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October, 2002


by Larry

One day, shortly after we had moved to San Antonio from Omaha, when I was ten and while Dad was still in the Philippines, a cute little brown short-haired mutt, about thirty pounds of muscular, enthusiastic canine compactness, came trotting down the sidewalk toward me as I was standing in front of our first rental house there. Strutting her stuff, her compact form and openmouthed expression seemed to say she was "lookin' for adventure and whatever" came her way.

When we made eye contact, it was just as in the movies, "love at first sight." I had never had a dog of my own before, but this friendly mongrel seemed eager to be my first. She had no collar, thus advertising herself as "up for grabs!"

With little memory of living in San Antonio at age two to three, I was a new kid in a strange city with no friends yet. The diminutive animal seemed ready to change that. We had a wood-slat fence in back, about four feet high. She could get exercise inside the enclosure.

I think it took less than five minutes to make the decision and ask the inevitable question: "Mom, may I keep her?"

My mother said "yes"! She emphasized that the dog would be my responsibility. I must give her food and water, brush her, take her for walks, pick up and dispose of her poop piles in the yard, and so on. Never were chores received with such pleasure.

I named her "Cookie."

Except that I had to go to school on weekdays and that she had one not so endearing habit, the bliss of our budding companionship was perfect. Cookie and I became almost inseparable.

She was not old, but no longer a puppy, when she and I had become fast friends. While Mom and I tried, with modest success, to train her, she never was completely housebroken. My mother therefore banned her from the main part of the house.

But my room was isolated, converted from the previous back porch. It was bright and cheerful, with both screen and glass windows on three sides. The fourth was the old exterior of the place. More to the point, my space had linoleum covered flooring. When Cookie would have her occasional accidents, I could clean them up easily, "no muss, no fuss."

As I got up each morning, there was Cookie on the foot of my bed, keen to start the new day with me. After a lengthy stretch, she'd be prancing around, her nails tap-dance clicking, ready to be let out. Then she'd rush back to be fed.

When I'd get home from classes, we'd greet each other with such energy that Cookie could not stand in one place for all the excitement and would race around the perimeter of our backyard as fast as her squat little hard body could tear. She usually had such an excess of joy at my return that she could not stop at just once 'round, but seemed driven to fling herself forward in headlong fashion for three or four frenetic loops just inside the fence line.

Cookie loved to play. She'd catch a ball and fetch it back, chase me or run while I chased her in long keep away games, romp with me and tussle around the yard or on a thick old quilt, or leap and roll about luxuriously in our bed when I'd tickle her, scratch the back of her neck, or wrestle with her, before time to go to sleep.

After school but before my own supper, I'd also feed her and take Cookie on a leash for walks or for runs beside me on my bike.

I was never bored when Cookie was there. At the first hint of ennui, I had only to spend a few minutes with her to dispel it and be filled with contentment.

As time went on, I was getting more familiar with the neighborhood.

Not far away, fairly dry vacant fields could be found where I could see and sometimes catch "horny toads." There were lots of other faster striped lizards there too, but they usually were beyond my skills as a small game hunter.

There was a swampy creek area also, with a big drainage pipe periodically emptying polluted liquid into it. Here the vegetation grew luxuriantly. It was thick and full of bugs, snails, birds, snakes, and various amphibious creatures. The water was slimy with algae and ranged from several inches to a few feet deep. Lowering a big empty pickle jar into it, I could sometimes catch huge tadpoles, that I'd take back to feed and watch in my room, as they would gradually lose their tails and gills, acquire legs, and transform into bullfrogs.

Cookie was never allowed on these forays. They were far too dangerous for her, as, to get to the neat places, I had to cross busy multilane thoroughfares.

One day after school, having fed, walked, and played with the dog, I set off on another quest for giant polliwogs.

Our house and lot were on a corner, a few blocks from the marshy ditch. As I headed off toward it, I went down the sidewalk past our backyard. I could hear Cookie, aware of my presence, racing about on the other side of the picket fence. "Bye bye, Cookie! You have to stay," I yelled.

I was lucky at the creek that day, coming back with about ten fat and active, greenish-gray tadpoles.

At first waiting for a brief break in the rush-hour traffic, I ran across the busy highway on my way home.

But there, as if asleep on the far shoulder, was Cookie, quite still. What was she doing here? "Come on, girl!" I called. She did not stir.

A man got out of a car parked nearby, walked over, and explained there had been an accident. The dog had come out of nowhere, running like crazy to get across the road, but was hit right away. He said he had seen the whole thing, the dog rushing out into the traffic, being hit, and apparently dying instantly. He said the car that hit her had just gone on, but he'd stopped and thought he'd wait to see if he could find her owner.

As what he was saying sank in, I began sobbing. He tried to comfort me but, over and over, I could see with awful clarity what must have happened.

After I'd left, thinking Cookie was safely enclosed in our back yard, she must have been so anxious to go with me she had tried several times to jump free and then exerted herself far more than I'd believed she could, and struggled on over the fence.

Then, knowing she was far behind, she would have raced after me.

With the heavy traffic noises, I had not heard her panting approach and ran on, myself, when the commuter congestion had cleared a little.

But I must by then at least have been in her sight, for she'd known just where to cross to catch up. Intent only on reaching me, Cookie likely never even slowed down at the highway.

"I didn't know she could get over the fence," I told the man.

The kindness of a stranger was in evidence that day. He loaded Cookie into his trunk. She had no apparent injuries. Just the tiniest trickle of blood had escaped one nostril.

Then he drove us back to our house, told Mom what had happened, and got Cookie out.

My dog died because she couldn't bear to be left behind, because I hadn't realized the fence was too short, and because of the bad luck of my not noticing her dashing after me. To my young mind at the time, though, the tragedy was simpler and more complete, as in the best portrayals of "Romeo and Juliet:" she had loved me too much.

Cookie's place on my bed was now empty. Never had I felt such loss.

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