This entry is aimed at anyone who’s ever owned a dog. More than that, it’s about having a dog as companion, dear friend, indeed, a soul mate.
I’ve had dogs most of my life. But two stand out. One, Sheba, I had in high school and most of the way through college and my current faithful partner, Sam, who’s been with me through the biggest transition in my life and moved across country with me and with whom I don’t know how I would have survived without him.
But I’m focusing on Sheba today, who was a stray and who was hit by a car in front of our house during my first year in high school. She was a mix of German Shepherd, Husky and what our vet, Chuck Rosecrans, said might be part wolf. Under his care she healed quickly and Sheba became more than a pet to me. She saw me through tumultuous times in school, losing dad, making the transition to college, broken hearts and more rocky terrain that life will sometimes lead us down. She had a uncanny knack for knowing what I was thinking and would react accordingly. I swear that dog could read my mind.
One of the regrets of my life is our parting. Rather, how we gave her away when I went on tour with a musical/performing group in the middle of college. It was a heartbreak that has stayed with me all these years so I finally decided to write about it in a short story called ‘Kindred Spirits.’ It’s got a slight science fiction feel, though more Ray Bradbury than Isaac Asimov. It’s about coming full circle with your regrets, reconciliation, and love, despite the boundaries of time.
Here is an excerpt from the story that is pretty much what happened when I encountered Sheba a few years after giving her away to a family I’m sure loved her as much as we did. I think of her fondly and all that she gave to me. She was my girl. My soul mate…
When it came time for me to go to college, leaving home was difficult. But leaving Sarai was doubly so. I came home when I could and she was always there, knowing the sound of my car and whining and lapping, with me burrowing my face into her mane and imitating her whining, which made her bark and whine louder. It was our little ritual. On my weekends home, she never left my side and often waited outside the bathroom until I returned from that particular business. Leaving on Sundays was always that much harder.
With Dad gone, having succumbed to cancer after a nasty battle, and Mom looking to move, Sarai must have known something was up. For the first time she began running away. On two occasions truckers spotted her and took the time to bring her home. But she kept leaving. Mom found her at one particular house that had a little boy. He obviously loved Sarai and Mom, having found a condo in another city, made the tough decision to let Sarai go live with the family. She asked me what I thought and I protested a little but knew it was probably best. And I was feeling guilt over not coming home more and spending time with her. School work, theatre and one fascinating lady had occupied my time and attention. But I thought of Sarai and always missed her. And then I’d try not to think of her often because the guilt would become overwhelming.
I came home one weekend to see Sarai off but Mom informed me she had already taken her to the family. I was heart-sick. I drove to the family’s house, but stayed in the car across the street. I could hear her familiar bark as she was obviously playing with the little boy. I sat there for about a half an hour. Most of that time was taken up with tears that wouldn’t stop coming.
College flew by in a torrent of theatre, parties, filmmaking, discovering writers, heartbreak, and coming to the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.
But Sarai was always in my mind. Wondering how she was and how I hoped her family appreciated what a wonderful dog she was. And how much I missed her. And how badly I felt letting her go and not saying goodbye. I’m sorry, girl. You’re not forgotten and forever loved.
I was home on a break about a month away from graduation. I’d seen Mom in Eugene and was taking a lazy drive down to my hometown,Willow Grove. And I was thinking about Sarai. I took an early turn-off before coming into town where the winding country road took me next to the little mobile home where the little boy lived (who was probably not so little anymore). I stopped on the other side of the road, looking over at the house. And listened.
And there it was. Her bark. Only it was different. It had been over four years since I’d seen her. But her bark indicated she had kennel cough, an upper respiratory infection that is passed between canines. And it sounded like she’d had it for a while. I pulled out a small pad and pen from the glove compartment and jotted down the condition and the medicine our vet always prescribed. I climbed out of the car and slowly walked across the street.
Sarai’s barking stopped. It had been fairly incessant as no one was home and she must have heard my car pull up. I went up to the back porch door and placed the sticky note on the back door. I’d signed it and also left my phone number so they didn’t think some stranger was casing their home. As I turned to head back to my car I heard a whine. I looked over and saw Sarai’s eye looking at me from the crack at the hinged gate. I moved over to her, bending down.
“Hi, girl,” I said. I reached two fingers through the narrow space and gently touched the bridge of her snout. She whined deeper and then pushed her head against the slatted wood as if trying to push her head into the palm of my hand. My fingers scratched her familiar mane.
“I’ve sure missed you, Sa…”
And I was crying. And Sarai’s throaty wine rose to meet mine.
“I’m so sorry for leaving you, girl. I really am. Please forgive me…”
And the tears gushed out. She was pawing hard at the wood now, trying to get to me.
“Shhh, it’s okay, it’s okay…”
She turned so I could scratch the other side of her head. Her eye was canted, looking up at me, unwavering.
“You’ll always be my girl…
Her tongue came out, dowsing my hand incessantly, frantically.
I had to go but didn’t want to. This was unfair to Sarai, and to me. I just couldn’t help it.
I stood up and as I did she stood on her hind legs so she could be closer to my eye level.
I pressed my head against the wood and she rubbed the side of her snout against it, trying to touch me.
“I will never, ever forget you. You are the best dog anyone could ever have. Please take care of this family. Love you, Sarai.”
And I hurried off to my car, wiping my face and trying to shut out the aching barks that followed after me.
The end of the story has a nice, satisfying conclusion. One I wished could have happened in real life. But that’s one of the gifts of writing. To be able to soften the blow of life and make a happy ending where perhaps one didn’t exist before.
I hope to see Sheba again someday (the Rainbow Bridge?) but in the meantime, this is my gift to her…and to me.
I can still hear your bark, girl, and still see your knowing eyes. Thanks for the time you so unselfishly gave me. I’m a better man for it.