All of the other dogs were barking. Pleading really. Not her. She was facing away from her gate, tightly curled up in the back of her cage. She was lying as deep as she could get on the concrete floor in a puddle of wet. I could not walk away, move away from her cage. I asked if we could see her. They said “Yes”. So, Kyra and I waited by the front desk. And, when they handed us her leash, she scurried under our chairs. She would not come out. She hid beneath our feet. That’s when I turned to Kyra and said “We’re not giving her back.” And, we didn’t.
I scooped her up. I carried her out of the pound. I held her close and whispered into her ear “you’re going home.” I set her in the truck on the bench seat between us. Next to Kyra. Next to me. And, we drove home. The three of us. Together, with the windows down.
All the way home, we kept looking down at her, petting her and doing our best to reassure her. We kept looking at one another exchanging happy but uncertain smiles. Yet, with each passing mile, her confidence in us grew. And, soon enough, she was sitting in Kyra’s lap, leaning out the window and sniffing the the St. Louis summertime breeze.
At every stop, other drivers smiled at her. They pointed at her. They told their kids to look to her. They rolled down their windows and said “Hey, pup!” They made kissing sounds. Adults did this. Full grown, burly men in dirt-plastered work trucks sent kissing sounds in her direction just to get her attention.
“What kind of dog is she?” they asked.
“No idea. We just got her from the pound!” we answered laughingly.
“Oh, classic American black and tan” someone said.
“So cute!” someone else exclaimed.
At every stop, it was the same.
At one stop, someone asked “What’s her name?”
We looked at one another and shrugged our shoulders.
We named her June. But we called her Junie.
She was our first something together.
She was a frisbee dog. Not the throw-it-flat-and-straight kind of frisbee dog. She liked her frisbee thrown in a sharp arc high into the air. Instead of sprinting right away, she would back pedal, gauge the frisbee’s unpredictable descent, adjust her position and then sprint. And, she always caught it! We lost more than one frisbee to the pond in the park throwing it that way. And, when we did, she would not leave the water’s edge. Indeed, I would have to carry her out of the park promising her another frisbee all the way back home. She loved carrying her frisbee home from the park. She would grip it with her front incisors. That’s it. No other teeth were involved. And, she would walk ahead of us with her head held high full of pride and her back legs swaying down the sidewalk like Axel Rose shimmying across the stage singing “Welcome to the Jungle”.
She went where we went.
No matter where we went.
We came as a package.
It was all three of us or none of us.
And, that’s how the three of us moved through the years together. From St. Louis to San Diego. And, when Dillon came along, our second-something-together, that’s how the four of us moved through the years together. From San Diego to Fredericksburg to Richmond.
It was not long after moving to Richmond that I was walking through a community in Honduras when someone handed me a phone and said “Shawn, it’s your wife.”
“Kyra?!” I answered.
“It’s Junie” she said.
Junie had stop eating. She was no longer sleeping. She would stand all night in place or just pace. She was diagnosed with heart disease when I got back home. And, there was no getting any better for her. We had to say goodbye. So, we did.
Kyra was holding Dillon. Dillon was holding Doggie-Dog. I was holding Junie. We gathered close together. Petting her. Saying goodbye to her. And, as I turned to carry her out the door, Dillon pointed his four-year-old index finger at me with a fierce fervor and said sternly “You bring her back!”
I was taken aback. I could not speak. So, I just left.
I carried Junie to the truck and we drove to the vet.
Just the two of us, with the windows down.
When they called us back, the vet laid Junie on the concrete floor. I sat on my knees beside her. I laid my head on her side. I curled my arms around her. I held her close and whispered into her ear “you’re going home”.
The vet asked “Are you ready?”
I said “Yes”.
My head was rising and falling with her breath.
Rising and falling.
Rising and falling.
Rising and falling.
And, when her breathing rhythm ended, I sat up.
I was blinking away tears when she let out a final gasp of breath. I thought that she was back. I was sure of it. My mind raced. This was a mistake. I should not have done this. I should have stopped this. Dillon knew what I was doing. He knew. I should have listened. How did this happen? I did this. She didn’t. She didn’t have a say. I did this. I did this. I was going to fix this. I was going to bring her back home.
I turned to the vet and said “She’s all right!”
The vet looked at me and said “No, sweet pea.”
I didn’t bring her back.
I left the vet’s office alone. I got into my truck, set her leash and collar in the seat next to me and drove home with the windows up.
It’s been over a decade since we said goodbye to Junie.
It still hurts.
But I find comfort in knowing that it’s not the end of us. You see, I have this recurring dream. And, in this dream, I’m lying on my back in a field of wildflowers. It’s sunny. The sky is blue. And, wispy clouds are gliding overhead. I sit up to look around. It must be heaven because I’m sitting on one of many surrounding and gloriously rolling Kentucky hillsides. There’s a crick down below with long, meandering curves of gurgling water. I hear a bark. A single bark. I know that bark. It’s Junie! My baby-girl Junie! I see her on the other side of the crick. She’s in her prime. She’s sitting, smiling, wagging her tail and waiting. And, it’s not just Junie. It’s Ginger too! My dog from childhood. My first dog. The only dog I thought I would ever love, could ever love so deeply. But I was wrong. Because they’re together! Side by side. I always wanted them to meet. And, it’s not just them. I see Jimbo, Muffin, KC, DJ, Sammy, Max, Roxy, Phoebe, Sadie, Sweetie Pie, Kaiwa, Lori, Dandy and Griffin. Every dog that somehow found a way into my heart is there. Tiger’s there too — the only cat in my house growing up. So is Henrietta — my Aunt Linda’s nonbinary rooster. I shake my head laughing. I cannot believe that Henrietta’s here too! I start moving towards them. And, when I do, they start barking, jumping around, downward-dog stretching, pawing at the ground and preparing to pounce. I run down the hillside, pick up speed, plant my foot on my side of the creek and leap.
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Thanks. — shawn
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