A Farewell To A Dear Friend

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Note this isn’t a post about baseball. Allow me the indulgence, it won’t become a habit.

“Mom, we have to get her out of here.”

That’s what my sister said when they walked into Kelly’s previous owner’s house. The woman who had Kelly got new animals when she was depressed and then couldn’t take care of them. The woman’s daughter had Kelly too, but it didn’t work out. Another woman adopted Kelly, but that woman’s current dog didn’t like Kelly moving in on her territory [read: lap of her owner]. So Kelly was back in this rough situation. My sister saw it, Kelly was sweet to them, and they took her home.

We had Boomer at the time, a smart but socially awkward mix who was looking for a friend and Kelly was fourth dog we gave him a chance to meet. He liked two of the others, but they didn’t like him. He and the third dog fought. So it was Kelly, lucky number four. Her fourth home, his fourth shot at a friend. They hit it off, and although they’d grow to be siblings more than friends, they were pack.

“She’s so cute!”

The first words I said when I saw her. My dad and brother took a while to come around, but my Mom, sister, and I held fast. We kept her. She was ours. Part of the family [Ben would eventually fall in love with her too]. I was eight. We had gotten Boomer a year earlier, and while I adored him, he had bonded much more with Ben than me. Kelly and I became fast friends and never looked back.

Her tennis ball chasing skills came out immediately and he devotion to her pack came soon after. As she adjusted to her new life and she became trustworthy at night, she started sleeping at the end of my bed. Ten years later, she slept there the night before I left for college.

“I learned everything from my dogs.”

I’m planning to write a book with that title someday. Each chapter will tell the story of a different one of my dogs and what that dog has taught me about life. Kelly’s chapter will be about loyalty, determination, and devotion. She was at my side through everything, and even watched over me as I slept. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and she’d be looking at me, making sure I was okay.

She vetted potential love interests, always making sure the girls I brought home were good enough for her boy and even as she started to slow down, she always kept up with me. I was a little kid when we got her and she and I grew up together. She was never really friendly to outsiders, but she was the biggest doll to her people. She learned English words and phrases, which isn’t really something dogs typically do.

We lost Boomer when they were both about eight and she looked lost without him. He was part of the pack. We got Duke shortly after and she taught him the ropes and let him take over the day to day operations of watching the house while she started to age. As I prepared to head off to college, I was ready for the next chapter, but I was sad to be leaving my dogs. Dogs get you. Dogs are always happy to see you and dogs never fake it. Dogs are better than people and Kelly wasn’t just any old dog. She was my dog, but her dog-ness transcended that. A lot of people had given up on her. We didn’t give up and she rewarded us with the kind of fierce devotion that puts Ron Weasley to shame.

When I was away at school, Kelly started to get sick and was diagnosed with a disease that usually ran its course over about two years. Her health was up and down and her ball chasing days were over, but somehow, some way, she kept at it. One year. Two years. Three Years. Four.

She beat those odds and hung in there. I was prepared that every time I saw her might be the last, but she kept holding on for one more trip home. She was always thrilled to see me even when jumping up and down turned into laying on her side and wagging her tail. Even when she had to labor to follow me up the stairs and could barely lift herself onto an air mattress on the floor of my childhood room, she did it. She was there.

Two years ago, I was getting ready to get married to a girl that earned Kelly’s approval and move away on a grand adventure. I wasn’t going to be 45 minutes away, I was going to be 700 miles from where I grew up. I wouldn’t be able to rush home to her side. So every time I saw her, I was prepared. But she kept hanging on. And on.

Even as her health got worse, she was still there. She slept at the foot of my bed when I visited over Christmas, just like she had for the first decade of her life. It was our thing.

I’m of the belief that animals have an unspoken wisdom. They just know things. They know what you need and when it’s their time to go. I know there’s no logical reason to believe this, but I’m convinced that she was waiting for me to get another dog. She didn’t want to leave without a canine looking out for me.

We got Watson two months ago. He passed obedience school last week. He’s had a rough first year, too, but he’s smart and he’s sweet and he thinks the world of me even though he’s only known me for eight weeks. He looks at me the way she did. Like I’m the greatest person in the world even though he doesn’t really know if I am or not.

Everybody thinks their dog is the best dog just like every dog thinks their human is the best human. I’m going to do my best to be the person Kelly thought I was, but Kelly really was the best dog. She watched over me, she taught me about loyalty, and she waited to make sure I’d be okay. Most of all, she was my friend and I was hers.

You were a good girl Kelly, and I know you’re waiting for me in doggie heaven. You can run and play to your heart’s content until we see each other again. I’ll bring the tennis ball and the end of a bed for you to sleep on.

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