Hi everyone. Today I have a special guest blogger–my friend Carol’s daughter Mariel. Mariel didn’t set out to be a guest blogger, she simply wrote an assignment for her AP English class. Yet her topic is so poignant, her writing so powerful, that it deserves to be seen by all readers who ever loved an animal. I hope you enjoy this stirring essay. Get the hanky. You’re going to need it.
One November day, a six-year-old collie surprised her owners with a litter of thirteen puppies. One died, but the other twelve were healthy enough to be advertised “For Sale” in the newspaper. I had just turned age five when our family set off one cold, snowy night before Christmas to claim a collie puppy. We arrived a mere 15 minutes after someone else claimed the flawless male collie Dad wanted to buy. All the big, perfect looking males had sold so quickly, there was only one male left, a clumsy little chunk with a shy personality, an odd white spot on his rump, and a crazy splotch of brown off-centered in the white ruff on his back. We hesitated. Dad admired the white stripe running up the puppy’s nose. Mom said we could name him Blaise for his blaze. Somehow the name made it official. All twelve puppies swarmed around our feet, untying our shoe laces with sharp little teeth. Max, the proud father, looked like TV’s Lassie, but he was big enough to topple me with one swish of his bushy tail. I was just about eye level with teeth, as Mom put it. Did we really want a dog? Max sniffed me and pushed his nose into my hand, inviting me to pet him. He didn’t smell too good. I was a little relieved to learn we had to come back in January instead of bringing one of these wild little furballs with teeth home that night.
My mom carried on about the perfect male we missed out on by fifteen minutes. She kept looking at the website that showed photos of all twelve puppies. One of the females looked absolutely perfect. Mom got one of her ideas. “The perfect toy for a dog,” she said, “is another dog.” Dad pretended not to hear, but the collie breeder mentioned that our Blaise had paired off with one of the females and they seemed to do everything together. Yes, the perfect little foxy girl was Blaise’s best friend, said the seller. The magic word “discount” rattled Mom’s head, and somehow, she guilt-tipped Dad into believing that poor timid Blaise would freeze, or die of loneliness, unless we let his sister come home with him. I had visions of not one but two collies untying my shoes with their teeth and toppling me with their big wagging tails. Blaise and Bailey lived on our deck, in a little house Dad built for them. One spring day, we saw lion-sized footprints in the snow and realized they belonged to Blaise. About the time I moved into a bigger bed of my own, Dad had to build a huge doghouse and pen for our growing collies.
Bailey pranced around like a golden princess with a puffy white collar. She would run up and topple Blaise because he was clumsy, obese and easy to tip over. We tossed Frisbees, balls and other toys for the dogs to fetch, but Mom’s idea had backfired. The best toy for a dog is another dog, all right, and that meant the dogs didn’t want to play with me. But that was okay. I still wasn’t sure about these enormous furballs who would almost yank my arm out of my socket when I tried to walk them on a leash.
The following year, I was in kindergarten. In dog years our collies were seven, about my age. One year later, they were teenagers. We kept growing until Blaise and Bailey only came up to my hips. I was big enough to hold my ground and open my arms when two full-grown Lassies came running up to the school bus to greet me. Other kids on the bus would ask me how we could tell them apart, but to me it was obvious. The smaller, cuter dog, Bailey, would run up and tackle her big, goofy brother. She always pushed Blaise out of her way so we’d notice her instead of him. Mom was wrong about the perfect dog. Bailey always seemed anxious, sad, or worried that Big Brother was getting more food or more attention. The shy one, the chicken boy, seemed so human when he gazed into our eyes. He was the sweetest, happiest, gentlest, best dog ever.
We went on many long walks and rides in the van. We ran out of code words. If anyone put their shoes on, Blaise pranced in and out of the garage, singing his funny, high pitched whine that sounded like efforts to form words. If we drove off without the dogs, he and Bailey would wait for us like a pair of lion statues outside the front step. Blaise was always the first one up and running, standing right in front of the van so we had to brake for him, then slowly walking up the driveway to show off his herding skills. “I’m a collie. I know the way. Follow me, follow me, here is the door, the van goes right here.”
My brother Miles grew up and left home while the dogs were still strong and playful. Soon, their faces started growing gray. On walks, instead of yanking my arm out of its socket, they lagged behind me. Then came the day when Blaise couldn’t get to the top of the driveway. In dog years, he was older than my father. My sister Claire graduated early from high school and studied in Spain for a year, and I was old enough to drive myself to school now, but the canine welcoming committee (as Mom called them) didn’t come running like they used to. Blaise would groan and keep me waiting at the garage door for him to get his hefty body up and out of the way of the car. His bark got so quiet, he sounded like an old man in a nursing home.
Blaise seemed to know we were counting the days until Claire came home. He watched and waited. Sometimes he couldn’t get up and Dad had to carry him into the garage at night. Finally, the day came for us to drive to Chicago and get Claire from the airport. When we came home that night, Blaise didn’t get up and do his clumsy walk with the wagging tail to greet Claire. He just lifted his head and looked at her, then put his paw on her lap. We carried him into the house, even though he’d vomited all over himself. By morning, he had lost all control and smelled like death. This was the day of Claire’s golden birthday. As the day wore on, Blaise just lay there, refusing to die. “I’m here for you,” he seemed to say. “I will never leave you, no matter what. And if you leave me, I’ll wait here until you come back.” Mom said we had to drive him to the vet and set him free from his mission to love us all the days our lives.
We sobbed over pictures of him as a galloping puppy, the size and shape of a cement block. Unlike his perfect-looking sister, he never looked anything but happy and uncomplaining. From kindergarten to the end of my sophomore year of high school, from trike riding to driving a car, I grew up with a big fuzzy lion who was always there to greet me as if I’d been gone for a year, not a day. Every single day of his life, that dog seemed thrilled to see us. If we just said his name, he’d lift his ears and gaze at us as if there was nothing greater to ask of life than for us to notice him. Well, unless it was for us to say his name and hand him a chicken bone, or sneak him into the house when Dad was away.
Bailey took it surprisingly well, this new business of being our only dog, not having to push Blaise out of her way for food or attention. When I drive home from school, she’s still watching for me by the front door, but now she is almost as clumsy as Blaise always was. The two litter mates who matched like a pair of salt and pepper shakers were supposed to be here until I left for college. They weren’t supposed to grow up and grow old so much faster than I did. Pets should last longer than ten or twelve years. I still don’t believe Blaise is dead. I think he’s just gone, like Claire was gone, but he’ll be back again. Whenever we drive down the long driveway, I almost see him galloping over, tail wagging, overjoyed to see us. He’s always there, just around the corner, or on his dog bed on the garage floor. A flash of gold, like honey-onyx, with a creamy white ruff and shining brown eyes, will rise up from the green grass again. He is not dead. He’s just sleeping somewhere. No matter how many years may pass, I will still see Blaise rising up from the grass, tail wagging, showing us to the garage door. Hello, hello! Follow me, I know the way!