The Long Walk Home: Lessons from a faithful friend will stand by boy forever

dogBy: Austin Anderson

Dogs are a man’s best friend, and that’s exactly why I was so excited to get a best friend of my own. I remember everything about meeting my best bud, Friday, for the first time.

On April 17, 2007, I came home from a soccer tournament in Verona, Wis. As I walked inside, exhausted from the weekend, out came a cute, little, white cocker spaniel with burnt orange spots and a tiny stump tail moving at the speed of light any time he was breathing. He was jumping around, enthused to start his new life by peeing the second I reached down to pet him.

I was shocked. I had no idea at that moment, but I wasn’t just coming home to a new dog, but rather a new lifestyle. From that day on I would be blessed with an adorable, loving, lazy, calm, crazy, troublemaking, mischievous, long-eared best friend.

It was the perfect situation. My family’s backyard is big and fenced in. I could take him for walks and runs all the time, and I would give him baths whenever they were needed. We could take him to the 44 acres of my grandparents’ house in Tama, to the lake and even my grandma’s house in Georgia.

Unfortunately, perfect only seems to exist in fairy tales as Friday found ways to escape the back yard and take himself for walks. On our attempted runs he would stop at nearly every tree to mark his territory, and his least favorite things in the whole world are baths.

The first time he went to my grandparents’ house he was bitten by their black lab in the ear, and the next time he visited, he went outside and wasn’t found until he was discovered shaking on the top of a picnic table a few hours later. At the lake, he was too afraid to swim even though cocker spaniels, historically, are good swimmers, and nobody asked to stop more on the 22-hour car trip to Georgia than, yup, you guessed it, Friday.

Despite all of that trouble, as well as him being a slow learner that the bathroom is outside or coming home to find the entirety of the garbage that is supposed to reside in the can, sprawled out on the kitchen floor, I loved him.

There is nothing like the love of a dog. In a world where people will show you affection then tear you to shreds the moment you turn your back, a dog couldn’t care less about how you’re dressed or how your hair looked that day. They’re just thrilled to see you each and every time you walk through the door. Do you jump up from the couch and rush over to greet your friends and family every single time they come to you?

There are so many things that can be learned from dogs, such as that they live in the moment they’re in. Dogs don’t worry about things that have already happened in the past or things that could happen in the future. They don’t have regrets or hold grudges. This seems to be the exact opposite of humans.

Even though the past cannot be changed no matter how badly we want to, humans still worry about it and wish things could have been done differently. We also worry heavily about the future even though the only things that can be done to affect the future are the choices we make in present time, making this exact moment the only time that should matter. If we stopped wasting energy on the past and future, all of our energy could be focused on the now, making our lives the best they could possibly be.

Dogs also have a great sense of feelings. Have you ever been so sad, mad or frustrated that you felt like nothing could cheer you up only to have your dog come over to you almost as if to ask you what’s wrong? A dog’s love is pure and consistent while asking for nothing in return, a rare commodity amongst humans.

Though we see ourselves higher up on the hierarchy of life, dogs seem to the secret to the keys of heaven.

Heaven is a bit of a mind boggling concept for many people to grasp and believe. For some, it’s the reason for life while for others it’s pure optimism, hoping something better than what they see now exists. If heaven does exist, does everyone get in, and if not, then is there some type of selection committee like the one the college football playoff relies on?

Like many aspects of religion, there are many different views of heaven. Pope Francis reportedly has a view of heaven in which many animal lovers may rejoice. A report surfaced that Pope Francis told a young boy that he would see his beloved dog again one day in heaven. If the common person were to make this claim, it would be brushed aside, but when a global superstar like the Pope says it, then it must be taken note.

I hadn’t given much thought about whether dogs go to heaven or not simply because I had never needed to. That all changed on a cold day in November.

My mom, dad and dog had all gone to Ames to visit my sister at Iowa State. As much as I would like to say I am Friday’s favorite, that honor would definitely go to my sister, Mariah. They are nearly inseparable when she comes home, and when she leaves, Friday is definitely her hardest goodbye.

After we ate pizza and watched Iowa State’s lowly football team lose, a family meeting was called in my sister’s apartment. I immediately knew nothing good was about to come out of this meeting, and every bad thing that could possibly be happening rushed through my mind. Then it hit me like the worst punch to the gut imaginable.

Friday had cancer.

My sister and I sobbed continuously, hoping we had heard my parents wrong as they explained he had lymphoma. There was nothing that could be done about it, and he likely had six months left remaining.

I haven’t told him, but he knows. He knows he struggles to jump up on the couch and lays on the ground alone instead of being with his family. He knows he’s being showered with treats at an unprecedented pace and people food is “accidentally” dropped more often for him to eat now. He knows the “I love you’s” and the hugs are coming in at record amounts. He knows the two big bumps on his neck aren’t supposed to be there, and he knows there’s nothing he can do about it.

I asked him if he wanted to go for a walk, and he just laid down on the ground. When I showed him his lead, however, he jumped up and sprinted downstairs and out the door faster than he had in years. The dozens of times we had taken this walk over the years, I always got to the end of the driveway and every single time turned left to start the walk. This time I told him to take me where he wanted to go. He went to the end of the driveway and turned right without hesitation.

As we started out, it was almost like nothing was wrong. The retractable leash was fully extended, and he was taking me for a walk this time.

Even as he started to slow his pace as we continued, I didn’t speak. Instead memories rushed through my head of the times I had spent with my best friend. Times that are slowly running out. Maybe someday when both our times have come, we will see each other again, but if not, the memories we have made will last.

As the walk nears its end, Friday has become much slower, stopping at every tree to rest or simply to inspect it as his ego would tell you, I’m sure. When our home is just a few feet away, he stops to a halt and looks around at the neighboring houses that he’s stared at out the window for years, maybe searching for something new he might have missed.

He turns into the driveway on his own and waits for the door to be opened. The walk is over now, but I hesitate to unhook his leash from his collar, not wanting to let him go. I crouch down as his big, brown eyes stare right into mine and take him off his leash.

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