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Goodbye, Old Friend: Remembering A Canine Companion

Mitch Wertlieb
Despite his namesake, Grendel was a gentle soul.

I wanted to take this moment to tell you about a friend.

He was a Vermonter, born and bred in Bradford; loved when the weather turned cold. No boots in the winter for him.

It’s hard to say just how old he was when he died last week. Best guess, in the way these things are calculated, is that he was around 84. Had he been human.

Grendel was 12 in dog years — a pretty good run for a mixed lab of 80-plus pounds. I’d hoped he’d get a few more Vermont winters under his collar, but one day when I arrived home from work, he wouldn’t come down the stairs to get his lunch — and this a dog who’d plow through a wall if it meant getting to food, so I knew something was wrong.

I’ll spare you the details, but like so many people who’ve had dogs in their lives, I had to make the terrible decision to relieve Grendel of pain that wasn’t going away.

And it all happened so fast, we barely had a chance to say goodbye.

For 12 years, in rain, snow, or shine, nearly every day I’d get home from work and we’d go for a hike. Grendel introduced me to Red Rocks Park, Indian Brook Reservoir, Centennial Woods, and Allen Brook Farm. We hiked Mount Philo, Snake Mountain, and Camel’s Hump.

And when I needed to know if I’d really recovered from a heart-related ailment that nearly killed me in 2012, I hiked Stowe Pinnacle with Grendel by my side. There’s no chance I’d have made it to the top without him, or even had the courage to try.

I know it’s not unusual to lose a dog long before you're ready. In my perfect alternate universe, dogs have the same general life spans as humans.

Grendel was family. He comforted my groaning wife when she went into labor, licking her face as we scrambled to get to the hospital.

And we have a snapshot of Grendel licking the face of our new born daughter with a tongue bigger than her cheek, our baby girl squealing in delight.

Credit Mitch Wertlieb / VPR
Grendel and sister having a moment in 2008.

Right now, the sadness feels overwhelming, but I trust that nearly 13 years of joyful memories with this remarkable animal will eventually ease the sorrow.

I lost more than my dog last week; I lost my friend, who just happened to be a dog. A good dog, who made me a happy man.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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