Sometimes, the biggest teachers are very small. Our beloved friend Georgia, weighed 21 pounds when we said goodbye to her yesterday. But when she came into our lives 11 years ago, she was a mere 2 pounds 2 ounces. She could stand in the palm of my hand, and was practically the same size as the Beanie Baby toy that came with her.
Holding her for the first time, my husband joked, “I thought we were getting a dog not a hamster.”
Back then, we didn’t know anything about animal issues. Like so many people who decide they want a dog, we started by looking in pet stores and classified ads. It seems unfathomable to us now, but we actually wound up ordering Georgia off the internet. (The photo above was the one sent to us by the breeder.) However, within the first 48 hours of bringing her home, she wound up in the emergency room and was given only a “fair” chance of survival. We were devastated and couldn’t understand why this little puppy was so ill. Later, we started to learn about backyard breeders and puppy mills – something I had never even heard of before. (I often say Georgia changed our lives because learning about how people bred dogs gradually led us to learn about how people bred other animals, too. It was the beginning of the path that eventually led us towards becoming vegan.)
Thankfully, Georgia recovered (although she continued to have health issues for the rest of her life). She wanted to be near me all the time – especially when she was a puppy. I was working on developing my illustration business at the time, so I spent a lot of time on the computer. In order to keep her close, I fashioned a sling for her to sleep in and wore it around my neck. She would fall asleep on my chest just like a little baby. So sweet, so gentle.
Eventually she grew into a beautiful, soulful, determined and unique little dog who really stood apart from others. She was never one to follow the pack. She marched to the beat of her own drum and did things her own way.
There was something meditative, deep and stoic about her. Her eyes were wise and soulful. We started calling her Little Buddha. (Her other nicknames were Jeeper-G, Little G, and Gina Bear.) If our other dog, Lucy, had so much as a twig stuck to her fur, everyone on the block would hear about it. Georgia was the opposite; she never complained.
Once, we feared she was lost and searched the house and yard in a panic, calling her name for the better part of an hour. Eventually, we found her sleeping peacefully in the bedroom closet. Her toenail had gotten caught in the carpet, so she decided to just hang out until we discovered her and got her untangled. No barking, no whining, just Buddha.
She went with the flow, but she could also be obsessive. Oceans and rivers were her favorite places on earth and she loved going to them with an intensity. She was an avid shell collector, and later, became fixated with rocks.
Bark at rock . . . lift rock in mouth . . . drop rock in sand . . .repeat.
That was Georgia’s idea of the perfect way to spend the day. And the bigger and heavier the shell or rock, the better. I once saw her pick up a rock the size of a brick. She was a dogged dog, that’s for sure. If she wanted to do something, she did it. But she could also be quite silly, as this (our favorite) photo shows. Here she had just finished playing with her monkey puppet and was chewing on a piece of dried sweet potato. We would say, “oooooohhhhhh Georrrrrgiaaaa, can you have that?” and she would wag her tail and growl playfully. I see her true spirit shining in this picture.
Because she was so beautiful, people would often stop to ask where we got her. We would tell them our story and how knowing her put us on a path to a more compassionate way of life. I would recount a conversation I had with a woman who was informing me about puppy mills. “They’re horrible!” she exclaimed. “They treat dogs just like livestock.” And I wondered: why is it ok to treat any animal like that? Why is it ok to harm and kill cows but not dogs? Hens but not cats? As the Mercy for Animals brochure so aptly asks, “Why love one but eat the other?” Don’t all animals deserve our kindness and compassion? Some people would nod politely and walk away. But with others, I could feel my words registering somewhere in their hearts. Taking root.
If telling Georgia’s story helped inspire even one person to make different choices – to think twice before buying any animals (living or dead) – that would be a truly wonderful legacy.
Patience, tenacity, compassion for all animals and the importance of living in the moment – these are some of the lessons we learned from our friend Georgia. Although she could not walk well towards the end of her life (instead she would ride in her cool green stroller), she enjoyed what she could from every moment, taking pleasure in the simple things: the smell of the ocean, the flight of a bird overhead, a smooth rock in the sand.
Her last morning with us was misty and calm. We took her out to a private section of beach that was covered in sea stones and pebbles. She was very weak, but perked up a little when she saw the water. We laid her down on her belly so she could choose a rock. She barked at it a few times, then held it tightly in her mouth. We carried it home with us to remember her by. Before we said goodbye, my husband sat rocking her in his arms while I played her song for her on the piano: ”Georgia On My Mind.”
Indeed, she always will be.
Thank you sweet little Georgia for sharing your life with us and helping us become better people. We have learned from you and loved you so much.