54: Brandy

54: Brandy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog


You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.

~Robert Louis Stevenson

The phone rang at precisely 9:00 P.M. as a drought buster of a storm raged angrily outside our bedroom windows. Instinctively, my wife and I both knew who it was and I answered the call with a dull numbness.

“Mr. Smith, this is John at the veterinary hospital,” the voice flatly reported with a grave monotone. “I’m afraid things have taken a turn for the worse.” My heart sunk and tears spilled from my wife’s eyes behind me. She could tell from my wooden expression that the news wasn’t good.

“I’d like your permission to do some emergency exploratory surgery, see if there’s anything I can do to save Brandy. It’s a long shot, but our only hope.”

I paused, knowing there was more.

“But if I can’t do anything, I’ll need to put her down,” he added with a solemn whisper. “It’s the humane thing to do. She’s very sick, and she’s suffering.”

I felt like someone sucker-punched me in the gut. I couldn’t breathe.

“I need to discuss this with my wife, please, John,” I managed, my voice shaky. “I’ll call you right back.”

I hung up and discussed the matter with my wife. We both agreed that we wanted to be there for our friend, for our child, to provide a comforting and familiar presence. For years we had tried to start a family, with no success. Everything was tried during those tedious months, every imaginable process and method and old wives’ tale and suggestion, not to mention countless prayers. But it was not meant to be; some things just aren’t. Each effort fell short, and our marriage, though strengthened by the experiences, remained childless.

This dog was more than a pet to us; she was a precious jewel in our daily lives, a member of our family. She was a faithful companion, lovable, loyal, and humorous. We made the hard decision while wiping away tears, the humane decision, to bypass the surgery and go over in the evening rainstorm. We would hold our dear pet, Brandy, as she was given the needles that would help her to pass over to the eternal side of existence.

I called back to inform the doctor of our decision. Strangely, it took John five rings to answer his cell phone, despite knowing I was calling right back. He told me he’d have the phone by his side. Finally, the call was accepted with an echoing click.

“Mr. Smith,” the voice hesitated with great emotion, “your dog just collapsed into my arms. Oh God, I think she’s dying....” He fumbled with his stethoscope on the other end while I listened to the surrealistic nightmare in my ear, wishing I would wake up. “Oh God, I’m so sorry... she just took her last breath. She’s gone.” The man was in tears. I soon joined him, sobbing like a newborn.

Our drive over to the vet’s office was a silent one until my wife suggested we relive special memories. There were many, and we found ourselves laughing, and then crying all over again. The dog had impacted our lives more than we realized.

Inside the doctor’s office, abandoned and quiet on a Sunday night, we thanked John for being there to hold our friend as she passed away. It was more than sheer coincidence that he happened to be there. Moments later, our hearts were warmed when we saw her still, furry body. She was clearly at peace, as if she were merely sleeping.

After wrapping Brandy in cotton blankets, we laid her gently on the backseat of our car. Wet and still in shock, we slowly backed out and exited the parking lot with a reverent spirit.

About a mile or two later, my wife broke the solitude with a loud, startled scream. “Brandy just licked me! On the back of my neck! Honestly, I felt it!” My wife was ecstatic, thrilled beyond words.

I peered into the backseat, half expecting a modern day Lazarus miracle, but, of course, the dog was still and wrapped in blankets.

“Maybe you just felt something, honey, a wisp of air or something,” I offered, confused yet intrigued.

“No, it was her; I know it was her,” she insisted, assured of what occurred. “That dog has given me so many kisses over the years; it was exactly the same. I know it was her.”

For several long moments silence returned to the compartment of our vehicle. Only the rhythmic reverberation of wipers working to clear raindrops from the windshield was audible.

“Brandy wanted to let us know she’s okay,” my wife explained, breaking the quiet. “I bet that’s why she licked me. To let us know that she’s fine, that she’s moved on, and waiting for us.” The event comforted our mourning hearts, and softened our sorrow.

The next morning we buried our precious daughter as it lightly misted from the dreary, carbonized skies. We read liturgy from the Episcopal prayer book and offered prayers for her soul. We gave thanks for her thirteen years with us, each one good, happy and healthy. I placed a University of Tennessee Volunteers baseball cap on her furry head, one I often wore on cold mornings as we walked together in the woods, before closing the box for the final time. My wife also added several of the dog’s favorite treats, and all of her play balls. There were many. Even during her last days the dog played with those balls with the energy of a puppy.

The next evening our kindly church priest called to check in, having heard the news of our loss. We discussed animals and souls and heaven mostly. He assured me that the perfection of God’s holy landscape would be dotted with all kinds of creatures, especially pets. If God cared enough to make it, He would surely care enough to desire it in His heavenly kingdom. But this I already knew. For on the rainy, dark night our dog left us, she also left a sign that she was still very much alive, a wet lick across my wife’s neck, a canine kiss, from a Golden Retriever we knew as Brandy.

~David Michael Smith

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