Aside from my immediate family, I’ve had two great loves of my life. One was my golden retriever/hound mix, Porthos, and the other was Peyton Manning.
Only one of them loved me back, but I was sure I could win the other one over with milk bones and squeaky toys, ha ha.
I adopted Porthos in July 2005 from the Humane Society of South Mississippi in Gulfport. Less than two months later, the region was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and the facility suffered a number of animal casualties. I knew it was fate that Porthos and I had found each other.
Since then, we were pretty much inseparable. We relocated to Jacksonville in the summer of 2006 and he was my constant companion. He would join me at Bark at the Park for Jacksonville Suns/Jumbo Shrimp games and $2 hot dogs. I would join him at Dogwood Park to watch him swim in the lake and sniff the rear ends of his friends.
He was also able to win over my entire family, something none of my ex-boyfriends had been able to do. The first time we visited my mom in Tennessee, Porthos had to sleep on a dog bed on the floor. Fast forward a few years and he was laying on her bed, enjoying fancy treats while watching a “Twilight” marathon (don’t ask).
He was also a great road-trip buddy, even making the trek from South Carolina to upstate New York with me and my mom. He was the only one of us to maintain our composure as my mom took the mountain curves of West Virginia at 70 mph, yelling at anyone who cut her off, which means they eventually pulled in front of her with less than 2.5 miles in between.
Porthos was seriously the sweetest, calmest, cutest dog I had ever seen, and charmed everyone he ever met. He would often go to work with me on weekends and keep my coworkers calm during college football Saturdays (not an easy feat). One time while visiting my mom in Tennessee, he did wander off after being let outside while I was gone, sending my mom into an immediate panic. I rushed to her condo and began an immense search, which ended pretty quickly after a picture of a “missing” smiling, happy Porthos was emailed to everyone in the condo community. He’d been quickly found by the first person he saw when he approached the boyfriend of a HOA board member to shake hands. When I called the number from the email, I was informed he had joined the couple for dinner at grandma’s house and would be back soon. And my mom was relieved to know we would be speaking again.
That’s just the kind of dog he was. He never met a stranger, and he sincerely loved everyone, especially me.
When he passed in January 2018, a few weeks shy of his 14th birthday, I thought I might never recover. It was weird going home and not being greeted at the door. Not having someone to care for and who would listen to me without complaint or interruption, which I know couldn’t have been easy.
A couple of months after his passing, the Recorder ran a story about the Pet Pals program at S.A.F.E. Pet Rescue. People could “borrow” one of the nonprofit’s long-term residents for a few hours, a weekend, a week, or however long you wanted. I thought this seemed like a great solution to getting some canine companionship without having to make a commitment I wasn’t ready for.
Through this program, I met Chocho, a senior chow chow, with a bad hip and a beautiful white face. Chocho was different from Porthos. She didn’t always love everyone she met. She wasn’t too fond of men, and she really, really didn’t like cats, especially Midnight, a feral cat that came with the house. In fairness, though, no one really likes Midnight, because he’s mean, and I’m 98 percent sure he’s some kind of evil demon who was transformed into the form of a cat to roam the Earth for all eternity. I feed him daily anyway for fear of what might happen to me if I don’t, but that’s a story for another time.
Anyway, Chocho, who had been at the shelter for four years, would spend most weekends with me as part of the program. At first, she seemed unsure about the arrangement, or about me even reaching down to pet her. As time went on, though, she started rubbing her head on my hand, she would hang out in the kitchen as I cooked, and she would look at me with sad, brown eyes when I returned her to the shelter on Monday mornings. After working on a story about local residents who took in senior dogs, I was inspired to foster Chocho fulltime. That was a couple of months ago, and Chocho and I have come a long way.
I still miss Porthos every day, but Chocho has made things easier. Taking in an older dog has been a simpler transition for me, and, as my aunt once told me regarding her and her senior dog, “We’re just a couple of old ladies who like to hang out.” I don’t compare her to Porthos anymore and I appreciate the individual qualities she has. I would encourage anyone looking to foster or adopt to consider a senior or overlooked pet like Chocho, because they still have a lot of love to give — and receive.
And I know, when the time comes, she’ll eventually warm up to Peyton.