Grady the Golden RetrieverWe met Grady at a doctor’s office in February 2007. He was homeless, effusively friendly, and eager to see us. We invited him home. It doesn’t seem that long ago.

The day we met, the doctor took the stitches out from having surgically removed the collar that had grown into his neck. It was most of a year before he’d not make a puddle on the floor when someone new came to the door.

He showed his smarts early, when he’d get loose and go on a tour of the neighborhood, pausing to examine and inventory just long enough for me to almost catch up before he loped down the street a hundred yards or so to wait for me again. Then I got clever. I went after him in the car. I’d pull up by him and open the door and he’d hop in.

I was in the backyard the day the youngest granddaughter met him. She was all of maybe two when she toddled back to find me. Grady found her first. In his eagerness, he knocked her to the ground, then stood astraddle, his nose in her face. She was fairly fearless, and clearly unconcerned about the probability of becoming an afternoon snack for that big red whatever it was, so it was easy for me to explain to both of them that such welcoming behavior would best be slightly more subtle.

Two of the granddaughters and a grandson regularly used Grady as a step-stool to aid climbing onto the couch. And a toddler niece sat on him as she ate her lunch. He just lay there, and didn’t even try to steal her sandwich.

Grady was a Golden Retriever by appearance, personality and ethnicity – but he was a BFF to me, his “mommy,” every kid, and most of the adults, who came around.

Nine and-a-half years is a long time in dog years, plus however old he was when we met. Though sometimes I thought he played up the old age thing. He would come to a set of stairs, and take tentative steps, first one front paw, then pull it down and try the other, as though he’s trying to figure out how to climb. Or he would lie in the living room make a great show of standing up when I bring his evening snack bones, forcing me to go to him rather than he come to me.

His performance always paid off, of course. My other BFF said it is old age setting in; I tell her it is mostly a matter of “want to.” Sure enough, if she was eating crackers or popcorn or Oreo cookies, he had no trouble dashing right to her spot and standing until she shared – like an old Peanuts cartoon with Snoopy announcing, “I’m not begging. I just happen to be pointed in this direction.” He knew she shouldn’t be giving him such stuff. He knew she would give it to him, anyway.

And when I was preparing to head for the woods, he would lie on the living room floor, patiently, quietly, until I was actually ready to get in the car for the drive to a stream or mountain trail.

“You want to go,” I ask.

He would jump up and push me out of the way to get to the car. When got near one of our favorite stopping places, he would suddenly bounce up and wait, not so patiently, for me to free him discover new things.

But the age and other ailments became real, and Wednesday was his last day.

So long, old friend.