Old friends – even quadrupeds – never die

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 26, 2000

I haven’t lost too many friends in the quarter of a century I’ve been alive, but there is one dear friend who consistently finds his way into my dreams at night.

Tuesday, December 26, 2000

I haven’t lost too many friends in the quarter of a century I’ve been alive, but there is one dear friend who consistently finds his way into my dreams at night.

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Most often, he appears when I’m in danger in one of my dreams, but other times my old Newfoundland Rupert drops by just so I can scratch behind his ears and listen one of those sad songs he used to sing through his howls and whimpers.

Old Rupert died August 1997 while I was living in Gig Harbor, Wa. for the summer. It made me sad that I didn’t get a chance to say good-bye, but this was an old pup who had been through a lot and was better off.

My parents live on 20 acres of land northwest of Duluth that’s full of wooded areas and even a swamp or two – perfect for big dogs to roam and explore. But Rupert never strayed too far from home. A good loud yell and he was back home, tongue hanging out with a big smile on his face. (Yes, dogs smile.)

I don’t remember when we got him; I imagine I was about five or six. We never could come to an agreement on the proper name for the dog, and "Puppy" evolved to "Buppers." I found that name kind of silly and started calling him Rupert. I think he liked it more, though he answered to both.

So obedient was this outdoor dog that father or brother had to pick him up and carry him into the house when winter weather became dangerous. Later in his life, he learned to come inside when we called for him, but still depended on my father to carry his stiff bones down the stairs to the basement.

You always hurt the one you love, and sure enough, the two people who loved that dog the most – my mother and myself – managed to run over the dog at various stages in his life. (I did mention that the old pup had been through a lot. This is what I meant.)

On hot summer days, he liked to lie under cars. As a puppy, he wasn’t too familiar with the dangers until my mother backed over him and broke his hip. He was involved with another mishap with my mother, but that did not result in injuries.

Nor was he injured when I backed the family’s Dodge Dynasty over his leg. He was older and understood the dangers of cars, but I don’t think he heard it start up. His hip was a bit bruised and stiff, but he survived. He sat on the front porch and allowed my mother to baby him while he refused to talk to me. Luckily, a dog’s memory is a short one and when his hip healed, so did our friendship.

Rupert was always a good friend. I remember many times sitting on the steps of the front porch, one arm wrapped around him and the other hand stroking his coat, my head resting against his. I would whisper to him about whatever had troubled me that particular day, and when I scratched behind his ears, he would sing his sad song.

More than allowing me to cry on his shoulder, metaphorically speaking of course, Rupert was a great protector. There was more than one occasion that he chased off a bear while one of his beloved human friends walked with him along the country road.

When he disappeared for a few weeks two years before he died, the family thought that was the end of him for sure. I had no chance to say good-bye. One day he was just gone and he didn’t come back.

That 20 acres of land and all of the neighbors’ property seemed impossibly huge, but I was still determined to find my friend. The following day, I hiked into the woods, walking on the trails that I could only assume were forged by him. Every dark-colored mound hidden in green grass tricked my eye, causing me to think I had found him in his final resting place. I walked up and down our road calling his name. I eventually gave up after a couple of days.

Two weeks later my mother called me while I was working at JC Penney. She didn’t even have to tell me why she was calling, I knew as soon as I heard her voice that my friend had returned home. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to pull into that driveway and see that big black dog saunter up to me and sing his sad song. Apparently, he missed me, too.

I moved out shortly after that, but I made a point to sit and visit with him each time I came home. I never dreamed when I left for Washington for a summer that I would never see him again, in the flesh at least.

I was devastated when I learned that he died, and I still miss him. I treasure the times he would rush to my side and walk beside me as good friends often do. I doubt I will ever find a dog quite like him, and for that I am thankful. For a brief time, I was blessed with the company of a very special and unique creature I called a friend.

Shawnda Schelinder is the associate editor. She can be reached at 434-2235 or by e-mail at shawnda.schelinder@austindailyherald.com