South Charlotte

Now that Duke is gone, it's time to move on

My dog Duke hated storms.

He could never find a "safe place." He checked closets and bathrooms. He was too big to crawl under the bed, so he would just shake.

Duke was a rescue dog. When we met, he lived with a loving family that provided a nice home for him. He grew up with a little girl who loved to play ball.

But then the family had to downsize, and they knew they could not keep Duke. I learned of the situation through friends and went to visit Duke. It was always my dream to have a golden retriever.

I had tried once before to get a golden retriever, again from a home where the family was downsizing.

My then-teenage daughter wanted to give him to me as a birthday present, but we didn't qualify. The owners wanted him to go to a home with small children.

Now here was another chance. I knew this time it would work.

Duke came to live with me nearly five years ago. I remember putting him into my old Dodge Stratus. He was almost 7 years old and weighed more than 90 pounds. Duke loved my large fenced backyard. He chased bunnies and tried squirrels but they were a little too fast for him. He walked the chicken wire split rail fence on his last trip outdoors every night.

Duke loved to go for walks through the Raeburn neighborhood. Moms and dads pushing strollers along Rea Road often would stop and say hello to Duke. They appreciated his unusually fine manners. He always stepped aside and sat in the grass, allowing the stroller to pass before taking another step.

When friends came to the door, Duke would meet them with an offering, perhaps his well-worn, wingless stuffed duck, his fuzzy red lobster or one of his other favorite toys.

I tried everything to cure Duke of his storm phobia. At two different times I had trainers work with him. I went online and bought him a "storm coat" to curb his sensitivity to the elements. He had his own CD with special "thunderstorm" music.

He even took prescription medicine to ease his anxiety, but nothing worked. He refused to stay in the king-size crate I bought for him. I thought it would be his safe haven.

And, since I am not much bigger than he was, changing his mind was not an option.

When I had to be away, I would leave Duke in the master bedroom with the door closed. One day, when he was alone, an unexpected thunderstorm popped up. I was across town, so I called my neighbor.

If she were home, she would look in on him. But her answering machine took the call.

An hour later when I arrived home, Duke, with his fuzzy red lobster, met me at the door. He had eaten his way through the bedroom door frame, managed to open the door and was looking for an escape route. From that day on, he was never allowed to be alone in the house if a drop of rain was in the forecast. His phobia worsened as he aged, but I refused to give up on him.

He went just about everywhere with me. One of his favorite places to go was the Wachovia Bank drive-through on Elm Lane in Ballantyne, where he was often given treats.

He was the unofficial greeter at Curves, hoping the ladies would stop to chat or pat his head on their way in or out to exercise.

Duke was a fan of singer Sarah Brightman. If one of her CDs was playing he would come from another part of the house and stretch out his large frame at the foot of the hearth and listen. He loved it when friends came by to visit or play Scrabble or Bridge. That meant more people to love.

On rainy days when I had to be away, Duke went to doggie day care at Piper Glen Animal Hospital. He loved the special attention he received there.

As time went on, Duke developed hip dysplasia, coupled with arthritis. Last spring, he celebrated his 11th birthday. Within a month or two he was on a downhill slide.

His health was failing rapidly. He found it too painful to catch tennis balls anymore, or to chase the wildlife in his backyard. He hardly had the strength to bark at the runners and walkers along Rea Road.

In fact, it was nearly impossible for him to climb in and out of the car.

Not long ago, wrapped in his favorite red plaid blanket with his head on my lap, he took his final road trip.

I decided I would hold on to my ranch house with the big backyard as long as I had Duke.

Now, as I look out the kitchen window, I see the "For Sale" sign in the front yard.