62: Legacy

62: Legacy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?


H2O: two parts Heart and one part Obsession.

~Author Unknown

Our eight-week-old Shepherd-mix puppy, Annie, had all the makings of a natural swimmer: aerodynamic body, muscular legs, and glossy black fur that repelled moisture. There was just one problem: Annie wouldn’t take a single step into the water.

We tried everything—coaxing, begging, hurling her favorite squeaky hamburger into the pond—but Annie stubbornly remained on land. Finally, my mom gently placed Annie in shallow water. The puppy whimpered and fled back to shore.

Mom and I sighed. Having just moved from the city, we were looking forward to watching Annie splash in our cattail-lined pond. I waded in, hoping she’d follow, but Annie stayed put, yipping anxiously as water crept past my shoulders.

“Aw, come on,” I pleaded. “Just try it!”

Annie shook her head, black ears flapping. Her brown-gold eyes followed me worriedly. I swam deeper, and she started yelping again.

Then I got an idea. Holding my breath, I disappeared under the water. Fifteen silent seconds later, I surfaced to find Annie running along the shoreline, barking hysterically.

“Help me, Annie!” I called out desperately. “Come save me!”

Annie ran even faster. I started going under again and she actually sprinted a few feet into the water before retreating. An agonizing battle was taking place—fear versus love. I was the girl who came to the puppy gate whenever Annie whimpered. I was the one who played “squeaky hamburger fetch” with her. And now, apparently, I needed her help.

I dunked my head and sputtered, “Annie! ANNIE!”

Finally, Annie leaped into the water. White splashes rose on either side of her like angel wings as she charged toward me. Soon, she was swimming outright, just a small black head, harpooning across the surface.

“Come on, Annie!” I shouted. “You can do it!”

She was puffing when she reached me. My yell of triumph was followed by a howl of pain as twenty claws raked across my bare skin. My would-be rescuer had decided I was her own personal life raft. Grunting, I awkwardly helped her return to shore. Mom couldn’t stop laughing.

Back on land, Annie ran in frenzied circles. Once she calmed down, I whistled and plunged back into the pond. This time, she followed willingly. Before long, we were chasing each other, filling the air with splashes, giggles and barks—the perfect music for a summer afternoon. By sunset, Annie was shoving her whole nose under as she paddled along, snorting gleefully and spraying like a dolphin.

Annie was transformed into a bona fide water dog that day. Whether it was a reward after an anxious vet visit, or delicious relief on a blistering afternoon, the pond became synonymous with joy.

Over the next several years, we adopted three more dogs—a skinny yellow stray named Pepper, an eighty-pound shelter dog named Will, and an inky black Akita mix named Cleo. Whenever we brought a new dog home, the pond was our first destination. Pepper plunged right in alongside Annie, forging the beginning of a lifelong bond. Will waded in delicately, letting the water glide over him.

And then there was Cleo.

A lonely stray who’d followed my dad home, the final member of our “pack” loved watching the others swim, but refused to enter the pond herself. If water even lapped against Cleo’s toes, she’d jump back like it was molten lava. I could’ve resurrected the “Save me!” technique, but by then I was old enough to know that pretending to drown was cruel—and dangerous. So, our family accepted Cleo for what she was: a land dog.

Seasons passed, and the pack bonded over long walks on tree-lined lanes, exuberant games of “dirty sock tug-of-war,” and my unsuccessful attempts to use them as sled dogs. Each dog had a favorite companion. Pepper’s meek nature tempered Annie’s fiery, drama-queen personality, while Will’s gentle soul found its match in Cleo’s quiet demeanor.

Then, one night, the unthinkable happened—we lost Pepper to a terrible, sudden-onset condition known as “bloat.” We were still reeling from this tragedy when more heartbreaking news arrived: Annie, who’d been struggling with a urinary tract infection, was diagnosed with inoperable bladder cancer.

Now, whenever I looked at our three dogs, a lump clogged my throat. A week ago, there had been four. Soon, there would only be two.

Despite her illness, Annie’s energy never diminished. She still ran haywire around the yard, still went crashing joyfully into the water. But her ribs began to show under her shiny black coat, and her need to urinate became more frequent and painful as the cancer grew inside her bladder. Before long, she could only run a few feet before needing to go again. Even the pond lost some of its appeal—Annie had to keep climbing out to relieve herself.

One evening, as Mom and I walked the pack around the pond, we heard the plop of a bullfrog. All three dogs froze. Another step, and it happened again. Plop! This time, Annie and Will dove headlong into the pond, filling the once-quiet evening with a wet chorus of “Plop-splash! Plop-splash!”

After ten frog-frolicking minutes, Mom and I exchanged smiles. For the first time in weeks, Annie seemed pain-free, and Will was the happiest he’d been since Pepper died. Cleo, however, stood anxiously on shore, shifting from foot to foot, an invisible barrier of fear separating her from her friends. Finally, she let out a piercing bark.

Annie raised her dripping muzzle to look at Cleo. The two dogs gazed at each other, and a strange peacefulness settled over Cleo’s trembling body. Annie slowly emerged from the pond and walked to Cleo. There was just a quick touch of cold noses, a brief wag of tails, before Annie waded back into the water.

This time, Cleo followed.

Step for step, the two dogs went deeper and deeper, until Cleo was immersed up to her chest. I held my breath, afraid to break the spell. Mom covered her mouth. Together, we watched our three dogs weave between the reeds, splashing and frog-hunting as if Cleo’s fear had never existed at all.

Eventually, when the sun was just a fading speck, Annie, Cleo and Will reluctantly climbed out. Mom and I took them back to the house, whispering excitedly about what we’d witnessed. It was the best night Annie had had in a very long time.

It was also her last night on earth. The next day, Annie’s condition deteriorated so badly that we had the vet end her suffering. I’ve never cried as hard as I did when I hugged her lifeless body. But even through the pain and tears, I knew Annie wasn’t truly gone—she’d left behind an incredible legacy. For the rest of Cleo’s life, every time she stepped boldly into the water, I could see a little Shepherd-mix puppy, diving past her fears to save me. And although Cleo and Will are gone now too, every time I walk by the pond, I can still see four dogs with pink tongues, smiling in the sunshine.

If I close my eyes, I can even hear them splashing.

~Gretchen Bassier

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