Little ones with big hearts in Cayucos

November 12, 2022

Editor’s Note: The following series, “Life in Radically Gentrifying Cayucos by the Sea,” to be posted biweekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin. 

Franklin’s memoir, “Life On The Mississippi, 1969,” is currently on Amazon.


Two sets of grammar school age twins live two doors down from me, a boy and a girl, and two younger boys. They are like a team. In a small grid where four out of five houses are empty 90 percent of the time, they are a resounding and welcome presence.

They play together in the street and jabber and scream and argue nonstop and rampage around on skateboards, bikes and scooters. They throw balls around. They are daring and competitive, and the older girl runs the team, much like her single mother who often rules the brood like a basic training drill sergeant, snapping the whip. They are joyful and polite and mature for their age and, most important, they loved my big old dog, a brown Lab named Wilbur.

For the last few years, during evenings when I walked him on a very short path to do his “stuff,” they halted their games and chatter no matter how busy and converged on Wilbur, some of them kneeling to pet his coat and rub their faces close to his muzzle while Wilbur burrowed into them, his tail wagging. When they asked how old he was in dog years, I told them he was over 100.

They were wowed. Old, decrepit animals that hang on and spread pleasure and warmth despite their ongoing pain, are heroic and humble and appreciate all the attention and love they can get, a good lesson for children starting out in this life.

I grew up with dogs. Since these kids are more than enough for their mother to handle, there’s no room for a dog. Maybe some day.

But I had no idea how much these kids loved Wilbur until two weeks after he passed away peacefully in his own domain at the hands of a mobile vet, all four of them stood outside my open doorway while I watched a baseball game. I was sitting in my recliner and one by one they came forward and told me they were “sorry for my loss” and, somber and shy,  handed me small envelopes holding notes of commiseration.

I thanked them for the cards and they all left, one by one.

I waited a while and began opening the envelopes.

One card was shaped like a heart and opened up to reveal, “Dear Dell, I am so, so, so, so sorry for your loss. We all very miss Wilber, and I’m just so sorry for your loss.”

Another: “Dear, Dell I am so so sorry for your loss. I wish he was still here. I love him so much. I wish I could see him when he was a little dog. I love Wilber. I want him back so so badly. I love Wilber”

On these crudely cut up, self-made cards, were also drawings of dogs and people having conversations.

One smaller drawing of a kid said, “Hopefully you can get a dog to replace Wilber.” Across from him was a drawing of a person with two arms and legs holding onto a leash attached to a dog. The kid then asks, “Is that a new dog?” The figure holding the leash says, “Yes.”

In the last letter, the writer said she had not been able to stop crying when she heard Wilbur was gone, and would miss him so so much and that he was so so cute.

I think I’ll hold onto these letters, because they need to be read again and again, and they do more than help the healing of a loss. I don’t plan to get a new dog at my age, but I won’t tell them that. What I have are memories.

Wilbur was the kind of dog who had a neediness stemming from being abandoned and on the streets of LA for months until he was rehabilitated in a Lab rescue home. It took four months for him to recover completely, and he was almost 7 when I brought him back to Cayucos.

His second half in a town that worships dogs, turned out gloriously. He made a lot of friends who feel the same way about him as the twins and received a lot of treats and knew how to act and charm.

He almost made it to 16. He was the type of dog that people snapped photos of, and two artists painted oils of his mug. They’re on my wall.

Does it get any better than that? For irrational dog lovers (we’re all irrational), losing a dog can be brutally painful and put a damper on your life. Not me. We had a good time together and our ashes will be dispersed together, as it was meant to be. I think we both learned a lot about how life can be from the kids two doors down, who are not ashamed of their genuine sentiments, nor afraid to express them.

A good lesson indeed.

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Dell, before I was going to write a comment, I read the comments and mine mimic’s rakdad , except we have been going to Cayucos for almost 30 years and we did not get a chance to meet you and Wilbur. Us 5 are sorry for your loss.

Dell, the twins’ mom doesn’t have an account here, so she asked me to share her response:

Dell thank you so much for allowing my kids to grow close to such a beloved part of your life. Wilbur was a very special dog who captured the hearts of anyone who knew him. We feel grateful and honored to know you took your time and energy to write such kind words about our family. Thank you for reminding me….in the midst of feeling like I’m never doing it right….that sometimes I can be proud of my four little monsters : )

Dear Mr. Franklin:

I’m very sorry that you lost your friend and companion Wilbur. Saying goodbye to our four-legged buddies is always wrenching. I can’t say anything that will make you feel better, but I hope you will come to understand that God placed you in Wilbur’s path to provide him with love, stability, and comfort, and you delivered. It’s perfectly understandable to feel bereft. All of us have felt that way when we have to say goodbye. But keep your heart open, you never know. A wayward critter may show up and need your help.

So sorry to hear about Wilbur. I wish our furry friends didn’t leave so soon….

Del, i am sorry to hear about Wilbur he is missed. My family is one of those that you associate with the downfall of Cayucos’ way of life, we have been going over for the last 15 years. I have enjoyed your columns and through them was introduced to Wilber and yourself. Since beginning to read your column i have kept an eye out when in town trying to catch a glimpse of you and trufully more so Wilbur. My wife and i are avid dog people so it was a great pleasure to run into you and Wilbur this year in front of the coffe shop. I was concerned that Wilbur had recovered from his dog fight down by the Wall. I will remember him fondly.

Sorry to hear about the passing of Wilbur.