During the past two weeks since Walter died so many people have reached out to me through text, phone calls, facebook, cards, donations in memory of Walter and some even sent flowers, I can not tell you how much that means to me. The day that he died I said to my mom, “I can’t believe the number of people who have offered their condolences over what must have seemed to them, just another dog.” Not that Walter was just any dog, mind you. If you have ever had one of those special dogs, the one who knows you better than you know yourself, the one that only comes along once in a lifetime then you know what I am talking about. If not, may you one day find one. Walter was my constant companion, always with me wherever I went, whether I was running a quick errand, driving 12 hours to Georgia via dirt roads through Mississippi, or searching for ruins to photograph in the back woods of South Carolina; Walter was always there. He was always patient, well most of the time as he really could be quiet bossy. He was always up for a photography adventure and he didn’t mind waiting patiently for just the right light. If I needed a shoulder to cry on, Walter was always there, never judging. As long as we were together, we could be anywhere and be happy. Walter was never anything other than what I wanted him to be and every day with him was perfect. He was truly a special and amazing dog.
When he was two years old, we were at the vet for something that has long been forgotten now, something I am sure I freaked out over like a scratch on his nose or some other mundane malady. The cure for that day’s ailment was “Special Attention”. That’s right, right there on his medical chart it has always said “Special Attention”. And it seems that is how he lived his life everywhere we went.
The night he died I was working on a blog post chronicling his recent trip to Georgia. We had just gotten back several days before. This time it was just Walter and me, Albert didn’t tag along because caring for Walter had become almost an all day event. He was still in good spirits though and not in any pain, but was still adjusting from a sudden loss of vision only a few weeks before. In early January we packed up for his last trip to Georgia, he was going home one more time. We were supposed to go a few months before but I just felt that since the cancer had metastasized to his lungs making it difficult to breathe in high humidity that maybe traveling to south Georgia wasn’t the best idea. But some things came together and I decided to take him January. In Georgia, Walter was a rockstar and boy did he know it. Never was there another place like Georgia where he could revel in his “Special Attention”. After extending one trip way past the deadline we were supposed to come home, my dad called to tell me that “even the Beatles had to go home and rest at some point”. I think that was the trip where he had ended up in a documentary about dogs in Savannah or maybe it was the one where he ended up getting his picture taken to be in a book one day. It is difficult to keep it all straight because things like that always happened to him. I know what John F. Kennedy meant when he said he was the man who accompanied Jackie Kennedy to Paris, I was the girl who accompanied Walter to Georgia.
As we did during all the other trips to Savannah, we stayed at the Mansion on Forsyth Park. Every time we would arrive the bellmen John and Steve would always ask how Walter enjoyed the drive as they waited for him to make his appearance. They were always as excited to see him as he was them. Having cancelled our earlier trip, they all knew that he had cancer and that this would be his last visit to the Mansion. Oh and about that loss of vision thing, when we got to the Mansion he knew exactly where he was, he even led me to our room and knew where his crate and water and food bowls should be. Typical Walter strutting around the Mansion as if he owned it.
Thank you to Angela Hopper of the Canvas Dog Studio for the photograph on the left, Walter in his bed at the Mansion.
Waiting for us, in our room, were gifts for Walter, Albert and me. Walter and Albert each had a gift bag full of fabulous treats. For me, they had the most delicious chocolate covered strawberries and a great bottle of wine as well as relaxing ice cream bath soaks. But the most touching part was the hand written card signed by everyone at the Mansion offering their thoughts and prayers for Walter.
The week we were there could not have been more perfect. It was in the high 70‘s, the streets were quiet and absent of the tourists who often asked to take a picture or have their picture taken with Walter. On previous trips, when he was feeling better, this was his favorite thing to do. I wish that I had snapped a picture each time over the years when someone stopped us to ask if they could have their picture taken with him, it would be well over a thousand photos.
We visited all of our friends and Walter stopped in to see Ollie B, the maker of his favorite biscuits. While there Ollie B’s dad, Eric, snapped a quick picture of them together enjoying their biscuits. Walter always loved these hand-baked organic treats but after he got cancer and was prescribed Lasix, his diet became very strict. Ollie B biscuits were a godsend because all of the ingredients were approved. If you have a dog, treat he/she to biscuits from Oliver Bentley’s in Savannah. (No, I wasn’t paid to say that. I think they are great for dogs because of the ingredients or lack there of. You can check them out at www.oliverbentleys.com)
During our stay at the Mansion, for whatever reason they allowed some Florida Gator fans to stay there. One of them made a remark in the hall, “OH, I guess we have some Georgia Bulldog fans staying here.” I am sure the look on my face was something akin to you are a complete idiot, you are in Savannah, Georgia, home of Uga. But then again Gator fans aren’t the coldest drinks in the fridge, bless their hearts. So not to let something as important as taunting a Gator fan pass Walter by, he got a stuffed Gator to chew on and tear up. The picture below says it all with that look of “I am hiding this Gator under my arm but you need to stop taking pictures of me because I don’t want to be photographed with a stinking swamp dog.”
Yep, there you have it, Walter was a snob. I witnessed him turning his nose up more than once and ignoring people, my mom and my sister can vouch for me on this. But, he was always proper, a true southern gentleman from Georgia.
As our time came to end in Savannah, he was starting to get a little tired.
On our last night there, we ate at 700 Drayton. Usually we ate at Belford’s because they allow dogs, but we had so many great memories there and I wanted to make a new memory with him. 700 Drayton is located in the Mansion, but doesn’t allow dogs. I asked the concierge if there was any way they would allow Walter to eat there with me since this was during the off-season and he had never caused any problems at the Mansion. She called the manager of the restaurant to ask them if it would alright, in true Walter fashion they made an exception to their policy. He received “Special Attention” and was able to enjoy a filet mignon on his last night in Savannah.
After leaving Savannah, we went to our other favorite place is Georgia, Jekyll Island.
We ventured down the boardwalk to Glory Beach, bypassing the NO DOGS ALLOWED signs, to watch the sun set over the dunes and Cumberland Island in the distance. I couldn’t have written it any better, we were the only ones there that day and he just sat next to me leaning on me at times. For it seems, I had leaned on him for so long and could now sense, as I had during the past few weeks, his need to lean on me during his own sunset.
Leaving Georgia we made our way to my dad’s condo in Florida, where it was a bit cooler, but we were still able to enjoy the beach. We sat there enjoying the gulf for hours, listening to the waves rolling in turbulent and loud. We watched the snow birds from up north walk up and down the beach. Sometimes one would stop to ask about him and tell me about their dogs or they would just offer “he looks like a good dog” while passing. I just shook my head yes, he was always the BEST dog.
We left Florida early the next morning and calls started coming in from family asking where we were and letting me know there was an ice storm moving across south Arkansas which meant we were going to have to make a detour. Up for one last adventure, we decided to head to New Orleans. I called the Mansion in Savannah and asked them to put me through to Marriott reservations because I was having trouble finding a hotel that accepted pets. My choices were limited but the guy with Marriott let me know that the Ritz Carlton was available. Oh right!!! Like I could afford that! As luck would have it though, I had earned enough Marriott Rewards to get a complimentary night there. But there was one little catch, the Ritz Carlton only allowed dogs up to 30 pounds and Walter was well over that. I explained our situation to the guy, who just so happened to have two bulldogs himself. He asked me to hold for a moment while he called the Ritz. After holding for a few minutes, he came back on the line to say, “Ms. Turner, the Ritz has made an exception for Walter and it will be just fine for him to stay there.” Again, he always got “Special Attention”.
The next day we came home and in the following days I could tell we were near the end. I knew it that Friday, my Walter had changed. He wasn’t his usual demanding self and wasn’t eager to go everywhere I went. On Sunday he rallied back a little and went to the Big Buck Classic. He rode in his wagon and met a Georgia Bulldog fan who lavished him with tons of attention. In short, a perfect Walter day. That night he played with his new toy he had gotten in Savannah and after supper he went and got in his crate to go to sleep. He had the most trouble breathing at night so I would often stay up to listen in case anything happened. I don’t think I slept more than two or three hours a night during those six months we knew he had cancer. As I did most every night, after he went to sleep, I started working on pictures. At 3:40 Monday morning, I heard a strange gasping noise coming from the bedroom. Like usual, I ran in there hoping this would be another case of me overreacting. I pulled him from his crate, where he slept every night right beside me. I tried to give him CPR but I could tell he was gone. He struggled to breathe two more times before letting go. I just held him in my arms telling him it was okay and that I loved him. I think we sat there like that for five or ten minutes. I just wanted one last moment with him before everyone else found out. I woke Lee up and he helped me get Walter to the couch where we wrapped him in a blanket. It almost looked as if he were just sleeping.
I called my mom to tell her what had happened and by 5:30 she was at my house. At 8:30 I called Pet Cremation Services in Heber Springs to tell them what had happened and ask if we could bring him there to be cremated. Yes, I know that the local veterinarians will take care of this for you, but I wanted to be the one to take him. I hadn’t ever left him, nor had he ever left me, and I wasn’t planning on doing it now. We had a short service and remembered Walter. Marianne, the owner, took care of everything for us and helped us pick out an urn for his remains. Would you believe it is all white marble urn except for two little brown spots on it, just like Walter.
Walter: This Dog Lived
Read more about Walter being the inspiration for Special Attention Photography Sessions for elderly and terminally ill pets.