(Editor's note: This is the second part of a series. The first part can be read here.)
I awoke from my deep slumber to the furry face guy telling Ben that it was time to go. I looked around and remembered we were still at Grandma’s house. The little boy had been put to bed, and Old Dan he stretched his neck out as he tried to catch his breath. My moment was gone. All my worries were right where I had left them.
Ben stood and hugged the people there and I heard that word again and again. . . “love.” They came over and hugged Old Dan and said that word to him too. I didn’t understand, but I think, gut I guess, we all felt the same thing. I was warm all over and I wagged my wispy tail. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
Furry Face gathered up the dog bed and our bowls and called for me to follow him to the car. I looked back and saw Ben pick up Old Dan. Tears ran down his face and people hugged Ben and told him it would be okay. Furry Face got into the car with us.
When we got home I saw Furry Face put his large hand on Ben’s shoulder. I’ll never forget it. He said “Be strong bro. Be strong for your boy. He needs you now. Be brave for him.”
We live in an old house, built in 1845 that has a big fireplace. That night Ben built a bonfire. Furry Face turned off the lights and handed Ben a glass. By the glow of the raging fire and with a raised glass he bellowed, “To Old Dan!”
The love my brother had for Ben was something anyone could see. When Ben lay on the couch, my brother laid next to him. When Ben went swimming, Old Dan swam next to him. And when Ben went outside at night during the winter to chop wood for the fire, it was Old Dan who accompanied him.
That night log after log was thrown on the fire and the boys voices got louder and louder. The flickering fire cast shadows on the walls and the boys told story after story. Ben told a story about .
I remember it well. We went to our little secret swimming hole. There were no leaves on the trees and the breeze was cool.
Old Dan tried to pull a stick out of the reeds on the shore of the lake but just didn’t have the strength anymore. Ben went over and helped him free it. Old Dan dropped it at Ben’s feet.
“Oh yeah boy?” he said. “You want me to throw it into the water for you?”
Old Dan was barely half his former weight, and I worried that if he went after the stick he would drown in the water, but only Ben and I shared this sentiment. Old Dan looked at Ben and then at the stick at Ben’s feet and wagged that fat tail of his. Old Dan wanted to fetch that stick because that was what he did for Ben. Old Dan knew that he made Ben happy and, despite it all, nothing had changed and nothing could stop him from doing what he loved.
Ben picked up the stick and looked at me. He swung the stick over his head in grand fashion. Then he took off his shoes. He then looked at Old Dan and swung the stick over his head again but this time in a big circular motion almost as if he was planning on throwing a lasso. Then he took off his jacket and pants and stood there, smiling. Then he tossed the stick in the water.
It wasn’t a far throw, but Old Dan jumped off the rock just like he always did. This was Old Dan’s time, so I stayed on the rock to watch.
He splashed in the water and went under but paddled his paws and kicked his feet. Old Dan used to be able to swim, but that day his body was nearly vertical in the water. He kicked his hardest and paddled with all his might to keep his head above water as he swiveled about looking for the stick.
He saw it, grabbed it, somehow made his way back to shore, and clawed his way back up the rock to Ben. Ben stood there in his boxer shorts and bare feet shaking his head saying, “there’s my good boy, my Old Dan.”
The water dripped off my brother, pooled for a moment on the rock, then made its way back into the lake. Old Dan looked at the stick and then at Ben. Ben looked at Old Dan, then at the stick, then at me.
Ben picked up the stick, pointed it straight up in the air and yelled out “Whoooo – weeee!” He stayed like that for just a few seconds until the echo faded away into the hillside. Then, as before, he tossed the stick into the lake. I instinctively jumped into the water.
Old Dan struggled even more this time. The water was cold but I kept my eye on the stick even as Old Dan splashed about. The stick was long and thick. I grabbed it with my mouth, not in the middle but on the end, and turned toward Old Dan.
Old Dan’s shoulders were under the water, his paws splashed wildly about and his nose pointed straight up in the air. I put the big end of the stick in front of Old Dan and he latched onto it. I could tell right away he was exhausted and the stick got very heavy in my mouth.
I spread my webbed toes and gripped that stick with every muscle in my mouth and focused on the shore. I kicked, pushed the water with my feet and fought for every inch of headway as I swam us back to shore. I was certain to let Old Dan carry the stick the last bit of the way so he could be the one to drop it at Ben’s feet.
“My good boy. Who’s my good boy?” Ben said as he hugged Old Dan but looked at me. I was panting and panting and felt so proud; proud and so loved.
That night Ben put gravy on our food, gave us a warm shower, and built a big fire so Old Dan and I could lie by it to dry our coats. Yeah, I remember that day.
When Ben finished telling the story, Furry Face stood up, raised his glass and said once again, “To Old Dan!”
The fire roared that night as log after log was thrown onto the hearth. Buckley the cat even joined us and curled up next to Old Dan. It was never said out loud, but every living creature in the room knew that tonight would be Old Dan’s last.
Late, late that night after everyone had fallen asleep I felt Old Dan get up and walk over and curl up next to Ben who was sleeping on his camping mattress on the floor. I stayed awake as long as I could to lo listen to my boys snore their song. I wanted the night to last forever.
At sunrise we all went outside into the back yard. Furry Face unfolded a white paper that made a crinkling sound. When he finished it was very tall. Furry Face then lit a piece at the bottom and the warmth of the fire filled the paper and it opened up and got bigger and bigger. The boys held onto it for a little while then, all of a sudden, they let it go and it flew away into the air, up into the sky and then too far away to see.
We got into the car and me and Old Dan sat in the back seat. I licked my brother’s face and he licked mine. I wanted to be as close to him as I could so put my body up against his and hugged him the whole way there. When we had to stop and wait for the train to pass by, Furry Face turned around and took our picture.
We got to the vet’s office but this time all of us went into the little room. Ben picked up Old Dan and put him on the table. The vet came in with his assistant and did some things that I didn’t understand. Then Ben called me over and with tears streaming down his cheeks said “See Little Ann? See, see?” I didn’t understand.
I saw Old Dan’s tongue sticking out. I licked it and nothing. I pushed his snout with my nose and nothing. I looked at Ben and licked his salty cheeks and he hugged me.
Ben pulled Old Dan’s blanket out and laid Old Dan down on it. He then rolled him up in it, carried him out of the office and put him in the car.
We rode home in silence. When we pulled into the driveway I looked out the car window and saw the pond was full of ducks. When I got out and looked back at the ducks in the pond, all at once, they flew away.
The hill in back of the yard is steep. Ben carried Old Dan and slipped more than twice on the leaves and rocks. He even had to stop to catch his breath. I know what a man is, and Ben was doing a man’s job. However, inside of my Ben beats the heart of a little boy.
Buckley hiked the hill with us too. She lay down next to me and we watched the boys pass a shovel back and forth as they dug a deep hole.
When they were done, Ben carefully put Old Dan into it. He then threw in Old Dan’s collar, his leash, a bone, two coins and a tennis ball. Then they covered him up.
Ben looked at Furry Face and said “I love you man.” And Furry Face pulled him close and said “I love you too, bro.”
That night I felt so alone. I snuggled up next to Ben and looked out the bedroom window at the moon. I will always remember my brother. I hope that somewhere, someday our paths cross again. We made something from nothing; me, Ben and Old Dan did, and it was beautiful. What we felt was real and true . . . and true love never dies.
My eyes are in the front of my head so that I see where I am. Look and see the bounty of splendor and love that surrounds you, I tell myself. The warmth of Ben’s body feels so good to me on this cold night. I return my gaze to the waxing moon and hear an owl up on the hillside. “Whoo, whoo whooo who whooo”.
I let out a deep sigh. Life goes on. The sun always rises, the stream always flows. Ben always drives and I’ll always bark my loudest when I smell the circus train roll through town.
Goodbye Old Dan.