One pleasant summer evening, many years ago, in a decade we call, ‘the 80s’, I was out walking my German Shepherd/Lab cross female, Reba, when we happened to pass by a nursing home. It was one of those long, slow, gorgeous summer sunsets along the Moray Firth Coast in Scotland, where I was living at the time.
Several of the residents of the home, under the watchful eye of a duty nurse, were sitting out on the porch enjoying the fresh air and lengthening shadows. Most of those elderly individuals were in wheelchairs, one man was quite catatonic.Someone shouted down to me, “I like your doggie. I miss my dog. His name was Ben. We would walk for hours. Would it be ok if I pat your wee doggie?”“Of course it would,” I replied, already choking up.
Reba and I climbed the few stairs and joined the elderly congregation on the porch. As we approached the man who had asked the question, he asked, “Does your dog bite?”
“Never! Unless you’re a sausage, of course. She does like sausages.”
The old man reached out a trembling hand and began stroking Reba’s black and tan head. She responded, as I knew she would, by moving towards the unsteady hand, reveling in the attention.
For a moment, silence reigned, as man and dog absorbed the mutual affection. Finally releasing Reba, the gentleman looked at me, his eyes clouded from cataracts and time, and spoke, “I used to have a dog. I miss him. His name was Ben.”
Trying to maintain composure, I returned his gaze, “I bet Ben was a good dog. I imagine you two would walk the hills for hours.”
He just smiled and nodded.
One by one, Reba took turns sharing her great heart with those aging souls, both male and female. Each brightened at her attention. It was as sacred a moment as any in my life.
At last, all that remained was our catatonic gentleman, who sat, glassy eyed, with drooping head, and a streak of drool hanging from his slightly opened mouth. Reba would not leave him out. She was not that kind of girl.
The dog led me to the final wheelchair, looked back at me and proceeded to rest her head on the old man’s lap. She looked up into his face; I kid you not; and began wagging her tail like she’d just been reunited with her best friend.
I swear to you; on that day, in that moment, my mixed breed, rumpled companion was more angel than canine.
For a few seconds, nothing happened, but Reba persisted. After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably no more than a minute, the old man’s head lifted and his eyes gradually focused on the dog before him. He very slowly raised a hand and placed it on Reba’s head. Then he smiled.
The duty nurse threw her hand over her mouth in complete wonder. I wept. Reba just kept wagging her tail. She knew all along the old man was still at home; maybe buried deep, but still there.
I don’t remember how long the encounter lasted, maybe a few seconds, maybe a couple minutes, but it is etched in my heart for eternity.
Reba long ago ‘crossed the rainbow bridge’, as dog lovers are want to say. If dogs go to Heaven, Reba sits close to the throne of God; a four legged, flop eared, black and tan saint.
I don’t know whether all dogs are heroes, but I’ve known a bunch, and Reba ranks near the top.
Dogs need their stories told. I intend to tell a few. Some will be real, some may be, shall we say, embellished. Tuck, for instance, the star of my story, “Isitoq’s Hound” is a real dog, he is not made up. He may never have faced down the kind monster he meets in the story, but in his past he had his share of horror. Despite all he’s been though, his heart is big enough that should the need arise; I do believe I could count on him, even in cold, dark caverns confronted by darker demons.
I would be willing to bet that your dog is a hero, too. Maybe they all are.