Did you ever know a dog that could smile? Kaely was a dog who could smile.
She was not a typical farm dog. She did not work. The keenest Labrador instincts failed her, because I would not shoot ducks. I paid for this by throwing the ball, endlessly, into the lake.
Her energy was without limit. A thousand times throwing the ball was not enough. And she pursued each chase breathlessly, as if it were the last.
If you didn’t have the ball, she would bring it. She would drop it between your boots where you stood in a thick forest, drenched in sweat, making a farm. She was always a good reason to break from work. Usually, a farm dog that does not work does not last. But Kaely outlasted them all.
She came to this wild place with me many years ago; Kaely, me, a great blue mastiff, and a howling little beagle. The beagle chased away the gophers and squirrels. The mastiff ran off everything else.
One morning a pack of wild hogs tore through the yard, a surprise visit. The mastiff lunged snarling at the lead boar and took off most of his spiny-haired ear. The beagle went after a smaller pig. But Kaely did not attack. She just ran in circles with her tail in the air. She ran in circles and barked, more a laugh than a bark, because it was such good fun and she thought she could make friends with anyone.
She did make a lot of friends. Over the years, countless children hugged her and petted her, threw sticks for her, rode around on her back. Children can be rough, but Kaely was unfailingly patient. She bore all the rough pets and horse rides cheerfully, with a faithful heart, and always with her wonderful smile. She made a lot of friends.
She had not chased the ball for a long time, at the end. She grew so old that she could not swim, could barely walk. Finally, she could not get up the steps, and I had to carry her in to sleep.
She would have been nearly one hundred, in human years. In human years, the curly-haired little girl who named her, who taught her to sit and dressed her in doll clothes, is grown now, with children of her own. The laughing young man who brought home a yellow lab puppy is turning gray. So many seasons have passed, so many summers of life. And we have only so many.
On the last night of her life, I carried her in to sleep. I laid her on the blanket and pulled her water bowl close, and she raised her head and smiled at me. How can you not sleep well, in the glow of such a smile?
I guess she did have a job. She brought untold joy to a working man’s heart. That is enough.
Go now to your reward. The sky is blue. The day is cool. I will throw the ball one last time, and you can chase it with all your heart. The ball will hang in the air, maybe for years, as you run in delight beneath it.
It will splash in the soft water, and you will find it. And when you return, I will be standing on the shore to greet you. Then I will bring you back to the house, to sleep at the foot of the bed as always.
Until then, old girl.