The Lewis’s loved their giant dog Boomer. He was raised right along with their three children, Jesse, Olivia, and Andy. They grew up playing fetch, lying against his long shaggy coat in the summer sunshine, being pulled on sleds in the winter time, and getting the occasional horse-y ride on his back. As the kids grew older, so did Boomer, but he aged much quicker than them. He had a hard time keeping up with their fast paced lives. When the youngest, Andy, turned 10, the Lewis’s decided to get a new puppy to keep Boomer company during the day while they were away with their bustling lives.
Skippy was small and adorable, and he had a small tuft of wiry fur that stood straight up in the middle of his head that made the whole family laugh. Skippy’s enthusiasm for everything was contagious, but as with all puppies, he had a lot to learn. Boomer knew it was his job to teach Skippy the ways of the Lewis family and how to be a true dog.
“Now listen here little one,” said Boomer, laying in the shade of the big oak tree out back, as Skippy ran circles around him, biting at tufts of Boomer’s fur. “You are a part of this family now, you need to learn to act like a real dog should.”
This brought Skippy to a halt, he cocked his head to the side and said, “But I AM acting like a real dog.”
Boomer chuckled, “Yes, you are, but sometimes it is easy to get caught up in having fun and forget our duties to our family.”
Skippy rolled onto his back with all four feet sticking in the air, “They love when I do this! Plus, then they scratch my belly.”
Boomer chuckled again. “Its loyalty and devotion that will get you an even better reward than a belly rub.”
“Pah! What do you know old man? All you do is sit at their feet and lay in the shade. I can run, and jump and fetch faster than you. Plus, I’m cute. They love me!”
Boomer just nodded his head, “Careful, cuteness only gets you so far, little one. You will see in time.”
Skippy bounded off to chase a butterfly.
As the weeks went on, Skippy’s cuteness did wear thin. Especially on Mama Lewis’s patience when she would come home to a kitchen full of garbage from a tipped over trashcan. Or when Papa Lewis would get mad at Skippy for jumping and begging at the table for a scrap. Or when Jesse stepped in a wet spot in the middle of the night. Or when Skippy stole a pair of underwear from Olivia’s room and brought it out in front of all her friends. Or when Andy found his favorite action figure chewed to bits.
Skippy found himself banned to the crate when he wasn’t “behaving”, which was no fun at all. “No!” or “bad dog!” were the only words he seemed to hear these days. How could this be? HE was the cute one. HE was the entertaining one. HE was much more fun than big ol’ boring Boomer. Forlornly, he watched from his crate, as the family lovingly doted on Boomer.
During dinner Boomer would sit at Papa Lewis’s feet and do nothing, but every now and then Papa Lewis would sneak him a piece of meat when Mama Lewis wasn’t watching. Mama Lewis would be baking in the kitchen and despite all of her reprimands to Papa and the kids, she would sneak him a piece of cheese when no one else was around. Jesse, the oldest boy, would throw a baseball in the back yard for Boomer to fetch. Even though he was slow, he always brought it back and earned himself a long belly rub for only one fetch! Skippy would have just chased the ball and torn it to pieces, because that was definitely more fun.
Olivia came home from school crying one day. Skippy wanted to play and jump on her to tell her how excited he was to see her, but after she pushed him away four times and finally yelled, “GO AWAY SKIPPY!” He gave up and went to find something else to do. A few minutes later, he went back to see if she had changed her mind; because what was more fun than playing with him? Skippy found Olivia hugging Boomer tightly as she poured out her problems of the day. Boomer sat silently listening, as his heavy coat soaked up her tears and he licked her hand in soft comfort. Skippy loved playing with Andy, but sometimes Skippy got too excited while running around and he would bite at Andy’s shoes. That usually meant a brief stay in the crate. Everyday, whether it was a blizzard or the sweltering summer heat, Boomer met Andy at the bus stop and walked home with him. After a particularly rough day of having to be in the crate from chewing up the remote, Skippy went to find Boomer in his usual resting place in the shade of the big oak tree in the back yard.
“Boomer, why do you always leave so early just to walk home with Andy? It takes almost your whole afternoon just to walk there and back. And you seem so tired afterward.”
Boomer slowly shifted from lying on his side, up onto his chest so he could face Skippy. “Well, Andy is very small for his age, and a few years ago, some bigger kids would tease him and make fun of him. So now I walk everyday to the bus stop and then we walk home together. The bullies don’t bother him, at least not while I am around.”
Skippy nodded. “Oh. What about the other day, when Olivia was so sad, you just sat there and let her cry. I thought she would be happy if she would just go outside and play with me, but she got mad at me instead.”
“The boy Olivia had a crush on, asked another girl to the school dance, she was heartbroken. Now, to you and me, that seems silly, but to her, it was a really big deal. To her, it was like when you get sent to your crate while the family eats dinner.” Skippy's eyes widened, knowing the exact feeling.
Boomer continued, “It is our job as her dog to comfort her, and at that moment, playing was not the solution. She just wanted someone to listen and to love her.”
Skippy sat silently thinking. Boomer adjusted his legs and proceeded, “Jesse on the other hand, he likes to go out and do something to get his mind off homework and college applications, but he doesn’t like it when you take off with the ball and ruin it.” Skippy sheepishly looked down. “You are such a good dog Boomer. I want to be a good dog just like you, I really do. Sometimes, I just can’t help it though, I like to have fun.”
“You are a good dog, and you will learn. I promise you, little one, the more you love your family; the more they will love you back. They don’t call us man’s best friend because we play all the time. It is because we learn to loyally love and serve our masters and they give us the love and attention we need. Sometimes we have to sacrifice what is most precious to us, in order make them happy, but that is what we are here for, to take care of them.” Boomer rolled back over onto his side, “Now, I am going to get some more rest before I have to leave for Andy.” He instantly started snoring.
Skippy spent the rest of the day thinking a lot about what it meant to be man’s best friend and following Boomer’s example. He wanted to prove to Boomer and the family that he could be a good dog. He went to find Boomer to tell him the good news. Boomer had to be back from getting Andy by now. He checked the backyard under the tree, and when he couldn’t find him there, he checked the garage, the kitchen, the study, and every other room in the house, but Boomer was nowhere to be found and something didn’t feel right.
Skippy found Jesse sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. Skippy could tell he was sad, so he softly whimpered to get his attention and gently pawed at his leg. Jesse looked down with red eyes. “Oh buddy,” he said as he knelt down to pet Skippy. “They took him to the vet, he is gonna be okay. He was so brave and Andy is safe.” Skippy knew Jesse was talking about Boomer and he knew what the vet meant. The vet meant you were either sick, or you were going to get poked with needles. Skippy mustered all his strength to be still and let Jesse hold and hug him. He even licked Jesse's hand to show him he was trying.
Suddenly the phone rang and Jesse ran to answer it. Skippy couldn’t tell what was said, but Jesse grabbed his keys and rushed out of the house. Hours lingered on and on and on. It grew dark outside while Skippy just sat at home waiting for everyone’s return. He drifted off to sleep and the next thing he knew the back door was opening. Even though he was overjoyed with excitement to finally see the family, he could tell from their bowed heads, sniffling, and red, puffy eyes, that this was no time for excitement. Andy was the last to come through the door clutched to Mama Lewis’s side. He had a scrape on his head and some bandages on his arms, but otherwise seemed okay. Skippy stood in the doorway looking into the garage waiting for Boomer to come up the steps. Skippy’s tail wagged in excitement to finally tell Boomer about how well he had done earlier when Jesse was sad. But Boomer wasn’t there. The garage was empty. Then something slowly dawned on him, Boomer wasn’t coming home. He didn’t know how he knew, and he didn’t know why, but he just did. His tail slowly stopped wagging and he turned to look at the family. They were all holding each other and crying. He felt a deep sorrow in the loss of his friend and teacher, but he had a job to do now, this was his family and they needed to be comforted. He made his way over to the family and let them hold him tight and let their tears stain his fur. This is what being a good dog is all about.
The next day, the Lewis’s had a memorial service for Boomer in the shade under the oak tree. Skippy learned that while Boomer was walking home with Andy, a car turned the corner too sharply and Boomer jumped in front of the car so it would not hit Andy. In his attempt to protect Andy, Boomer’s injuries were too much for his old body and he couldn’t recover. Skippy listened patiently, while the family shared fond memories of the big shaggy dog. They told stories of his bravery, loyalty and silliness. They even told stories of when Boomer was young and ripped up a whole sprinkling system in the back yard. Skippy couldn’t help but wag his tail; Boomer hadn’t always been perfect, but he had loved his family, and they had loved him back. Skippy finally understood what it meant to be Man’s Best Friend, but more importantly he felt what it was like to be a part of a family.
Copyright Hannah Wardle 2014