It was just two weeks ago that our dog, Gilbert, went on what we now imagine must have been a grand adventure.
My wife and I were out of town for the weekend and left Gilbert with a dog-sitter in Elmwood Park.
The details on exactly how it happened are still hazy, but at some point, a neighbor left a door or gate open and Gilbert got away. This was discovered around midnight.
Gilbert is not normally a runner, but he was accompanied in his escape by the dog-sitter’s own pet, Jezebel, a young female Weimaraner, which we suspect may have clouded his judgment.
Thus ensued a dread-filled, 18-hour search by the dog-sitter and her neighbors. They were about 12 or 13 hours into it before she let us know what had happened, and we waited helplessly for news and braced for the worst from afar while a snowstorm hit Chicago.
My Facebook friends already know this incident had a happy outcome.
It turned out the dogs had been found within an hour of their escape just two blocks away by some teenage girls who took them home, fed them and kept them warm. Gilbert repaid the courtesy by peeing in their house.
In the end, the searchers heard about the finders, and there was a grand reunion.
But all stories eventually have the same ending, one from which there is no escape.
On Monday morning, we had to put Gilbert to sleep.
It was all very sudden, yet at the same time a natural finish to a long, slow decline.
He’d almost died in October. The veterinarian, fearing then that Gilbert wouldn’t make it through the night after seeing the results of his blood tests, suggested we take him home to say our goodbyes, which we did.
But he rallied overnight and gradually regained his strength.
This time, though, a fast-moving illness literally knocked him off his feet and down for the count.
Gilbert, a Spaniel mix of unknown origin, would have been 16 on Cinco de Mayo.
That’s the birthday we arbitrarily assigned him after bringing him home from the city pound just before Christmas in 2000.
The birthday back story: Gilbert had been taken to the shelter by Streets and Sanitation workers who found him in Pilsen. The vet at the pound estimated him to be 7 months old, thus his designation as a child of Mexican independence.
It was never clear to me whether the Streets and San guys actually found him inside a garbage can, but I can tell you that to the very end Gilbert wouldn’t go within five feet of a garbage can in an alley without putting on the emergency brakes.
“Keep me away from that thing,” was implicit in his body language.
As veteran Sun-Times readers know, Gilbert’s ability to convey his thoughts made him a feature of my column, which started in 2000 just a few months before we brought him home.
Other columnists in town accused me of acquiring the dog intentionally to serve as my escape outlet for days I couldn’t find a good column topic.
That’s not true. We got Gilbert for all the usual reasons that people with two young boys in the house get a dog, the main one being that my wife decided it was time.
But I will admit Gilbert turned out to be a great foil, more sensible and with a better sense of humor than his left-leaning owner.
Gilbert developed his own fans, people who only read my columns in hopes of hearing about Gilbert.
Others objected, saying a columnist who claims to commune with his pooch can’t be taken seriously.
I always thought that was part of the point: that I don’t take myself that seriously.
The truth is that pretty much all dog owners talk to their dogs, and it wasn’t my fault that my dog answered back.But I lost that battle, and Gilbert’s appearances in print became rare.
We still talked on our walks morning and night, but the walks grew shorter after his illness last fall. He still greeted us home with enthusiastic tail-wagging each night, but with his hearing nearly gone, it took him a while to realize we were there.
His accidents in the house became more the rule than the exception, and with an impending move hanging over the household, the question arose: What would it mean for Gilbert?
As always, Gilbert supplied his own answer.