Wilbur, our beloved golden retriever, died Wednesday, Aug. 17 at Cornell Veterinary Hospital in Stamford, following a brief and unexpected illness.
He was 11.
Born July 22, 2005 in Weston, he went unnamed for several days after arriving at our downtown Stamford apartment at eight weeks. During a leashed walk one evening to the lone dirt patch out back of the building, he scratched out a little hole and rooted there like a pig. So he was named after the “Charlotte’s Web” character.
Sweet-tempered and sociable, Wilbur greeted new people and dogs with genuine warmth. We often said a dog that couldn’t get along with Wilbur couldn’t get along at all. One of his earliest good friends was Lennox, a pit bull whose owner thought he couldn’t get along with any other dog until he met Wilbur.
One day in December 2006, when Wilbur was 18 months old, we brought home his four-legged brother Russell. For the first 30 minutes, Wilbur demonstrated the only ill will he exhibited in his entire life: He piled his toys together and lay across them. Soon, however, a yapping Russell could be seen chasing Wilbur around the apartment.
He was a patient and perfect big brother to Russell, and later to Louis, Marvin and Dexter. Each of them teethed on Wilbur’s ears and tail. By the time Marv was done, we were calling Wilbur’s tail ‘the twig.’ He also was cousin to Jake, Fred, Henry, Murray, Ralph, Stanley, Arnold, Ray Ban and Seymour.
He loved living downtown, making regular nighttime jaunts to our apartment balcony to observe the life passing by below, though he never barked.
The regulars at the Bedford Street bars got to know him on his nightly walks and he tugged on his leash if we tried to pass by his favorite spots without stopping. Once, outside Brickhouse, a woman noted Wilbur’s deep red coat and regal bearing, and said, “I’m gonna call you ‘Sir Lancelot.’ ”
We took him camping in the high peaks region of the Adirondacks for one week each August. Ranger Tim called Wilbur and Russell “city dogs” and warned us that mountain-climbing would crack open their paw pads, advising us to bring Super-Glue to mend them on the trails—but we never needed to, as Wilbur’s pads had been hardened on downtown Stamford’s sidewalks as well as at the Mianus River Park.
That’s where he met and spent time with his surrogate brother Alfie and best pals Gooch, Archie, Yankee, Elliot, Laddie, Buddy, Faith, Johnny Cash, Digit, Sancho, Louis Armstrong, Hunter, Obie, Murphy, Lila, Jupe, Chowder, Booey, Ketchup, Goose, River, Ripley, Finn, Rodeo, Diz, Molly, Jesse, Hobbs, Ari, Perkins, Conner, Charlie, Angus, Oso, Maldy and others. Wilbur’s best friend during his early years was his dad, Bailey.
Wilbur loved the winter and hated the humid summers. Often, when we lived at the apartment, he refused during walks to leave the shadow of the building. Marie’s sister Roisin visited each summer and we nicknamed them ‘The Sweaty Betties,’ because most days they sat together next to the AC unit, hogging the cool air.
Strangers who saw Wilbur with Russell together often assumed that Wilbur was the mother—not because he looked female, but because he exuded qualities that we associate with moms. He was a worrier and a protector. As our pack grew from just Wilbur to five dogs, we always knew when one of the other boys had done something wrong because Wilbur the worrier would paw at us on returning home.
He loved all food. He had bionic hearing when it came to the refrigerator door. Midday or midnight snack, no matter what time, an undetected Wilbur could be found sitting beside the refrigerator by the time the door closed again.
Wilbur ate his kibble so fast that we had to get him a special bowl so he wouldn’t choke.
He loved the car and accompanied me on errands. Though we had four other dogs and all of them would beat Wilbur to the car when it was time to pile in for a trip to the park, I would say “Just Wilbur” and he would perk up and trot past them and down to the driveway.
He loved a made bed.
In the summer of 2006, we flew to Ireland for a wedding, leaving Wilbur with our friend Kate. When we phoned from the airport before takeoff to ask how Wilbur was settling in, she told us that she had been unable find him for several minutes until she went upstairs to her own bedroom and saw what she described as a “brown blob in the middle of my bed.”
He loved lying down on a pile of pillows on a sofa, and we sometimes called him ‘Cleopatra.’
We moved into a house in Stamford just before Wilbur’s fourth birthday. Marie’s father George and brother Patrick, both electricians, traveled from Ireland to help us with renovating. During that week, Wilbur looked on placidly from the hardwood floor as they worked. Patrick eyed Wilbur one night and said, “He’s the foreman. Make sure it’s done right.”
Wilbur loved all forms of water, and was an expert at fetching tennis balls chucked far out into the Long Island Sound at Tod’s Point in Greenwich. He was susceptible to ear infections and hot spots, and generally was a stinky dog who loved to roll in the dirt, sand, mud and grass, earning the title ‘King of Stink.’
He spent several summers digging in the sandy beach at Stamford’s Cove Island.
During blizzards, he loved walking with Marie to a cemetery near the apartment building and romping off-leash in the snow. At the house, he would burrow and roll in the snow in our yard, and we would have to call him back inside or else he’d stay out there all day. He loved getting rubbed down with a towel to dry off, and was scared of the fireplace.
He hated getting baths and was terrified of thunder.
Wilbur was never lost. Even as a puppy, off-leash at the Mianus, he would wait for us if he got ahead on the trail. He loved to carry big sticks in his mouth.
Wilbur always tried to lick kids passing by in strollers, and he never tired of puppies. Even when he was the oldest dog in a group, he would break into the “puppy dance” when he saw them, rolling on his back and letting them nip at his body.
He traveled to Boston and as far north as Bangor, Maine, and recently vacationed at Myrtle Beach, S.C.