For the first time in nearly fifteen years, only two-legged humans live in my place. All of my pets were rescues. Only one was directly rescued by me, however...
Second Sunday of JazzFest 1998 and I was in the middle of my glass rat days...meaning I wasn't taking much advantage of the Fest, or of many other things for that matter because I was working constantly. This morning was no exception, as I was on my way to work. My then-boss loved animals and that love had infected me some, too - I'd just taken in a darling dark gray tabby kitten with green eyes a housemate of mine had rescued from a convenience store worker's errant broom and then gave up to me because she was allergic to cats. I figured one very sweet cat would be enough for me, but I didn't figure on sitting in my car at the stoplight at St. Charles and Henry Clay and seeing her, a medium-sized, long-haired black dog wandering back and forth across the wide expanse of the asphalt and the streetcar tracks and following people as if to say Hey, look here! I'm sweet and friendly! I'm meant for you! Can I be with you?
Problem was, the people she was following didn't respond to her.
I pulled over in front of Loyola University, thought this over for a minute, watched her try to cross the street again, and something in me snapped. I got her into my car and brought her to work with me, thinking she was so friendly, someone must be missing their pet.
Later that day and all through the following week, my then-boss and I drove around looking for lost pet signs that might have her picture or description on them and turned up nothing; I got the four-legged girl a collar and leash and took her with me to a lot of places over the next couple of days - at each stop I made she instantly conked out and slept deeply, to the point where I had to shake her awake. The next week, my then-boss (and landlord) and I decided she was my dog and tried to figure out what to name her.
We sat in a back cottage where my boss' two dogs had been joined by the new girl, her eyes glowing happily in her black face, her tan paws dancing with delight at being home. The TV was tuned in to Turner Classic Movies, and a certain Rita Hayworth movie came on - which is when I looked at the dog and knew what she ought to be called.
Gilda and I shared some adventures. I brought her to march in the Barkus parade in the Quarter when it seemed that she was all right on the leash after a couple of obedience classes - her two big things were not wanting to walk over metal grates or plates in the road and wanting to be in the very front of the marching pack. I came home once to find her engaged in one of her favorite activities with my then-boss' dogs - being chased - but there was something extra that made the chase more exciting: a large, dead rat hanging out of both sides of her mouth. Disposing of the rodent was a real joy, as she loved putting her border collie-springer spaniel legs into gear and thought I was simply joining in the chasing game. She did get nervous with the dogs around, though, much preferring to be by herself, or even with my cats (I adopted a second cat not long after I got Gilda into my car), and it showed when she chewed the corners of two needlepointed seats on some dining room chairs that were in the back cottage. I learned to needlepoint because of her.
Always averse to being walked in damp weather - I teased her by calling her Ms. Dainty Paws - she was even more disgusted by the snow when we moved up north, giving me the dirtiest look one morning when I opened the door and we beheld a full-on blizzard in Queens. "WHY are you doing this to me?" she'd have asked me if she could talk. She was a Southern dog despite her long hair, and she remained friendly to other dogs and especially to people, presenting herself to passersby in New Orleans and in Queens on walks as a source of unconditional love - people would take her up on it in the former and ignore her in the latter.
Over time, she learned to live with a cat who hated her and another who decided to tolerate her, a human infant who became a child, and a move back to New Orleans that coincided with her doggie golden years. I walked her in one more Barkus parade when we returned to New Orleans, but she gradually lost patience with being around dogs for longer than occasional encounters along her walks. Even chasing squirrels became less of a priority. I noticed in recent months she was having a harder time going up and down our stairs, and I kept tucking away the thought that she might not be living forever after all...until I took her out in the late morning this past Thursday and she refused to climb the stairs.
I had to help her into my car and help her into the veterinarian's office where she'd first been checked out all those years ago. The doc had estimated that she was probably two years old at her first checkup...I was amazed that fourteen years had passed since then. She had given up - her teeth were bad and her back muscles had atrophied some. She'd never left that vet's office in pain, and I was going to make sure things stayed that way for her. My pain lingers, though...
I loved this dog of mine so much, I'd had a pet portrait made of her based on a photo taken of her at her first Barkus parade. I can't locate the photo, but I do have the portrait hanging on my wall. The artist, Georg Williams, captured her dog-onality quite well, despite missing the touch of black that was on the tip of her tongue...
I still keep thinking I have a dog to walk and feed and water. I still miss my Gildaleh.
Rest in peace, my girl.