My childhood friend, Danny, was a dog-person.
I remember once, we were painting a house together. The house was old. Four of us boys were painting it because the owner was too old to do it himself.
We took several days to finish—earning twenty bucks per boy. We painted the clapboards flat white and the shutters green. We drank well over our legal limit of Coca-Colas.
And one sunny day, a dog trotted into the yard while we painted. It walked with a limp. It hobbled toward the house and crawled beneath the porch.
Danny was the first to crawl in after the dog. Dog-people, you see, do strange things like that.
We could see the dog was in bad shape. There was dark, shiny blood on its stomach. It growled if anyone got too close.
“He’s hurt,” said Danny. “I think he’s needs our help.”
The first thing we did was name the animal “Blackie”—an original name, I know. Then, all four of us laid on our stomachs beneath a sagging shotgun house, in the dirt, talking in high-pitched voices to Old Black.
“Hey boy,” we said. “Who’s a good boy?”
“Here Blackie, here Blackie.”
But it did no good. Blackie a nervous wreck. He panted so hard it looked like his chest was going to explode.
Danny came up with an idea. He suggested we read books to Blackie.
“Read to him?” I remarked.
Danny reasoned that whenever his own mother read stories to him before bedtime it calmed him, lowered his blood pressure, and made him an all-around amiable human being.
So, we worked in shifts. Three boys would paint the house; one would stay beneath the porch with a book and a flashlight.
We did this for a day.
Blackie started to trust Danny. Whenever Danny was nearby, the dog seemed relaxed. Whenever Danny wasn’t around, the dog was nervous.
Eventually, Danny was able to get close enough to the dog to pet him. He fed him, too. The skin around his belly was torn up. And he was getting weaker.
We were able to slide him from beneath the house. Danny talked to the dog in a soft whisper the whole time.
“I love you, Blackie,” he said. “I’m right here, buddy.”
But the animal was too exhausted to put up a fight. He was half limp. He howled in a tone sad enough to break your heart.
We lifted him into the backseat of Danny’s father’s car. We set him on trash bags.
The doc stitched him up, and I’m pleased to report that old boy lived six more years. He was Danny’s shadow for every one of those years. And even after Old Black’s hips got arthritic, he would tear out after a good tennis ball like a puppy.
Anyway, yesterday I saw an old friend. My friend looks good. He’s got a good job, three kids. Age has fallen on him a little. It’s hit me, too. But maybe we still look little boys if you catch us in the right light.
We shook hands. We hugged. We didn’t talk about accomplishments, career paths, success, or even what we’re doing with our lives. That’s not what people like us do. In fact, people like us don’t have much in that area to talk about.
Instead, we talked about a black dog who, as it happens, wasn’t just an animal. He was a “someone.” He could feel, smile, and love, just like any human. Only harder.
Then again, pay no attention to me.
I’m a dog-person.