The strange thing about buying a dog is knowing the inevitable sadness that will one day occur. This sadness is just a small flame, no more powerful than a Bic lighter, in the early days of a puppy and its unruly adolescence. As the years pass relentlessly by, the flame grows at first to a steady fire then into an undeterred blaze as hearing and eyesight fails, and the hips become a bit too wobbly. Beyond the unmistaken odor of a puppy’s breath lies the key to a door that we would never intentionally walk through in any other facet of life. But like when he learned his name or made his first retrieve, the recurring happiness of even the most distant memory made it all worth the while.
Only the memory of a good dog gone by was none to distant for Arthur Farrell and his wife Mary. They’d gotten Pete, a liver-colored Brittany spaniel, at six weeks when their only son, Jack, had left for college more than a decade earlier. And with him he brought a joy rarely seen in this world. Sure, they’d owned great dogs in the past, but Pistol Pete was the epitome of cool if that term ever existed for a dog. Much like a Frank Sinatra or Steve McQueen, Pete resonated a kind of magnetic presence just by being. He didn’t necessarily go the extra mile for your love, never showing off, just lay back where he pleased, commanding his own world with a carefree attitude.
Rocky Top, Arthur’s small farm in Tennessee, heeded its name as Arthur worked the shovel into the hard ground, indifferent to his bare, blistering hands. Pete had been one hell of a hunter. Never too rangy considering his short legs, but steady. Slow and steady with an unerring nose that you could trust like a grandfather. Often, when younger setters and pointers froze up on point, Pete would plod on by, his stumpy tail just a wagging, knowing well the birds weren’t there. And then there he’d be, some 40 yards beyond, the waggling stump decelerating as his body became rigid, his story true. Arthur’s shouldered L.C. Smith was mostly a guarantee, but at time when it was not, Pete would give him a sideways glance as if to say, “Come on man, I know you can do better.”
At the annual Rocky Top Dove Hunt Pete liked whoever was hot, meaning those doing a lot of shooting and doing it well. Not that he was disloyal to Arthur, who spent most of the day socializing anyway. Pete was there to work and would be damned if anyone told him different. Mary would ride by at 30-minute intervals to check on her little man (Pete) and make sure that he was being properly watered and watched after by her other little man (Jack).
Oh, how she loved that dog. A loyal companion he was to her in the truest sense of the word. They’d lost another dog, this one much too young, several years before. Boudreaux laid mere yards from where Arthur toiled through the hard, rocky ground. Boudreaux, Pete’s son, wound up on the wrong end of a truck before his time. Pete did his best to extract Mary’s pain, never leaving her side in the hard days ahead. It’s as if a dog knows when you need them most. An innate ability to love relentlessly in exchange for nothing more than a little bit of food and an ear rub from time to time.
As Arthur stopped to wipe the sweat off his brow, he recalled a joke Jack had told them concerning a dog’s loyalty, how, no matter what, you are a faultless god in their eyes. It was something about locking your dog and your woman in the trunk of a car for an hour and see which one is happy to see you when you open it back up. Woman or man aside, it’s always the dog who is wagging his tail and licking your face, not once thinking that you have in any way deceived him. Because unlike the humans in your life, even your dearest and closest friends, nobody will hold you on a pedestal like your dog. We are just not hardwired that way. Our genetic makeup will simply not allow it.
Arthur and Jack have since planted three red maples out where Pete and Boudreaux rest. Their red leaves will not symbolize death or a place of mourning, rather the blood of life that once ran through the veins of a liver-colored Brittany spaniel named Pete. Boudreaux died too early when the bond was just starting to form. Pete, passing the point of a decade, unintentionally left an indelible mark that won’t soon fade away. Out there, somewhere, wherever that might be, he hunts on, that stubby tail wagging furiously at the onslaught of a covey rise in the fields of plenty as Arthur and Mary remain here, their broken hearts bandaged by the memories of a good dog gone by.
Image by Josh Wolfe