This week’s flash fiction challenge comes on a sad note: Mr. Chuck Wendig of Terrible Minds and his wife were obliged to put down their 13-year-old dog, Yaga, after a struggle with lung cancer and hip dysplasia. My heart goes out to them; I’m sure most of us know what it’s like to have to let go of a loved one. That being said, the challenge this week was to write a story about “a good dog”. Could be about anything, but there has to be a good dog in it. Because I have known so many good dogs, it was hard for me to write about a fictional dog. So, I wrote a bit of an autobiography about a good dog, Hershey.
|Hershey, Christmas Years Ago
A Home for Hershey
When you’re only nine years old, running errands can really become a drag. This day started out like all the other errand-running days, but this time we ended up at PetSmart. Don’t ask me what we were buying; I was only nine. I either didn’t care or I just can’t remember now. Probably fish food, or maybe we were just there because my brothers and I had hounded our parents into taking us to see all the cool lizards, spiders, birds, fish, bunnies, kittens, you name it. Actually, now that I think about it, the latter is probably correct.
As we were leaving the store, our lives changed. A table and chair were set up by the door, with a few signs declaring that the booth was for “Adopt-A-Pet”, a new program they were trying out. Below the table, attached to a leash that seemed highly unnecessary given the creature’s temperament, was a small chocolate Labrador-mix. He looked up at us as we stopped, curious, the whites of his eyes visible around his hazel irises, giving us a look of pure desolation.
Like most human beings when they see a creature in need, we were compelled to crouch down to the floor and pet him. He shrugged away from our touch as though our hands were hot flames. The woman at the other end of the leash coaxed the dog to sit up, but when he did, he kept his head low, submissive, afraid.
He had been an abused dog, the woman told us, used to receiving blows to the head if he even looked at his previous owner the wrong way. It was evident in the dog’s body language that this could only be the truth. At less than two years old, the dog had experienced more trauma than any pet should ever have to endure.
Given that we were between dogs, it seemed only natural that we should adopt him. He took to my brothers and I, only nine, six, and three, like a duck to water. He had the demeanour of an old soul, wise beyond his years, and he seemed to know, simply by intuition, how gently to treat children.
We named him Hershey, because, of course, he was a chocolate Lab. The vet said that he was mixed with a type of Spaniel, given that his face was narrower than that of a true Lab, his body shape just a little slimmer. But we didn’t care what he was. He was the nicest dog we’d ever owned, and he brought our family closer together in our efforts to nurture him.
It took a while for us to gain his trust, for him to realize that when we reached out towards him, it was to offer a gentle pet rather than a beating. My brother, Matt, and I entered a dog show with him, which we won (probably because we were just a couple of cute kids with an even cuter, well-behaved dog).
When we adopted the shy Dusty, a white Golden Retriever that had been on the run with his brother, the pair became inseparable. They had fun together, rustled up trouble together, went on long runs together. I remember Hershey jumping like a little spring lamb through the long grass behind our house, just so that he could see where he was running. It was the funniest thing my brothers and I had ever seen.
Hershey was a wonderful father figure for Skye, the Doberman pup that we bought a number of years later, and she was as well-mannered as he (until she got old and ornery). Hershey outlived Dusty. After I had moved out of the family home, my parents were forced to put him down because he was so sick. They kept his ashes as a reminder of his impact on our family.
A few years later, me married and a month into home ownership, my father-in-law’s dog had puppies, Brittany Spaniels. We received one of the puppies, and named her Vegas (we had just come back from our first Las Vegas trip and realized how uncreative we were at coming up with names).
As we watched her grow up, I gradually realized that Vegas looked at me through the same hazel eyes that Hershey did, the whites visible when she might want attention, or be feeling a little morose. Her ‘eyebrows’ move in the same way that Hershey’s did.
Her colour and face shape further solidified my belief that Hershey was actually part Brittany Spaniel. Now and again, when I looked at Vegas, I see Hershey, and it reminds me to treasure my pup and loved ones to the fullest, because life is ephemeral.
© Lindsay Mawson 2011