s no such animal out there. Wouldn’t be fair anyhow to either Dro or the new dog to try to make the new one fit the template of the old one. We’ve auditioned two or three already. None got the part.

Part of the problem, I’ve decided, is that I’m still grieving for Dro. I’m teary-eyed right now. But this is it! With this column, I’m letting go. I have to. I’m going to. I will!

Farewell, old fellow.

Robert Lamb

Robert Lamb

I grew up in Augusta, Ga., where I attended Boys' Catholic High. After service in the Navy, I attended the University of Georgia, majoring in English, and then began a (wholly unexpected) journalism career on the old Augusta Herald, an evening paper, and ended years later in Atlanta at The (great) Atlanta Constitution, which I left in late 1982 to write The Great American Novel. That goal has proved remarkably elusive, but my first attempt (Striking Out, in 1991) was nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award. My second novel, Atlanta Blues, spent a few minutes on the best-seller list in (at least) Columbia, S.C., and was described in one newspaper’s year-end roundup as “one of the three best novels of 2004 by a Southern writer.” My third novel won no honors but at least didn’t get me hanged; titled A Majority of One, it is about a clash between religion and the Constitution over book-banning in the high school of a Georgia town. For my next novel, And Tell Tchaikovsky the News, I returned to an Atlanta setting for a story about the redemptive powers of, in this case anyhow, “that good rock ’n’ roll.” I've also published a collection of short stories and poems: Six of One, Half Dozen of Another. One of its stories, “R.I.P.,” was a winner in the S.C. Fiction Project in 2009. Before retirement, I taught creative writing and American literature at the University of South Carolina and its Honors College, and feature writing in its School of Journalism. I maintain a now-and-then blog at boblamb.wordpress.comand I walk my dog on the beach a lot at Pawleys Island, S.C.