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What an old dog knows

As much as I love my human family, I know better than you when my time on this side of eternity is drawing to a close. You all are often in denial, even as you sense something is amiss and rain extra kisses and treats upon my graying body. I relish that with slow thumps of my old tail as I fall asleep to dreams that only we canines can know.

Just this once, I will let you in on my dreams: I remember back to puppyhood, wrestling with my siblings as our mama kept careful watch. I remember missing her as you all came to pick me up. You say you chose me. But maybe I chose you, fixing you with my big eyes.

You drove me to your home. I may or may not have thrown up in your car on the way there. If I did, I apologize. I was young. You took me to your home and tried to tell me it was mine as well. But I did not understand human talk well then. I made a mess on the newspapers you spread out in your kitchen or your utility room or garage or basement. My bad. I was just homesick and missed my mama and them.

I got better as the weeks went on. You and your children gave me toys and treats and put up with me chewing up your slippers and socks and even books and woodwork. You knew I would grow out of it. And hey, maybe the holes I left in your socks gave you a new definition of “holy” to give your religious friends. Yep, weak humor, but we dogs are here to amuse you.

You taught me how to walk on a leash and paraded me proudly through your neighborhood as I kept an ever-watchful eye on squirrels, cats and rabbits like your own personal Texas Ranger.

The years rolled by too fast, especially considering that one year of my life roughly equates to seven years of yours. I watched your children grow up and go off to high school and maybe even college. I sensed your emptiness and loved you all the more.

I whimpered when you went off to work and welcomed you home when you felt like nobody in the world cared about you. I saw you through illness and the loss of loved ones and jobs. I tried to lick away your cares of the world.

I nurture you as you grew older, just as you nurture me as I grow older. As I stretch out on the couch by you and fall asleep, I know you wonder about my dreams. I have spent most of this column depicting them for you and now I will tell you more.

First off, some of these dreams are nightmares. There are visions of other dogs much less fortunate than me. I have met some of them, my pampered face to their scarred faces. Others I know only through the scents they have left by neighborhood utility poles. These stories – the good, the bad and the ugly – come alive to us through us our noses as surely as your novels come alive to you through your eyes.

I know stories of dogs beaten half to death, starved and left on short chains with no means of relief from sweltering heat and bone-chilling cold, dogs who never know a kind word. They sit outside and suffer as their owners sit inside. These counterparts of mine die lonely and afraid.

That, fortunately, will not be my end.

I will go loved and brave, as hard as it might be for me to show it. If we’re lucky, I will die in my sleep one night in one of my favorite places in our house. I will give you a last loving look and thank you for the fine time we’ve had together. We’ll meet again. We good dogs and good humans belong together, forever and ever, amen.

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JOHN RAILEY is the former editorial page editor of the Winston-Salem Journal. He can be reached at raileyjb@gmail.com.

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