A story of a boy and his dog

Saturday, January 15, 2005

When my youngest son, Will, was a senior in high school, we went to the animal shelter in Russellville, Ark., and let him pick out a dog for one of his Christmas presents.

He was immediately attracted to a little cuddly puppy and the puppy was attracted to Will as well. We looked at several other dogs but he kept going back to the puppy, so that's the one we got. Our family was living in a duplex at the time and the first few nights were quite the experience.

I won't go into detail here but puppies do similar things that babies do and my wife and I worked in shifts, cleaning up messes. Even though the puppy was small, the folks at the shelter told us he was a Dalmatian/Lab mix and that he would grow pretty quickly, which he did.

We all went to the movies one night and when we got home, he had chewed on practically everything in the duplex.

There was also a "no pet" rule at the duplex and the landlord's wife stopped by one day, spotted the dog, and told my wife that the dog had to go. Our oldest son, Brandon, was living and working in Tulsa and so we "loaned" the dog, now named Arlo, to Brandon for safekeeping until Will graduated from high school and got a place of his own.

In the meantime, I had accepted a teaching position at McCook Community College and moved to Nebraska. My middle son, Michael and Will both eventually ended up here as well, living with me and going to college.

We have a no-pet rule where I live as well so Will still couldn't have Arlo. Brandon later joined the Navy and left Arlo with his girlfriend while he completed his tour of duty. As many of you know, Brandon died one month before he was to be discharged from the Navy and his girlfriend asked to keep Arlo as a constant reminder of Brandon.

Will subsequently moved to Lincoln and got his own dog, a Huskie/Chow mix named Bodega. A few weeks ago, my ex called Brandon's girlfriend to check on Arlo, only to find that she had also moved to a place that didn't allow pets and had given Arlo to a farm family living near Tahlequah, Okla.

Linda got the name and number of the family and called them to inquire about the possibility of reclaiming Arlo. She talked to the wife who told her they wouldn't have any objection to that except that Arlo had run off and hadn't been seen for three days. The wife told Linda that if Arlo showed back up, she would call and let her know.

A day later, the call came. Arlo had returned. Will was at his mother's for Christmas break, so they jumped in the car and drove to Oklahoma to retrieve Arlo.

Although I wasn't there, it must have been quite a reunion, because Arlo immediately warmed up to Will, just like he had done in the animal shelter seven long years ago. Boy and dog were reunited and Arlo and Bodega even got along. Will loaded up his Christmas presents and his two dogs and went home to Lincoln, together again.

All of my boys loved dogs because they grew up with Tosha, a purebred shih tzu that Linda and I got when the dog was just first born. Tosha was part of our family for 17 years. She loved lying on our laps and licking our hands while we watched television.

Thunderstorms scared her to death and, if they happened at night, she would jump up on my pillow, put her face directly in mine and pant so hard I thought she was going to have a heart attack. I would put my arm around her and she would not move from that spot until the thunderstorm had pas-sed.

She had all the traits we wish for in our fellow man. She was loyal and protective, devoted and committed. One afternoon, Linda took Tosha outside and came back in carrying her in her arms and motioned for me to come to the bedroom.

She said that as Tosha was conducting business outside, she wobbled once and just fell over. I reached out for Tosha while Linda collected our family.

I stroked her face and held her close and she looked at me with those loving, trusting eyes until she breathed her last breath and closed her eyes for the final time. We had lost a family member and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

We wrapped her in a blanket and drove to Linda's home in Pryor, where we buried her in the back yard. We didn't just lose a dog.

We lost a loyal and true friend who never lied, never went back on a promise, and never wavered in her love, commitment and loyalty to us.

We could learn some lessons from dogs.

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