The Best of Buddies
My family is standing near the avocado trees in a corner of our back yard. There’s whispered conversation, muffled sniffles. Lots of eyes stare at the ground. Occasionally, a finger moves to wipe away tears trailing down a cheek. My husband Nick stands off to the side holding a shovel.
It’s not the first time this solemn-faced group has gathered like this. The seven of us stood in this same spot two years earlier to say good-bye to Max, our soccer-ball chasing terrier-spaniel mix. He’d joined our family after my oldest son, Shawn and then toddler Seth, picked him out as a surprise for their brother Jake’s 7th birthday. My sons fell in love with the dog-who-thought-he-was-a-mid-fielder after watching a four-legged black fur ball toss a soccer ball in the air with his nose, then chase after it.
This day it’s Seth’s turn to say good-bye to Baylor, his childhood pet of nine years. Seth loved Max. Still, when he was ten, Seth mounted a campaign for a dog of his own. He argued a strong case, too, relying heavily on Max’s obsession to escape the confines of our home. Next to eating snails, plotting backyard breakouts was Max’s favorite pastime. “He’s here all day by himself,” Seth had said, playing the loneliness angle. “Max wouldn’t try to get out of the backyard if he had a buddy.” To seal the deal, Seth pledged to feed, scoop and walk his future pet.
So seven years after adopting Max, we returned from the animal shelter with another boy–a five-year-old beagle mix. There were many pets to choose from, but one stood out from the pack. As Seth approached, Baylor introduced himself by standing on his back legs and using his front ones, he hugged this potential owner-to-be around the waist. When Seth hugged back, I knew he was hooked. In truth, so was I.
With the short ceremony over, the group turns around to see a duo of curious onlookers—Bandit and Jersey Girl, our newest pet members. A few years ago, we discovered Bandit, a rat terrier, at the same animal shelter as her two predecessors. Jersey Girl, a comical mixture of Yorkie and Chinese crested powderpuff, was adopted from a local rescue group a few months later.
Not to be outdone by the memory of the senior boy dogs, these young girls swagger as they survey the grounds once ruled by Max and Baylor. I wonder how their personalities and peculiarities will unfold. So far, neither has demonstrated an aptitude for soccer or eating snails, but they are fans of snack time, a good belly rub and snarling at the mail carrier.
Dog tags jingle as Bandit and Jersey Girl romp around the yard, chasing after a bee or a butterfly. I close my eyes and imagine that it’s Max or Baylor barking at the sound of the neighbor’s lawnmower. In between keeping the water bowls full and the leashes ready for a walk, I learned a lot about commitment, trust and love from a pair of pooches. Max and Baylor would be pleased that all those years of education won’t go to waste.