Just Like Always

Just Like Always

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Just Like Always

Blessed is the person who has earned the love of an old dog.

Sydney Jeanne Seward

For as long as I could remember, Ivan had always been at the door when I came home, wagging his brown tail in greeting. Tonight when I walked in after my classes, he wasn’t there.

“Ivan?”

Silence was my only answer.

Then my mother appeared from the kitchen. “Ivan is not feeling well, Lori. He’s downstairs in the family room. He’s getting old.”

“Old? Mom, he’s only eleven or twelve.”

“Fourteen,” Mom corrected. “He’s been with us a long time.”

“When did he get sick?”

“He hasn’t been himself for quite a while. He hasn’t had much of an appetite. And he sleeps a lot more.”

“But this is the first time he hasn’t been at the door to meet me just like, well . . . always.”

“He’s made an effort to be up here every night lately because he loves you so much.”

“He’s going to get better, isn’t he?”

Mom avoided my eyes. “I took him to the vet today. The doctor gave me some medicine to keep him comfortable, but nothing else can be done.”

I couldn’t breathe. A fist grabbed my heart, squeezing tightly. “You . . . you mean he’s . . . going to die?”

“While you were growing up, honey, he was growing old.”

I could have cried. But when you’re almost twenty . . . well . . .

The phone rang. “Hi.” It was my girlfriend Cathy. “What time do you want me to pick you up for the movie?”

“Ivan is sick.”

“Ivan? Who’s Ivan?”

“Ivan. My dog.”

“Oh. I haven’t heard you mention him, have I? Anyway, I’m sorry, but what time shall I pick you up?”

“Well, Cath, I . . . I don’t think I can go. I want to stay home with Ivan.”

“What? Lori, we’ve been waiting weeks for this movie to open, and now you’re not going on account of a dog?”

“Ivan isn’t just any dog, Cath. He’s my friend, once-upon-a-time playmate, and—”

“Okay, Lori, I get your drift.” I could tell by her voice how upset she was. “Are you going or not?”

“No. I’m staying home with Ivan.”

The phone went dead in my hand. Some people just didn’t understand.

As I went downstairs, I thought about what Cathy had said. “Who’s Ivan?” Had I really never mentioned him? It wasn’t that long ago that we went everywhere together. In the last few years, though, my interests had changed. Still, my love for him hadn’t. Only how would he know that if I didn’t take the time to show him? Ivan seemed happy, so I hadn’t thought that much about it.

Ivan’s tail wagged weakly as I sat down beside his bed. He tried to raise his head, but I leaned closer so hewouldn’t have to, my hand caressing his brown body. “How’s my buddy? Not too great, my friend?”

His tail flopped again, his black eyes gazing into mine. Where have you been? they seemed to say. I’ve been waiting for you.

Tears filled my eyes as I stroked his back. What had Mom said? I’d grown up while Ivan had grown old. Although I always petted him in passing, I couldn’t remember when we’d last done anything together.

I shifted my position and Ivan tried to get up. “No, no,” I whispered. “I’m not leaving you. We have a little catching up to do.” He settled down again, nuzzling my leg.

“Remember when you were a puppy, Ivan, and how on Mother’s Day you brought home a deadmouse and placed it at Mom’s feet? Remember how she screamed? You never brought her another one.” He was trying to watch me, but he was getting sleepy.

“And remember the time we all went camping and you flushed out that black-and-white kitty that turned out to be a skunk?”

His eyes were closed, but his tail wagged and his feet moved. Maybe he was remembering in his sleep.

Mom tiptoed in with a sleeping bag. “I thought you’d want to spend the night with him.”

I nodded. It was like old times—our sleeping side by side—my arm around him.

His tongue lickingmy earwokeme up the nextmorning. I hugged him and his tail waved like a feeble flag in the wind. Work didn’t seemimportant, but I knewI’d better go.

“Ivan will be waiting for you when you get home,”Mom assured me.

And he was—right at the front door.

“I found him trying to climb the stairs to get up here to meet you,” Mom said. “I don’t know how he made it as far as he did. I carried him the rest of the way.”

“It’s like the old days, buddy,” I scooped him into my arms and hugged him to my heart. I carried him downstairs and held him until he fell asleep.

He died that night in my arms. I told him over and over what an important part he’d played in my life. And in the end, we were together . . . just like always.

Lorena O’Connor

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