I never noticed the progression of her aging. It happened all at once. I was taking a walk up our old gravel road when someone stopped to ask for directions. I was not concerned that a strange man was alone with me in the middle of no-where. This was my town, my road; nearby was my farm. The chances of him being a shady character were incredibly slim, and if he were, I was young, and fast, and only a mile from home. For that matter, I was only five feet from the woods, in which I could run free and easy while he would have been immobilized by underbrush that he wouldn’t have known to jump over and vines that he wouldn’t have known to duck under. To top it off, I had Brody, who seemed incredibly friendly, yet would not hesitate to attack if she felt I was threatened. He leaned out of the car, his cowboy hat perched firmly on his round head, while I gave him directions. Brody stood between us, her long, heavy tail wagging, her tongue lolling out; her eyes friendly. I remember how he whistled through his teeth like the men from my hometown do, and how he remarked
“Wow, that’s one old dog you have there!”
I was insulted, and surprised. I looked at her then through his eyes, and saw for the first time that her eyes were sunken into her skull, that the gray that frosted her chin was now white, and that her eyes, in the spring sunlight, were a little cloudy. As we walked back home, I talked to her, as I occasionally did, and reminisced about all the adventures that we had enjoyed together. She would look back at me as she walked, her entire body swaying with her tail, her eyes attentive, and soft, her ears perked as she listened to what I had to say. I began to try to figure out how old she was. I was 20, I had gotten her when I was 9, she was a year when I got her…she was 12. My grandma had had poodles that eventually made it to 17, but they were small, and Brody was a large thing. I cried as I walked, but not for long. I didn’t really believe in grieving for something that was still with you, so I stopped crying and we made it to the neighbor’s pond where Brody took a swim and I sat on a bench and watched her, sad, but content. My mind wandered back to the day that I found out that I was going to meet this dog, and the events that followed.
I was a quiet, lonely child, who lived on a large farm with 2 younger sisters and a baby brother. For numerous reasons I was often melancholy , and I wonder if I was actually depressed. It’s hard to explain, since I’m looking back and trying to remember, but never did a day go by that I didn’t cry. Crying isn’t the word for it. I sobbed. For hours I would wrap my arms around myself and hug, and try to comfort myself. I took great care to make sure that my parents didn’t learn of my crying, because I knew that my mother would ask me what was wrong and I’d wouldn’t be able to tell her, because I. Did. Not. Know. I was just consumed with sorrow, and loneliness. I had a family, a loving mother, dutiful father, 3 siblings, one of which was a sister only 13 months younger than I, and a grandpa that I loved more than life. There was no real reason for me to be lonesome. I just was. I was 8 and 9 when this was going on.
Due to my quiet nature, the fact that I was home schooled, and the fact that I was rarely offered the chance to leave the farm, I had no friends other than the animals that I cared for. The big, soft, quiet cows that I could somehow manage to convince to do whatever the large, loud men in my family couldn’t; the long, dirty pigs that my father delighted in; the unbelievably soft rabbits that I was inexplicably leery of; and the perfunctory farm dogs, which were my favorite. There was Rusty, our first dog who died of some strange disease when I was seven. Daisy, a long haired greyhound mix that someone had dropped off and who had been my dear friend until she disappeared one evening, and Pokey, a daughter of Daisy’s that also went missing. I found out years later that one of our neighbors would poison our dogs. No-one could prove it, but after he died I never lost another one to a ‘strange disappearance’ again. In an ironic twist, I ended up caring for his dog for a few months after he died. It was a massive Newfoundland/Lab/who knows what mix. At only 5 months he was bigger than any dog I had ever seen, and also an incredibly friendly dog. Looking back, I wish that I had been able to keep the brute, but he consumed copious amounts of food, I needed a cow chain to keep him restrained, and his previous owner’s brother wanted him. I also had Brody at that point, and at the age of 14 I was having trouble affording her food, let alone the cash needed to satisfy this walking stomach.
Detour aside; I was a lonesome 9 year old. My dad, having received a bit of light on the matter (he found a poem I had written about my desire for a dog) soon showed up with a friend of his, as well as the friend’s large, boisterous, Black Lab/Golden Retriever. I was overwhelmed. I had envisioned a small puppy that I could train and bond with as it grew, and instead my father wanted me to accept a huge, loud, already trained dog that couldn’t stand still to save its life. I didn’t want this dog, but my fear of hurting my dad’s friend, manners, and a legitimate fear that if I didn’t accept this dog I would never get another chance to have one, coupled with my innate shyness, caused me to accept her, and thank my father and his friend repeatedly. I spent the rest of the evening trying out all of the tricks that she knew, and trying to make the best of the situation. I didn’t bond with her right away. She was too different from what my young mind had envisioned, too large, too clearly bonded to her previous owner, for me to grasp what an opportunity I had been given. It was the bond with her previous owner, a college student who could no longer care for her, that eventually allowed me to bond, almost instantly, with Brody. About 3 days after we got her, she became depressed. Anyone who claims that dogs do not have feelings would have changed their minds had they seen her there. My mother thought that she was physically sick because she was so listless, her ears and tail drooped, she wouldn’t make eye contact, and her nose was dry. I, young as I was, recognized the loneliness in her. I did to her what I had always wished someone would do for me: I got on the floor beside her in such a way that our faces were close together, stroked her head, and cooed to her about how happy I was to have her. I talked for quite a while about how much fun we were going to have, about the walks we would take, about the new tricks I would teach her, about the treats she would soon get, and about how much I loved her. When I finally stood, (where an hour before I had no affection towards the dog at all) I now had a deep love that would endure all through my tumultuous teen years and well into my twenties. After that night, we were inseparable.
Brody recovered from her depression, and I had unwittingly won a friend and started a habit that continued till today. She repaid my little act of kindness innumerable times over the years. Many times we would lay on the floor in the same spot and position as we did that night, and either just enjoy each others company , or, as I hit my teens years, exchange comfort as I whispered and told her my secrets and she would lick the tears from my face. From then on, I had something to turn to when I was depressed, and I would cling to her thick black coat and cry.. When I could get away with it I allowed her to sleep with me in my single bed, her larger frame at times accidentally (and occasionally on purpose) knocking mine onto the floor. We went for countless walks together. She was young, and loved to run, so I was often left behind, but she never got out of sight, and always came back to make sure that I was keeping up. Inevitably we would end up in the high pasture, where there was a tree that had three large branches that formed a perfect chair for me to sit in, observe the cows, and do my reading. Brody never left me when I was in the tree, she would sit below me in the shade and rest, her rhythmic panting a sound I now associate with warm, happy, summer days. There are too many adventures for me to write, or, more truthfully, recall. We would sneak down to the creek and wade, walk through the neighbor’s woods, venture into the swamp, and even walk up the dirt road near the farm. This might all sound tame, but I had been a fearful child, and had never done such things because A: I was afraid, and B: my mother and father had forbidden me from ever getting out of sight of the barn. Since we were surrounded by woods and hills, this decree kept me infuriatingly close to the house. Walking with Brody, however, I had more confidence. I knew that she was protective, and I soon discovered that she was adventurous. She was not content to walk around the fields and in sight of the barn, she wanted to enter the woods, to explore, and I followed her right into a storybook childhood. I became familiar with the land around our farm; I learned to run through the woods as the sun shone down green through the trees, I became adept at finding my way home when I had become lost. Looking back, it was a wonderful time in my life. Slowly, without me even realizing it, I got over whatever had caused my depression. I think she had provided what I was lacking: a companion and something to turn to when I was sad. She gave me the confidence to, for the first time, explore what was beyond the invisible boundary of both the farm and my own confidence, and I grew the figurative wings that have allowed me to soar over and through the problems that haunted my childhood.
When I was 14 I started working at a neighbor’s greenhouse, and I would be gone from noon to 3 or, usually, 8. After a few days Brody decided that she had had enough and tried to follow me to work (it was only a quarter mile across two fields). I was worried that Dad and the neighbor would be upset, so I would shut the gate to the woven fence that separated our farms and leave her in the field. When I would come home she would greet me halfway, and we would usually end up taking a walk instead of going straight home. I finally asked my mom to keep her in the house until I had gotten to work so that she wouldn’t follow me, but Mom only remembered for a few days, and Brody found a hole in the fence. I spent the next four summers working there, and Brody would sit right under the window by my work station until it was time for me to leave. The neighbor said that since she didn’t cause any trouble and was so determined to be with me, she could stay. I would sometimes sit under the ash trees that had managed to survive the blight and eat lunch with her.
When I was 18 I moved in with my grandmother to help her after a surgery. While I was gone, Brody lost about ten pounds, even though we weren’t going on all of our walks together. When I was talking to Mom on the phone and she described Brody’s symptoms, I realized that she was acting the same way she had when she first came to live with us. Unbeknownst to me, my family put the phone on speaker, and Brody could hear my voice. They told me that she jumped up and started wagging her tail and looking in the corners of the room for me. She finally found the phone, and I could hear her panting and whining with excitement, so I told her what a good girl she was and that I missed her, and basically cooed until she calmed down. When I got off of the phone I cried. I didn’t get back for three months, and when I did some part of me was afraid that Brody had forgotten me. That was a needless worry, for when she saw me she ran like she had when I was a kid and collided with my legs. I held her as she shivered and whimpered and ‘talked,’ or whined in such a way that it sounded like she was trying to speak. This went on for a good while. Suddenly she broke away and ran off, only to return with a stick! We hadn’t played games much in recent years, as both of us had gotten older, but we sure did play that day.
As time moved on I got a better job, started college, and had to move out. I would return every Saturday and leave Sunday night. I have never been one to get homesick, but I did miss that dog. I would get home exhausted from the week, and just sit in the car and relax. Most of the time, when I opened the door, Brody would be laying on the ground waiting for me. It would be dark, and I would have to look for the inky smudge in the darkness that was Brody, she was so black. I often stayed outside with her for a while, looking at the stars and enjoying her quiet company. If she was in the house when I got home she would come and press her big head hard against me leg and just lean there as I smoothed her head and back. It was her welcome that I always looked forward to.
When I was 20, shortly after the stranger commented about Brody’s age, I was in a bad accident. The car rolled 3 times, and had I not leaned over my sister during the crash I would have died. I was the only one out of 5 people to be noticeably injured, and the wounds were insignificant; a cut on my hand and a bump on my forehead. In the coming months I learned that I had also injured my knee, which bothers me to this day, but considering the condition of the car I can freely say that God had His hand on us. I was, however, experiencing shock, something that neither I nor my family realized. When I got home Brody was all over me as if she knew something was wrong, and when I lay down on the floor she snuggled close and licked my face. I believe she sensed that something was distressing me, and was doing her best to comfort me. I kept her close, and soon was able to calm down and stop shaking. When my knee would bother me, she would come close and lick it, something that was out of character for her. I believe that dogs are more in tuned to our physical and emotional well-beings than we give them credit for.
Brody was a big baby in many ways. I often would scoop her up in my arms and drape her across my body, so that her head was on my shoulder and her hips were on my knees. Friends would comment on the fact that she would be on her back and completely vulnerable at this time, and yet give me no problem. In fact, she seemed to enjoy it. I was always proud of the fact that Brody trusted me. When she reached the ripe old age of 16, she became very afraid of baths. I would lay her in the tub and bathe her while she pressed her head against my chest very tightly. It was an awkward way to bathe her, and I always ended up soaked and with a bad backache from bathing her in such a manner, but if it made her feel at peace then I was more than willing to do it. I find that the love for anything, human, canine, equine, etc, will enable you to do things that you don’t want to with a smile. I care for Brody, and therefore I get up at 3 in the morning to let her out. I almost carry her up the stairs so she can sleep with me, and I let her have most of the same bed that she used to kick me out of, even though I am now the larger of the two. It was because of her that I had gotten that job in the greenhouse so many years ago, because I needed to pay for her food and medicine. She loves to ride in a car, and dad would never let her, so when I got my license the very first thing I did was to give her a ride to a local store. The windows were down and she hung her head out of the window and loved every minute of it. When I got to the store I bought a stick of jerky that I split with her. I have shared more food with her than I have with any human. I gave her medicine to try to prevent or delay her from getting the hip problems that I knew plagued most large dog breeds. She takes it willingly from me, but gives my siblings and mother trouble, so when I am away she doesn’t get it like she should. Nonetheless, we still go for walks. The only difference is that now, I wait for her. She loves the snow, and will run into snow banks face first and roll in it. She knocks me over sometimes hoping that I will play with her in the snow, and although I hate the cold, I usually oblige. As she ages, I wait for a snow fall and see how she will respond. I tell myself that as long as she has the strength and enthusiasm to play in the snow, she is still the young dog that I had received so long ago.
It’s been 4 years since I talked to the man in the road. Brody is still alive. I pray that she goes in her sleep, but I also cling to the remnant of her presence. After having written all of this, I can look back and see all of the things that I had almost forgotten. How happy I am to have it all in writing now, so that when in a few years she is gone, I can easily remember the good times we had. I cannot believe that I almost told my father’s friend that I didn’t want her. What a blessing I would have missed.