Junior, My Friend, and Bert

My story is a story of the sequence of three dogs – a trinity and how they each touched my life at its lowest and escorted me into manhood.

I got the first dog, Junior, on my fifth birthday, February 2, 1959. At the time, all my neighborhood friends were one year older than I was, so while they were at school, it was only Junior and me. My mother was preoccupied with my 2 and 3 year old sisters and I was pretty much left to my own – with Junior.

We wandered down Westbrook Road, which had not been paved yet to the Pearl River and through the woods along the way. I knew I wasn’t supposed to go where I went, but I imagined Junior to be God’s servant to protect me from everything. I did not understand everything being discussed at church and Sunday School – and that seemed to fit in with what I did understand and it certainly fit in with my observations.

Fifteen years later, I was at college. I wasn’t enjoying it the way most people do. I was depressed. After Christmas, I took Junior to college with me. I lived in the basement apartment of Arthur Guyton’s childhood home. As an aside, Arthur Guyton contracted polio and subsequently went on to invent the electric wheelchair – so this was not the kind of place conducive to feeling sorry for one’s self.

On my 20th birthday, I went out with some friends and stayed out late – as 20 year old boys should. I came home and the day’s rain had flooded the basement apartment with 2 inches of water. This was not unexpected, but it was the first time it had happened since Junior had come. He was wet and cold when I got home. I dried him off and we got under the covers to sleep – but he was still shivering.

I awakened early and Junior was not there. The door to the apartment did not latch closed and it had blown open during the night. I got dressed and began looking for him. It was cold outside. The rain had frozen on the ground. I never found Junior.

For weeks, at night I would walk the streets looking – hopelessly for God’s agent – sent to take care of me – who I had let down. The images of Junior shivering in the cold – waiting for me to come lead him home and the happier one of him eating table scraps of a widowed woman who needed the company ran through my mind and tears down my face froze in the cold wind.

One night, about 10:30, I came home. There was a German Shepherd tied up in the backyard adjoining the yard behind my apartment and she barked. It was a single bark. She had often looked at me during the day, but had never barked and I had never paid her much attention other than feeling sorry for her for being tied up. I decided to hop the fence. I sat on the ground and she came and placed her chin in my lap. I rubbed her neck and held her ears to warm them. I made a ritual of going over the fence to see her – always at night. She became increasingly affectionate and we became friends – I like to believe she knew I needed her and she certainly helped.

On March 14, a friend brought me a puppy. I named him Bert, since it was Albert Einstein’s birthday. There is no point in trying to explain how magically Bert transformed me. Any dog lover knows what puppies do. He was part lab and loved the apartment when it was flooded. I used to put him over the fence to play with my friend and she loved him to.

In the spring, in the afternoon, I heard my friend from across the fence bark and a child’s screaming. I ran out and found a young boy crying – he had been bitten by my friend – but not badly. I took him home to his parents. A few days later, Bert and I were in the backyard with my friend. The owner came to a window and pointed for me to go to the front of the house. She was worried I was going to be bitten. As I went through the gate, I saw, for the first time, the signs warning to BEWARE OF DOG.

She explained that my friend was a retired police K9 and they were going to have to put her down because she bit a boy. I told her of my nightly visits – when I should have been attacked. I told her about the day I took the bitten boy home. I begged her to let me tell my story on behalf of my friend’s character – but the decision had been made.

Bert grew and grew and we grew closer. One day he was hit by a car. The nerve in his right shoulder was severed and he lost the use of his right front leg. The vet told me it was highly unlikely he would regain the use of his leg. I said I wanted to give it time before having it amputated. I rigged up a sling to keep him from dragging it on the ground. The vet told me if he lost the skin integrity it would become infected and would have to be amputated. For a year, we used the sling. Bert’s left front paw became stronger and the right made no progress – so it was amputated. Bert never missed a beat.

I have a before and after pair of photographs of Bert and me in which I am holding him in the same pose. The first was soon after I got him. I was pale, emaciated and sickly in appearance. In the second, about 8 weeks later, I look 10 years younger than in the first one. I appeared to be a happy young man with his best buddy in his arms.

After the car accident, Bert had begun to have seizures. They started mildly, but became more frequent and more intense. My family took a trip to New York for Thanksgiving. Bert was at my parents’ home with a house-sitter. One night, I dreamed I was at the Vet’s office with Bert on the stainless steel examination table. In the dream, I gave him a lethal injection. When we returned home, I learned Bert had died during a very bad seizure. He had awakened the house-sitter by knocking over furniture. She called a neighbor to help. Bert died about the same time I was having my dream in New York – further cementing in my mind the connection we had. He had restored in me a love of life.

I have had more dogs since. I have lost all of them, but one. I love them all and they have each touched me in some special way to give me a greater love of life. But the trinity of Junior, my friend and Bert will always be the most special.

Drew from AL