They were adopted, rescued, or otherwise acquired from places as diverse as a First Nations reserve, the back of a barn, or the back of a roadside truck. Most came into this world through the tenaciousness of something called, “the damn dog down the road.”
Duncan and Maggie, Shelby and Shasta, Taz, Teddy, Triton, and, the last to come along, Branigan (the one sitting on Teddy’s tail). These were the dogs of three couples: six good friends. It wasn’t the dogs that brought us together, but it was the dogs who forged friendship into a sense of family. They were the catalysts for many conversations at summer barbecues and winter dinner parties. We complained about rolling tumbleweeds of dog hair in the spring. We took them hiking at Thetis Lake, swimming in the river, and camping all over southern Vancouver Island.
We are not the family we used to be. E&S moved off the island years ago. C&R still live nearby, but the hikes and camping trips are fewer. We still have five dogs between the six of us, but they aren’t the same dogs. We are still friends, but not the same friends.
Today, E&S faced a dog owner’s most important and terrible duty: they said goodbye to Branigan. The last of the Thetis Lake pack.
I remember hearing some quote about a river. What was it again? I looked it up today: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for its not the same river, and he is not the same man.” -Heraclitus.
That’s true in some ways, but it fails to acknowledge the power of common experience- the thing that gives us empathy, wisdom and understanding. It may not be the same water, but it’s usually cool. There are good places to swim, and places where you risk being swept away. We know the essential wetness of water, no matter the person, no matter the river.
We six friends are all too familiar with the phases our dogs pass through. Young creatures of pure energy, bounding through the woods, racing down the trail, unwilling to heed our calls.
Then, the phase of equals, companions: walking along side us, stopping here and there to reflect on a smell, but still game to chase a squirrel or crow, when the opportunity presents. Happy and content.
One day you notice your companion is no longer in front of you, no longer beside you, but lagging behind. Things are a little stiffer, a little slower. “That’s it, old boy. Come on.” And you realize that all too soon will come the last duty and you will fulfill it reluctantly, with a mix of love and memories and a little fear that perhaps you have been selfish and left it just a little too long.
It’s exactly this shared experience which connects us today, makes it so easy to remember six friends and their dogs, hiking around Thetis lake. We have been through this before, and we’ll go through it again, for ourselves and for each other.