Best Buddies Forever
by Diane Chamberlain
I sat in the breeder’s kitchen, waiting to meet the dog she was giving away. Only a few days earlier, I’d lost my three-year-old golden retriever, Kona, to a post-surgical infection. When I called the breeder to see if she had any puppies available, she asked if I would be interested in an older dog. Having recently decided to stop showing her five-year-old golden retriever, Ben, she’d had him neutered and was looking for a good home for him. Although a five-year-old dog was hardly what I’d had in mind, I said I would take him for a week to see how he got along with my husband, our year-old golden, Chapel and myself.
The breeder called Ben into the kitchen. He trotted into the room, his tail wagging and his very white, old man face peering out from inside a peach-colored bucket. He had a hot spot on his skin, the breeder explained. She’d cut the bottom from a plastic bucket and tied it to his collar to keep him from chewing at the sore spot. I don’t want an old dog with a bucket on his head, I thought to myself, but since I’d already promised to take him home for a visit, I headed out the door with him.
The breeder told me that Ben liked to ride in the passenger seat, so I opened the front door and he climbed in. Once next to him in the driver’s seat, I removed the bucket from his head for the ride to my house. As soon as I did, Ben lay down with his big head in my lap and I began to soften toward him. He was, I had to admit, a teddy bear.
Once home, I let him out in my yard where Chapel was wandering around like a lost soul without Kona. She took one look at Ben and literally jumped for joy, all four feet off the ground at once. She and Ben ran toward each other, took a moment for the requisite sniffing and wagging, then began romping around the yard as if they’d been best buddies for years. My mind was made up. No way was I taking this cuddly, amiable dog back to the breeder. Ben was ours.
From that moment, Chapel and Ben were inseparable. They explored together in the woods behind my house. They took obedience classes and earned their Companion Dog certificates together. They loved to play-fight over a toy, growling viciously, tails wagging furiously. When they were worn out from their adventures, they would lay together on the rug, Ben’s head resting on Chapel’s side.
Over the years, Ben’s face grew even whiter, and Chapel’s fur lightened as well. My dogs were aging. Ben began to stumble a bit. I took him to an acupuncturist who worked with dogs, and the stumbling was gone within a few months. At thirteen, he seemed almost like a pup again. Then one night, I noticed he was breathing more rapidly than usual. By the next morning, he was lethargic and showed no interest in his food. I took him to the vet, who x-rayed him and discovered the cancer in his lungs.
At the vet’s suggestion, I took Ben outside to have some time alone with him as I thought over my grim options. Ordinarily an extremely affectionate dog, Ben ignored me. He sat as far from me as his leash would allow, staring away from me, and I knew he was suffering. There was only one choice I could make.
As the vet and I discussed putting Ben to sleep, I was able to keep from crying until I thought of Chapel. Hard as it would be for me to lose Ben, what would it be like for her? I’d heard about dogs who searched relentlessly for their vanished mate, and I couldn’t bear to think of Chapel being confused by Ben’s sudden disappearance. I had also heard that it can be helpful to have the surviving dog present when his or her buddy is put to sleep. I mentioned this to the vet and he said it would be fine for me to bring Chapel in.
I left Ben at the vet’s, then returned with my husband and Chapel. When we walked into the small treatment room, Chapel bounced around in delight at finding her best friend there.
“She’s oblivious,” said the vet.
She certainly was, at least for the moment. But as soon as she realized that Ben was simply lying on the floor, looking sick and weary and not the least bit interested in her antics, she lay down next to him. The vet injected Ben with the lethal dose of anesthesia. As the breath left Ben’s body, Chapel rested her head against his, suddenly as somber and serious as if she’d been given a drug herself. The change in her was simple, quiet and stunning. No one will ever convince me that she didn’t understand that Ben had left her world.
Chapel did not once search for Ben. She, like my husband and myself, moped around for the first few days, but once she realized she was getting 100% of our attention instead of 50%, she perked up.
Her face was suddenly whiter, though, and her step was not so sure. I believe she was waiting, in that patient way goldens have, for the day she could play with her best buddy again.