Left on Madison

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Herbert, named after Herbert Spencer, was my first Bichon.

In 2000, my stepdaughter found Herbert roaming Miller Park, less than a mile from my house. Herbert had obviously been on his own for a while. Some of his fur was matted, high water marks on his front legs indicated a trek down the steep shoreline of Miller lake, and he was limping.

Attached to Herbert's collar was an ID ring, but it had been pried open and the tag removed. The ring was too sturdy for this to have happened accidentally, so I concluded he had been deliberately abandoned. Nevertheless, I did everything I could think of, via the phone, newspaper, and Internet, to locate his owner, including wandering around Miller Park on several occasions, asking everyone I ran across if they knew anything about a lost dog. Nothing showed up -- not even a single report of a lost Bichon in the state of Illinois -- nothing.

It took less than a day for me to be glad that I could not find Herbert's owner. When my stepdaughter brought him home late on a Saturday night, I protested that we could not possibly keep him. I had many excellent reasons, and I began to list them within twenty minutes of Herbert's arrival, after we had given him food and water.

I was on reason number two when Herbert jumped on the sofa, curled up on my lap, and closed his eyes. By reason number three I was petting him. I interrupted reason number four by observing what a sweet dog he was. What was supposed to be reason number five turned into an explanation of why reasons one through four were not ironclad.

Every dog lover has many endearing stories to tell. In 1971, I met Barbara Branden's dog when I delivered a book review to her apartment in Hollywood. As the dog was jumping all over me, Barbara explained how human babies are merely surrogates for dogs. She had a point.

Although I would not say that Herbert taught me anything during our eight-year friendship, I would say that I learned a great deal from him. He was a continuous reminder of the simple pleasures of life.

I walked Herbert at least four times a day, and, with the exception of an occasional mile-long walk, we typically followed a standard route. A right turn out of my house, a right turn on Wood Street, four blocks down Wood, a turnaround, and then four blocks back.

Herbert was normally happy with this route, but every so often he would stop on the return trip at the corner of Wood and Madison. Then he would look at me and wag his tail, indicating that he wanted to take a longer route home by turning Left on Madison. Herbert wasn't pushy about it, but whenever I agreed to turn Left on Madison -- which I usually did -- he became very excited, jumping around in the grass like a cartoon caricature of a puppy.

Being the philosophical type, I came to view all this as a key metaphor. Patterns and habits are a necessary part of everyday life, but without an occasional Left on Madison, life can degenerate into a tiresome and boring routine.

My friendship with Herbert lasted only eight years. He died in my arms the morning after Christmas, 2008. Although Herbert had been ill for some time, on our last walk we took a Left on Madison.


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You are one excellent writer.


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Excellent work George, and better than found in the Reader’s Digest. It is a shame that dogs cannot be bred for longevity.

And I wish the same for cats. We have a loving, orange female cat named Pollyanna who is moving a little slower, and my wife Barbara commented today that we will miss her when she is gone.


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