He was there at the breakfast table in the morning, deftly wandering between our legs in the hopes a hand holding a piece of bacon would appear at dog level.
He was there at the door, his tail snapping back and forth like a whip, when I came home from school.
When I was ill or had a particularly bad day, somehow he was aware of it and would approach me hesitantly, his tail down, barely wagging. Then he would make his way onto my lap and look at me as if he wanted to let me know that everything would all right.
My dog Barney wasn’t just a pet – something to amuse you for a while and then wave off when you’ve had your fill. No, Barney was family and any true animal lover knows exactly what I mean by that.
For such a little guy (Barney was a Cocker Spaniel – Golden Retriever mix) whose life really revolved around his meals, sleep, his chew toys and protecting the family from those evil skunks that always led to baths of tomato juice, Barney not only brought great joy to my family, he became something of an emollient as well. No one in the house could resolve an argument like that dog. And all it took was a look.
It’s been several years since my little buddy went the way of ‘Ol Shep but even now, and as much as some of the people I’ve lost along the way, just thinking about him makes me smile. When I’ve been sick or had that bad day yet again, something silly he did will pop into my mind and make me laugh.
. . . Like that night I was getting ready for work. I was stuck in a graveyard shift at a printing company and the hours were killing me. Every night Barney would wake up and sit with me as I prepared to trudge off into the darkness.
This particular night I had a Whopper from Burger King for dinner. I put the hamburger on a TV tray, turned the television on and then left the living room to put in my contact lenses.
“Don’t touch this,” I said, pointing at a very sleepy looking dog.
When I came back five minutes later the top bun of the hamburger had been tossed aside and landed on the couch. The pickles, onions and tomatoes, all added extras that Barney’s delicate palette found distasteful, were neatly placed in a pile by my chair. The hamburger was gone, and so was Barney.
He was behind the couch, finishing off his midnight snack. Then he wandered over to me, tail between his legs, those light brown ears that were perfect triangles, limp against his head.
And then he looked up at me, and I swear he shrugged, and his eyes just said, “What do you want from me? I’m a dog.”
Then he lumbered off and went back to sleep. The next night he was sitting with me again.
Or the day when he was just a puppy and I took him off his leash at a local park and he immediately ran out into traffic. I’d only had him for a week or two and now all I heard were piercing blasts from car horns and woman yell out, “Stop! Stop!”
There he was, in the middle of a busy street, trembling so badly he couldn’t move. But people actually got out of their cars to help as I ran towards him. I guess there’s just something about a puppy in distress that tugs at our heartstrings.
Of course he also used that cuteness, that ability to melt my heart, to get whatever he wanted. I may have been the first born in my family but when Barney came along he just took over. And he knew what he was doing, which made it all the more hysterical to watch. He simply brought us all together. We’ve never agreed on anything in my family as much as we did that dog. He was something else.
I haven’t had that experience since. My love for animals, particularly dogs, remains but I haven’t been able to commit myself to owning one again. Someday I know I will go into that animal shelter in Boston where we found Barney and a dog will look at me the same way he did and I’ll have no choice but to take him home. Until then I find myself genuinely enthused to see my friends’ pets. Yes, almost as much as their kids he said with a wink and a nod.
The day we had to put Barney down was rough. He was eighteen and he still tried to do the things he loved to do like jump up on the bed, chase birds out in the backyard but he just couldn’t anymore and you could see, in those brown eyes, how confused and unhappy he was becoming. We had made a family decision when we got him that if he ever got really sick we weren’t going to cross our fingers and hope it would go away. We would do the humane thing.
Right at the end, I think Barney knew what was happening to him. He didn’t like it but he trusted us to do the right thing. With that little wag of his tail he walked off with the veterinarian and a chapter in my life was over.
Just a dog? Not by a longshot.
This article was written by Matthew Hurley a longtime friend of Masters Touch, freelance writer, and guest contributor of wonderful human interest stories.