My Best Friends
By: Garland Davis
I grew up with a dog. A little red Cocker Spaniel named Cookie. She was my dog from the time I was twelve until I enlisted at seventeen. We played through the woods and explored the creeks and streams of Western North Carolina during those years. Mama told me that she seemed to miss me after I left and spent a lot of time on the porch watching up the road, hoping to see me coming home. She was always excited and happy to see me when I did come home on leave. I remember the sad day I received a letter from my sister telling me of her demise.
During the fifty-four years, Kikuko and I have been married, there have been six dogs who shared the time with us. First, there was an Akita named Taro who was with us for thirteen years. For a short time, he had a companion, a Shiba named Boots who tangled with a car and lost. Then there was a Shikoku also named Taro. As he got older he was joined by a female Shiba that we called Yuri although her “paper name” was Kotobuki Hime. After Taro II died at age twelve, Yuri was alone for a number of years and then was joined by a Shiba puppy, Taro III. Yuri lived seven more years and died a month before her eighteenth birthday. Taro, as he grew older was joined by another female Shiba named Izumi. Taro succumbed to cancer at the age of twelve. Izumi is sleeping under my desk as I type this. Each of these dogs had names on their pedigree that didn’t seem to fit them or their personalities. It is probably good that they didn’t know.
Kikuko and I are both aging and don’t want to leave a dog as an orphan so we have decided that Izumi will be the last fur baby.
Someone once wrote a piece called, “The Rainbow Bridge.” According to this missive, as each dog leaves this life, they gather just this side of a rainbow-colored bridge to wait for their human companion to join them and they cross that bridge together, united once again forever. If there is a life after this, I pray that all my dogs are there.
I echo the comment of Will Rogers, the great cowboy humorist who said, “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
I remember seeing an episode of Death Valley Days with Ronald Reagan playing the part of George Vest. Someone posted about it the other day on Facebook. George Vest is credited with coining the term “Man’s Best Friend.” I can think of no better description of a dog’s devotion to his friend. I hesitate to use the word master as that isn’t the relationship I have had with my dogs.
George Graham Vest (1830-1904) served as U.S. Senator from Missouri from 1879 to 1903 and became one of the leading orators and debaters of his time. This delightful speech is from an earlier period in his life when he practiced law in a small Missouri town. It was given in court while representing a man who sued another for the killing of his dog. During the trial, Vest ignored the testimony, and when his turn came to present a summation to the jury, he made the following speech and won the case.
“Gentlemen of the jury, the best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us — those whom we trust with our happiness and good name — may become traitors in their faith. The money that a man has he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action.
The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolute, unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world — the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous — is his dog. A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and poverty, in health and sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow, and the snow drives fiercely if only he can be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.
“If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace, and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter, if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside, will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death.” — George Graham Vest