Friends Forever

Maybe part of loving is learning to let go.
From The Wonder Years
 
Although I was born and raised in New York City, my parents had an exuberance for the great outdoors.
 
Every summer Dad rented a small cottage for us on the eastern end of Long Island. The cottage was nestled in a wooded area close to the beach, so my childhood encompassed fishing, swimming, boating and the pure enjoyment of the environment.
 
After I married and had children, we lived down the street from my parents and continued to join them on their yearly retreats to Long Island.
 
One year shortly before summer vacation, my parents adopted a magnificent English basset hound puppy. My two daughters were overjoyed.
 
The dog immediately became the most important thing in their lives. They named the puppy Huckleberry Hound after the television cartoon character.
 
Every day after school they headed to their grandparents' house to walk and feed the growing puppy. The trio basked in the admiring glances they received as they paraded around the neighborhood.
 
Huckleberry was certainly a sight to behold, with his elongated body and droopy ears that nearly touched the ground.
 
His four stubby legs were attached to extra large paws that he tripped over constantly. His narrow face held two of the most soulful eyes imaginable.
 
Huckleberry swaggered down the street as if he knew he was special and enjoyed every moment of the attention showered upon him.
 
Our first summer journey to the cottage with Huckleberry was a true nightmare. He disliked the motion of the car and became violently ill.
 
He tossed and turned on the backseat, his eyes rolling and his tongue hanging from his mouth. He drooled so much that my mother got her new shower curtain from the trunk of the car and draped it around the girls who were riding in the backseat with Huckleberry.
 
We all arrived exhausted from the trip. Even with the shower curtain, the girls were wet with slime and smelled like the city zoo.
 
When Huckleberry emerged from the car, he gazed at his new surroundings, standing dumbstruck for the longest time. Then he began to bark.
 
Where were all the tall buildings, the fire hydrants and the curbs to sniff? Where were all his loyal fans?
 
A flock of geese flew overhead honking loudly. Two frogs jumped directly in front of the trembling animal.
 
A butterfly landed on his head and a stray cat hissed at him in passing. It was all too much for this poor urban creature.
 
He fled into the house and under the nearest piece of furniture.
 
Huckleberry was a city hound. Give him a concrete sidewalk and he was in his element. The country offered him no benefits.
 
He became a recluse and spent his days on the screened front porch. Huckleberry would sit and watch the girls play outside, but when it was time for his walk, he hid.
 
We all felt sorry for him and decided to let this timid animal spend his summer as he wished, curled up on his comfortable porch chair.
 
One morning a pipe burst in the kitchen, and my father called the plumber, Young Charlie, who was the son of one of his fishing buddies, Old Charlie.
 
Young Charlie was accompanied by an old black Lab named George, who announced their arrival loudly from the back of the pickup truck.
 
The girls scooted outside to greet the dog and were thrilled to see that he wanted to play.
 
After a rousing game of catch and a romp around the property, all were in need of a cold drink.
 
Huckleberry had watched them play from his window seat. When they stopped to rest, he began to howl.
 
All efforts to silence him were to no avail. The girls hooked up his leash and pulled him outside.
 
At that moment, George, the old black Lab stepped up, grabbed the leash in his mouth and began to walk Huckleberry around the yard.
 
The howling stopped. Huckleberry, head held high, a spring in his step, tail wagging, followed in whatever direction George led. Both dogs were rewarded with hugs and doggy treats at the end of their walk.
 
The next day, Young Charlie arrived with George and announced that his dog was very anxious to return to our house.
 
From that day on, George, who appeared to know that he was doing a good deed, took Huckleberry on his daily walk.
 
The summer slipped away and school beckoned: It was time to return to the city. Both dogs nuzzled each other as we packed the car for the journey home.
 
The following winter was harsh. Huckleberry became ill after eating something encrusted in the snow and died within a week.
 
The entire family was horrified. We mourned, each in our own way and my parents decided not to get another pet.
 
Our lives continued: Winter passed, spring blossomed and summer was at hand once more.
 
The trip to the country was marred by the emptiness we all felt without Huckleberry.
 
Within a few days, Young Charlie's truck pulled into our driveway and George was lifted out of the truck. Over the winter, he had lost the sight in one of his eyes and Young Charlie felt that walking Huckleberry would enrich George's life.
 
Dad explained that Huckleberry had died to Young Charlie, who was deeply saddened by our loss. "George still gets around okay, but he's getting old. Sure makes me sad that he won't have his friend to play with this summer," he said.
 
We all felt a lump in our throats as the pair departed.
 
The next morning, the girls announced that they had a plan. We drove into town and visited the town's thrift store.
 
We purchased one extra large stuffed animal, two pairs of old roller skates and one cabinet door. I cut the board to size and my mother glued the stuffed dog onto the platform.
 
Dad bolted the skates to the bottom of the plank and the girls made a coat from Huckleberry's chair blanket. When the coat was tied around the finished product, we called Young Charlie to bring George for a visit.
 
We we said a prayer and held our breath as old George sniffed the creation. My daughters attached the leash to it and handed it over to George.
 
We'll never know if he humored us or if Huckleberry's scent gave him the feeling of having his friend back.
 
However, for the next eight weeks George took great pride in walking that stuffed animal.
 
The story spread around town and many of the residents came by to take pictures of the event.
 
Shortly after returning to the city that year, we learned that George had passed away in his sleep, the stuffed animal at his side.
 
We cried when we got the call.
 
A few days later, when our summer photos had been processed and picked up, our sorrow turned to joy.
 
The pictures of George leading his "friend" around were vivid reminders of the happy times we had spent with Huckleberry and George.
 
We knew we had witnessed a true act of love. Now, the two dogs will live forever in the telling and retelling of one of our favorite family stories: The Great Dog Walk.
 
The Great Dog Walk By Anne Carter
From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Loving Our Dogs
http://www.chickensoup.com/
 
Have a great day!
 
 


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