The following is a submission by Pamela Desloges, from North Carolina. Throughout the year we’ll feature different stories that have been selected to be part of our book. This is Josie’s story, You Never Know.

Sometimes you never get to see the far-reaching impact of your deeds. But then again, sometimes you do. 

When Josie and I picked each other out at the animal shelter, I whispered in her ear that we would have good times, and her eyes sparkled in reply. We hiked mountains, canoed lakes, sat on the village green during summer concerts, spent long weekends with friends in Maine, took walks in snowstorms while waiting for the plow to clear our driveway. She traveled with me from Maine to Alaska and down to Florida. She was seldom on a leash and was welcome everywhere. I always felt safer traveling with her, although she couldn’t drive a standard or read a map. 

Josie was a border collie/Lab mix who had a subtle but profound effect on people. When we had been together for two years, I decided it was time for her to get a job. She had earned her Canine Good Citizen Certificate at a local dog show after I signed her up on a whim; she would be perfect for therapy-dog work.

Near our house in the mountains of New Hampshire, there was a private nursing home called The Log Cabin. It actually had log siding and sat off the road in a forested area. It was small—with maybe twenty to twenty-five residents. I brought Josie to meet the director, who reviewed our credentials and was delighted at the idea of my bringing Josie to visit the residents every week. Soon we were spending our Wednesday mornings there. 

I initially consulted with the staff about which rooms to enter, and always asked each resident if they would like to see the dog. Some declined. Most, however, were glad to have us visit them. We spent about fifteen minutes in each room, with lots of laughter and chatting. We enjoyed our visits and getting to know the folks.

I remember Alice, who chirped with delight when she saw Josie. Every week, she rubbed Josie’s head and crooned, “What a sweet dog! What’s her name?”

“Josie.”

“How old is she?”

“She’s four.”

“I had dogs. I always had dogs. Big ones like this. What’s her name?”

“Josie.”

“How old is she?”

Alice was one of our favorites.

On the second floor, there were fewer rooms; the people there seemed more independent. I guessed that they might have been there because they had no other place to live. 

The first time we knocked on the open door of room 206, a woman answered that she did not care for a visit from a dog, but would love to chat with me for a few minutes anyway. Josie and I went in, and Dorothy offered me a chair next to her rocker. While we talked, Josie lay quietly on the floor beside me, pretty much unnoticed. Dorothy was physically fit, mentally alert, and interesting to talk with. I enjoyed our short conversations. Dorothy had a niece who lived nearby and came every week to take her out to lunch and make sure she had everything she needed.

One Wednesday, I looked into Dorothy’s room and she wasn’t there. I assumed she was out with her niece and proceeded down the hallway.

The next week when Josie and I got to her door, I was relieved to see her sitting in her rocking chair. As soon as she saw us, she called out for us to come in. “Bring the dog over here.” She reached out and ran her thin fingers over Josie’s smooth fur. During our visit, she never took her hands off Josie and gazed at her constantly. 

She explained that the previous week, she had experienced a “heart incident.” Emergency personnel were summoned and whisked her to the hospital. She said that the ambulance ride was overwhelming, and she was terrified that she was going to die. 

“But then I thought of your dog. I kept envisioning her and that comforted me. I pictured her while I was in the emergency room. She was with me all the time at the hospital.” Dorothy held Josie’s face in her hands and kissed her on the nose. “I don’t think I could have made it without her.” 

Josie and I spent fifteen years together until she died of old age. Now I, too, picture her. When I think of her, my skin hurts because I miss her so much. But, like Dorothy, I feel a great calm when I see her face. I, too, think of many times that I could not have made it without her. 

Sometimes you never know. But I always knew. Right from the moment I clipped a leash onto her collar at the animal shelter. When her soft golden eyes looked into mine and said, We’re good. 

We were. Together, we were the best.

Author: Pamela Desloges

The following is a submission by Callum Saunders, from Glossop, England. Throughout the year we’ll feature different stories that have been selected to be part of our book. This is Ruby.

There are many stories I could tell you about Ruby. And many different ways in which I could tell you those stories. But after several weeks of gestation, I kept circling back to one driving force: the only way to truly tell Ruby’s story is through the lens of an old photograph. How a visual image triggers a written story is less an irony and more a confluence of currents.

And as those currents started to become words flowing from my fingertips, it became clear that I wasn’t writing “a story” about Ruby, but more how her story continues to move through me today; how I see, navigate, and sense a world of memories all around me whenever I am back at the family home. Perception, space, and time dance with each other in mysterious ways. 

And the flow of Ruby’s energy continues to be felt today.

I found a box of photographs the other day. Real, physical photographs, glossy, tactile and wonderful. Even the most innocuous of memories feels somehow more meaningful when committed to physical print. One of these photographs was slightly bent in one corner, where it had clearly been squashed into the box. I picked it up and looked upon it, instantly transported back to a time and place as the beauty of what it captured drew me in.

The landscape was the Sussex Downs, right behind my mother’s house—up high on chalky downland that has curved and undulated for millennia. I am lying prone on the grass, giving a lower sense of perspective. The midpoint of the photo is the horizon, where the warm, pallid earth meets a pastel sky. My three siblings are there, walking up hilly tussocks toward an eternal July evening. I can feel their motion and hear their chatter right now.

In the foreground, plodding after them, is a black shadow with four legs. To say she is shapeless is not intended as factual, but a reflection of her age; the glossy contours of a Labrador’s prime long gone.

There is no specific symbolism behind this particular photograph, no occasion beyond the very scene it captures. It merely framed a moment in time, when four siblings had managed to come back home together at the same time. I remembered feeling as if we had the Sussex Downs to ourselves on an evening when heaven and earth seemed fused as one.

And it’s this singular image that evokes everything Ruby was to me. Her loyal following and slow gait, her subtle yet constant presence, her inquisitive and loving eyes. Her happiness just lying somewhere, being with her family, and taking in the world around her—as though she existed on a time continuum slower than our own. Even today I often see parts of my own personality in hers: the humanity of a dog is never to be underestimated.

The English poet Edward Thomas penned a poem titled “The Unknown.” Three lines have always struck me:

“The simple lack of her
Is more to me
Than other’s presence.”

I look upon the garden on warm summer days and gaze longingly at the same patch of grass where she lay in her final years. Silent, content, and immovable, she was a black rock: steadfast and true, in the humming, pulsing rhythm of an English garden in August. Her ashes are buried right behind it, and feed a rose we bought for the occasion—a variety named Ruby (what else)—but it’s that patch of warm, baked earth, rather than the blooms her ashes send forth every year, that sings to me and speaks to my soul. “The simple lack of her is more to me than others’ presence.”

At the family dinner table, I can almost feel her head upon my thigh—Labradors and the eternal optimism of a tidbit from the table. How strange it is that she has been gone all these years, and yet my soul still has the muscle memory to outline the shape of her head with my hands, to still know the very weight of that old head as it plodded down upon my leg.

As I move through the family home, there are tens of different spaces—worn patches, scratches, chewed baskets—that still tell her tale to those who knew her and can read the inscriptions. Her story is not reimagined and retold in our minds. It’s there in physical space, while time dances around it.

“The simple lack of her is more to me than others’ presence.”

As I look at this photograph now, I can feel her heat in dusty whispers.

My Ruby.

Author: Callum Saunders

When I rolled out of bed Tuesday morning, my wife, Tina, called me into the hallway, where she was kneeling next to our thirteen-year-old Australian shepherd, Tucker. “It’s time,” she said. He appeared to have suffered a stroke during the night. He couldn’t control his facial muscles, couldn’t see, and couldn’t stand. But before I knew any of this, I knew it was time because my wife said it was.

We called the vet and told them we were coming by, and why. Our daughters said tearful farewells and my wife drove them to school. I took my time getting ready that morning. It felt as though my heart was a knotted fist punching down onto my stomach.

TALES OF DOGS WE'VE LOVED

Thirteen years earlier, when it was just me and Tina, Tucker had gone everywhere with us. They knew his name at our beach. He walked the streets of St. Augustine like the mayor. He was a constant companion and positive distraction for us the year my wife worked two jobs to put me through three colleges at once so that I could graduate and we could “get on with our lives.” When we moved from Florida to Charlotte, Tucker sat shotgun in the moving truck. When Tina and I bought our first home together, we selected one with a big backyard for dogs and kids. When daughter one was born, her first word was “puppy,” in large part due to Tucker’s watchful gaze. He was also a good shepherd in raising daughter two. Over the years Tucker helped shape a pack that has seen three other dogs join it. And since we moved, he’s been a daily companion for me as I sit at my desk and write.

TALES OF DOGS WE'VE LOVED

Thirteen years. They say that’s ninety-one in dog years. But it’s still thirteen in mine. Thirteen of my possible what, eighty? Probably at least 16 percent of my own life when I’m done. Other than my mother, and now my wife, I haven’t been around another soul on this earth on a daily basis as much as I was with Tucker.

Tuesday was hard. Harder than I’d expected. I’d been privy to his sharp physical decline over the past several years, and I had tried to prepare myself for the day we’d eventually have to put him down. My wife kept hoping for a My Dog Skip ending, but I was convinced that his body would break before his spirit. He had been on anti-inflammatory medications for three years. He’d lost his hearing. I had to carry him down the back steps at night. Our measuring stick had become whether he was still smiling or not. But he did. He always did. Right up to the morning of his death.

Instead of going directly to the vet, I drove to the park one last time. It wasn’t an attempt to see whether he was getting any better, or to delay the inevitable, it was just me and him spending a few minutes alone together like we had so often for so many years. I carried him out into the field and placed him down. He collapsed. I stood him up, holding his rear legs, but he couldn’t find his balance and collapsed again. Despite this, he frustratingly tried to stand using only his front legs. That’s not how I wanted to remember his last few moments, so I carried him back to the truck and set him on the rear seat. Then, as his blind eyes caught me standing in front of him, he smiled. And at that moment, I knew that he knew it was time too.

On the way to the vet, I stopped and picked up a king-size Butterfinger, then sat sobbing in the vet’s parking lot until my wife arrived. They placed a blanket on the floor of an examining room, and that’s where we said our goodbyes. I held him tightly and rubbed his ears as they placed the catheter into his vein. The doctor left us alone for a while longer. We kissed and hugged him and washed him with our tears. Then we gathered our strength as the doctor returned. Before she inserted the needle, I pulled out the Butterfinger. The way I figured it, God played a trick on dogs by making it deadly for them to eat chocolate. Letting Tucker indulge at this point was my way of getting God back for playing His trick on people—giving dogs such short lives.

As the vet pressed down on the plunger of the syringe, I wrapped my arms under his chest, pressed my face against his ear, and whispered, “Everything is going to be all right.” Then I shut my eyes tight and waited. His breathing slowed, and a moment later, his body went limp in my arms. And my loyal friend for so many years was gone. But at peace.

TALES OF DOGS WE'VE LOVED

***

It’s impossible to describe how this feels. I haven’t been able to focus since Tuesday. I didn’t even grieve this way when my father died. And while Tucker’s death wasn’t a shock because we saw it coming, it does represent a significant passing. A passing of a great friend, and a passing of time.


Note from Laurie: This story, which Jim wrote in 2010 about one of the toughest days of his life, was the inspiration for the book.

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