She met him in college. They were instant friends. Lifelong friends, actually. Not casual friends. They were joined-at-the-hip friends.
He was always there. Always around. Always there when she got home. He would be sitting at the windowsill, watching her car pull into the driveway.
His name was O. Henry because she was studying English at the State-U and she was incapable of choosing normal names like Rex or Fido.
She found him as a stray. He was wandering on a rural highway in the middle of the night. She was riding shotgun in the car with a friend. She had been drinking at the time, after a college party, which was why she was riding with a designated driver.
That night she saw a small shape canine dart across the road.
“Pull over,” she hollered to her friend.
The friend pulled over. It was a dog. A puppy, actually. Shivering cold in the ditch. He was so skinny you could count his ribs.
She brought him home. She fed him human food because that was all she had in the pantry. Hamburger Helper. Ramen noodle soup. Captain Crunch. Breakfast of champs.
The college girl received a crash course in dog ownership. She learned all the tricks of the trade.
She figured out how dogs think. She learned, for example, that dogs always want to go outside when they are inside; and always beg to come inside when outside. There is no happy medium. This is life with dogs.
She learned that dogs like to chew up reading glasses, shoes, trash, socks, inorganic material, cellphones, pianos, sheetrock, important bills, laptops, etc.
She took him for long walks. She went hiking with him. He slept in her bed. He ate meals with her.
O. Henry didn’t like bad weather. So during bad rainstorms, he nestled beside her in bed and quivered.
Simply put, he was her child.
For 19 years, he was her baby. For 19 years he was her everything. He saw her through school. He saw her through two failed relationships with classic narcissists who checked their mobile phones every 41 seconds. O. Henry saw her into adulthood.
O. Henry was there when she met her current husband. The one relationship that worked. O. Henry was at her wedding. Not in the actual wedding, mind you, but he was at the reception.
They had the reception at the public park, beneath the live oaks. It was a huge party. A DJ was hired. Bridesmaids and groomsmen shook their moneymakers to the “Cha Cha Slide.”
If you would have paid attention, you would have seen a brownish dog wandering through the reception crowd, like he owned the place. You would have seen O. Henry begging for treats, stealing food, and sniffing crotches.
He peed on the DJ’s speaker stand, not once, but twice. He helped himself to the cheese fondue.
He lived with the happy couple. He was around for every major benchmark. Every milestone. He went through four house moves. One city relocation. Three births.
And when he was 9 years old, he bravely endured hell. And by “hell” I mean he was around for the purchase of the family cat.
O. Henry witnessed the death of one of her children as an infant. And on the gruesome day of her infant daughter’s burial, it was O. Henry who crawled into her lap and consoled her while she cried into his brownish coat.
Those who do not have dogs do not get it. They will not get it. For there is a bond between human and canine that is so thick not even the strongest man could tear it asunder.
I don’t know how to describe this bond. But you are either born a dog person or you aren’t.
Yesterday, pancreatitis claimed O. Henry. He was 19 years old, which is very old for a dog.
She was a girl when she got him. Barely old enough to drink. She is middle-aged now. She is no longer a young student. She is a gal with a few lines on her face.
Although, when O. Henry died in the veterinary office when they injected the deathly solution into his veins, she became a child again. She watched his eyes roll back. She felt his body go limp. His head sort of fell into her lap. Tongue out.
They laid him to rest in her backyard. She knelt at his wooden marker. She soaked the soil with her tears. She thanked him.
“I just had to tell someone about my baby,” she wrote to me in an email.
And I’m so glad she did.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.
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