Lilliput and Gulliver were Maltese dogs. Lilli weighed about nine pounds and Gulliver varied between ten and twelve pounds.
The first one we purchased was Lilli. My wife Jean and I were nearing retirement, and had decided on a small house dog. For several weeks we visited the pet shop on Sundays to look at various breeds. It was agreed we would not purchase one until we both retired in a few more months, so that we would be there to take proper care of it. We looked at Yorkshire terriers, small Poodles, and dogs of that type. We knew nothing about the Maltese breed.
One fateful day we stopped at the pet shop where Jean spied a female Maltese puppy, eight weeks old. When she lifted it, the puppy licked her face and nose and settled comfortably on her arm and gazed up at her. Jean looked over at me and said, “I’m not leaving here without her.” I protested strongly about both of us not being able to devote the time and attention to her, and reminded her that we had agreed that we should wait until we retired, and then we could look for another Maltese. Her response to that was, “I’m not leaving here without her.” I sighed, having been married long enough to recognize the look. She promised to arise each morning early and come home every afternoon at lunchtime to take care of the dog. My thoughts then turned to negotiating a price with the pet shop owner. I turned around to see the woman who owned the store standing behind me, grinning. She had witnessed the conversation. I was able to get something off the price to save my reputation as a negotiator, but not much.
I chose the name Lilliput from the Gulliver’s Travels book, where he encountered the tiny Lilliputians. Lilli charmed us completely, and lived up to what we had read in a book about Maltese dogs. “The only place they like better than close to you is closer to you.”
And so it went, but after two years of being forced to get down on the floor and play with her every evening after supper, we decided to get her a companion. We decided on a male, and of course the name Gulliver leaped to mind. We found an ad several weeks later from a private breeder offering Maltese puppies. We drove to Troy, New York where they were located and walked into the kitchen. Immediately the Maltese parents greeted us on the kitchen floor, along with two puppies. They were, of course adorable, and we picked them up one by one and looked them over. Suddenly, from the living room, came a male puppy, running at full speed into the kitchen, then leaped onto his mother to play. Jean picked him up under his front paws with her two hands, and he hung there like a wet rag looking at her with dark baby seal eyes. Jean gave me the, “I’m not leaving here without him” look and so we took him home. On the way home, we both adamantly affirmed and agreed and resolved that if Lilli did not like him, he was history.
It was as if Gulliver knew. He immediately assumed low dog on the totem pole and stole Lilli’s heart as well as ours with his antics and those soft, round, dewy chocolate eyes of his. He would very often beg to get on Jean’s lap while she sat in her recliner, then crawl up her legs, and collapse, laying, his head on her belly, and look at her with those eyes. Jean would look over to me and say, “Give him whatever he wants.” He was a perfect companion for Lilli, and they played and played and played. I was finally able to relax on the couch after supper and watch television while Lilli and Gulliver zoomed back and forth.
Then Lilli decided on a new game with me. I would give each of them a dog biscuit after supper. Gulliver would go hide his and Lilli would go to the center of the living room, where she would throw her biscuit on the rug, glance quickly at me, then get down on her front paws and growl. I would then get down on my hands and knees, steal the biscuit from her, and put it underneath me and close my arms around it. She would dart around, in and out, trying to snatch the biscuit. I would growl at her and keep pushing her away until finally she would find a weak spot (which I would deliberately create) and she would dive in to get the biscuit. Then I would pretend to chase her on my hands and knees while she either ran to Jean or jumped up on one of the other living room chairs. We both understood that wherever it was, it was her sanctuary and, content she had won, she would eat the biscuit, which would now all the sweeter be. Anytime we had company, she would at some point come running into the living room with a piece of Kibble and throw it down on the rug, expecting whoever it was to play the game. Strangers were very perplexed at this until I explained it.
They both slept with us in our king-size bed, each having their own little spot that they favored. Whenever we left home and returned, we were always greeted with ecstatic glee, whether we were gone five minutes or five hours. They would meet us at the door, tails wagging. I would always cup Lilli’s head in my hands loosely and say in baby-talk style, “I see you there, pretty girl!” All the while, Gulliver would be nudging my hands for attention, and I would then take his head in my hands. “I see you there, good boy!” Those phrases triggered the wagging of their entire bodies instead of just the tail.
We had some wonderful years with them, but a time came when Jean fell ill with pulmonary disease, and her health got progressively worse and worse. Her activities toward the last were reduced to sitting in her recliner watching television all day with long naps in between. Her two little Maltese dogs during those months were God-sent companions. She often commented she was glad to reflect that after she died, I would at least have the two dogs to keep me company. She passed away on January 1st, 2006. She went quickly, and I had no time to adjust to her passing. We would have been married fifty-three years that May.
I was then alone with the two dogs, and I would lay on the couch, not seeing or listening to what was on the television. I would reflect on our years together, look at her empty recliner every so often, then burst into tears. During that time, Lilli stopped playing and refused the biscuits and the biscuit game, which I thought was extraordinary, and during that same period, whenever I cried, Gulliver would jump up on the backrest of the couch, inch along on his stomach, then very timidly slide his small head under my chin. I would then pet him as he lay there, sometimes for a considerable period of time. Every minute or so his body would tremble and shudder. There was no question in my mind, none whatsoever, nor will there ever be, that they were grieving with me. A few weeks later Lilli came running into the living room one night and threw a piece of Kibble on the rug and challenged me. I played the game with her and understood that to mean she was telling me to get on with my life. We played the game, and after she got the biscuit I chased her. When she jumped into a chair, I entered her sanctuary and kissed and petted her profusely. Don't ever tell me that dogs have no soul.
A couple of years later Lilli took ill. She was constantly vomiting and stopped eating. I put her through the diagnostic mill with three veterinarians, none of which could pinpoint her problem. Finally one vet concluded that she had inflammatory bowel disease. Medications were prescribed and more tests. I watched her waste away, day by day, until she weighed just a few pounds. I finally had to face the fact that her quality of life could not get any worse. When she was given the shot at the vet’s office, she could barely sit up. She slowly collapsed against my open hand, and I gently laid her head down and petted her while she passed away. She was wrapped in a towel and on the way home, I petted her and talked to her and cried. The picture of that is still burning in my mind. I miss her so much.
So now it’s down to me and Gulliver, and we’ve grown even closer together emotionally. He constantly looks for ways to be closer to me, and still greets me at the door and waits for, “I see you there, good boy!” Then his whole body wags, and he flops over for a belly rub.
Sometime in the beginning of 2009, Gulliver developed more severe symptoms of something called collapsed trachea. He would be in severely distressed periods of coughing and hacking to open up his air passage. This is a progressive disease and there are no pills to correct it. It will eventually kill him. He has also developed a congestive heart condition. I went through several months of watching him lose weight, coughing and hacking 24 hours per day. At this writing, the coughing and hacking has subsided to just periodic episodes, but his days are numbered. He has had a number of episodes of relapsing and recovering every couple of days. The God of my youth, the all-just and all-loving and merciful deity I had always prayed to has not answered my prayers. I have Gulliver groomed once per month, and when I drop him off for several hours, I hate to return to the house, for it is quiet, and he is not there to greet me. Even now as I sit typing this in my breezeway office, he came in to curl up in his dog bed at my feet under the computer desk.
He has gotten worse, and x-rays show the buildup of fluid in his lungs. He is on several medications, but losing weight rapidly. And this is where I will temporarily end this anecdote on this 24th day of April, 2009. I know what is coming, and have known it, and I have been acutely aware that each day I have with him is a gift. I will add the last paragraphs after I have to take Gulliver in to be put down.
Wednesday, May 6th. I went to bed late, around 1:00 am, to the sound of Gulliver coughing and wheezing badly. He sat in one place on the rug, slowly opening and closing his eyes, and not wanting to move. I planned to take him to the vet in the morning. Around two or three in the morning, he awakened me with his coughing and hacking. I was able to get back to sleep and got up about four am to go to the bathroom. I found Gulliver’s body lying on the hallway carpet in the semi-darkness just outside my bedroom door. I knelt down to pet him and then realized he had passed away. I kissed him, and talked to him, and petted his inert body for several minutes before wrapping him in a towel.
My sons and daughter came over during that day and we buried him in the back yard near Lilliput, along with two of his favorite toys. My sadness is so deep there are no words for it. The house is silent. For months after Lilli died, I could swear I felt her jump up on the bed in the middle of the night, or shift her sleeping location. In my dreamy state, I would reach back with my hand as I usually did to pet her, or roll over expecting her to be there, close to me.
Gulliver gave me an abundance of love. He was a sweet, wonderful little dog, and I loved him so. My hope is that when I pass, I will be met by my darling girl Jean holding Lilliput and Gulliver. And I know even now that in the future I will occasionally awaken in the middle of the night to feel him walking on the bed behind me to curl up on Jean’s pillow. But I won’t have to reach behind me, or roll over. I see you there, good boy. Goodbye my sweet little Gulliver. Goodbye Goodbye.