It’s not the first time this solemn-faced group has gathered like this. The seven of us (including family friends, Lisa and Rachel) stood in this same spot two years ago to say good-bye to Max, our soccer-ball chasing terrier-spaniel mix. He’d joined our family 16 years ago after my oldest son, Shawn and then toddler Seth, picked him out as a surprise for their brother Jake’s 7th birthday. My sons fell in love with the dog-who-thought-he-was-a-mid-fielder after watching a four-legged black fur ball toss a soccer ball in the air with his nose, then chase after it.
Today it’s Seth’s turn to say good-bye to Baylor, his childhood pet of nine years. Although he loved Max, Seth, when he was ten, mounted a campaign for a dog of his own. He argued a strong case, too, relying heavily on Max’s obsession to escape the confines of our home. Next to eating snails, plotting backyard breakouts was Max’s favorite pastime. “He’s here all day by himself,” Seth said, playing the loneliness angle. “Max wouldn’t try to get out of the backyard if he had a buddy.” To seal the deal, Seth pledged to feed, scoop and walk his future pet.
So seven years after adopting Max, we returned from the animal shelter with another boy—a five-year-old beagle mix. There were many pets to choose from, but one stood out from the pack. As Seth approached, Baylor introduced himself by standing on his back legs and using his front ones, he hugged this potential owner-to-be around the waist. When Seth hugged back, I knew he was hooked. In truth, so was I.
Our caramel-colored dog came equipped with chocolate brown eyes, a tire tread-marked broken tail (that we had docked) and bit of emotional baggage. He was skittish, submissive and in the beginning, sat with his back against a wall so nothing–or no one could sneak up from behind. Instead of chasing a kicked soccer ball, Baylor would run to get out of the way. He was a lover, not a sportsman. On lazy afternoons, he’d lay his head on your lap, waiting for a rub down. If you stopped too soon, Baylor nuzzled your hand as if to say, “Continue, please.” Max stopped burrowing for an exit and the pair became best friends. At 15 years old (that’s 105 for you and me), it was time for Baylor to join Max in doggie heaven.
In the coolness of a Saturday morning, we wait for Seth who’s standing in the middle of the semi-circle, head tilted down, clutching a paving stone. Fighting to keep his composure, he reads the words he chose: Baylor. A big buddy with an even bigger heart. Seth uses his fingers to wipe the plaque clean then kneels down to lay the stone on the freshly turned soil. Inches away another marker reads: Max. A wise friend and the best buddy.
With the short ceremony over, the group turns around to see a duo of curious onlookers—Bandit and Jersey Girl, our newest pet members. About a year ago, we discovered Bandit, a rat terrier, at the same animal shelter as her two predecessors. Jersey Girl, a comical mixture of Yorkie and Chinese crested powderpuff, was adopted from a local rescue group a few months later.
Not to be outdone by the memory of the senior boy dogs, these young girls swagger as they survey the grounds once ruled by Max and Baylor. I wonder how their personalities and peculiarities will unfold. So far, neither has demonstrated an aptitude for soccer or eating snails, but they are fans of snack time, a good belly rub and snarling at the mail carrier.
Dog tags jingle as Bandit and Jersey Girl romp around the yard, chasing after a bee or a butterfly. I close my eyes and imagine that it’s Max or Baylor barking at the sound of the neighbor’s lawnmower. In between keeping the water bowls full and the leashes ready for a walk, I learned a lot about commitment, trust and love from a pair of pooches. Max and Baylor would be pleased that all those years of education won’t go to waste.
Claire Yezbak Fadden, an award-winning columnist and freelance writer, is the mother of three sons. She lives in Chula Vista. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or @claireflaire