To Love a Dog

During the first phase of my early morning walk, thin clouds of cold fog drift over the mountains, and I move as slowly as ice melting. It is autumn, and on this moist morning the forest appears to be a landscape painted in the impasto technique, painted in colors rich and textured, painted in pigments of burnt sienna, alizarin crimson, lemon yellow, hunter green, Prussian blue, cerulean blue, raw umber, venetian red, and yellow ochre. I am in awe of a thousand colors spread undiluted and wet over the forest.

Brody walks beside me. He's a bull-boxer. As the day dawns, I have no way of knowing this will be his last autumn in these mountains. We have explored the woods together for many years. I've been told that dogs can’t see the numerous color variations we humans see. Perhaps Brody doesn’t detect the artist’s palette, but I am sure he spots and feels things I will never know, never experience, never even imagine.

The sun finds the mountain tops, and shafts of pale sunlight come down the mountainside, shimmering on every color of nature. Trees whisper and slow dance. The sun spills like liquid into the creek. 

As I return to the mountains, without Brody, his body buried in the garden he loved, I feel his spirit surrounding me, rustling in the bushes and leaves, his presence so real I whisper his name. Standing at the creek we explored together, tears fill my eyes. My friend is gone.

I remember the night Richard and I took possession of him. We had arranged to meet the owner in the parking lot of my brother's car dealership in Macon. Sutton Acura. Right off the interstate. An easy location. Brody's adopted family could no longer keep him. He needed a yard and a place to run. 

Standing on the banks of the creek, I relive the night Brody adopts us. I remember waiting in the dark, headlights approaching. A car pulls up. The driver, the only human in the car, parks and gets out. The young man greets my husband and me. He opens the rear car door and a beautiful, energetic dog jumps from the seat. 

I see these moments in present tense. Brody jumps on us, licks us, runs around us, jumps on us again. I hear our laughter. The night is warm.

The young man hands the leash to me, and Brody turns, watches the man in the 4-door sedan drive away. I see my dog take a few steps toward the car and I hear his bark. Is he telling the man goodbye? Is he wondering why he has been left behind? He turns to me and my husband, walks with us to our car, and never looks back again. These memories dazzle like slivers of glass floating on water.

In the coming years, Brody hunts for old graves with me. We explore abandoned houses and walk along the Alapaha River. Together we skirt through vines to reach barns suffocating under kudzu. He stays with me when my shirt is caught in barbed wire. He waits for me to free myself. When I am lost, he walks with me. When I cry, he licks my tears. When I need to laugh, he plays.

He becomes my son's best friend and sleeps with him every night. Autism doesn't bother Brody.

He falls in love with my daughter and meets her at the door when she visits.

I am in the hills. Alone. The sun finds the mountaintops, and shafts of pale sunlight come down the mountainside, glistening on everything in its path. With eyes wide open, I once again watch the sun spilling into the creek. I whisper his name. Brody.

The day we put him down, he is in terrible pain and can no longer walk. There is no hope. His eyes prod our faces. In our den, I hold him and the family gathers beside us. The vet injects the only miracle left for our dog, injects it into his leg, the only cure for his pain, and Brody closes his eyes with a final breath. Tension washes away from his neck and limbs. He floats away.

I blink from my tears, and Brody is gone.

We are one lucky family to have known this dog's love.

Life is beautiful. 


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