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"Fred", A Commentary

By Tom Dodge, author of "Tom Dodge Talks About Texas"

Dallas, TX – On a cold evening just before Christmas, Lindon's ancient Terrier dog Fred obeyed the call of his ancestors, tottered out the back door and down the driveway, and disappeared without a trace. We combed the neighborhood until midnight and all the next day. Lindon sat awake all night, opening the back door every few minutes, just in case Fred came home.

For seventeen years he had been at Lindon's side, beside his bed, outside the shower, sleeping under his wheelchair as he worked on his planes or on his cars. They went everywhere together until he became too weak to climb into the car. When he had to stay behind, he howled mournfully until Lindon came home. Four years ago Lindon called and said, "Dad, Fred can't walk." The vet examined him and said he had bone spurs on his spine and suggested that the humane thing would be to let him go. An operation would be expensive and might not work. If it did, you'd still have an old dog. We took Fred home and went over our realistic options. Lindon decided that he would pull him around in a wagon behind his wheelchair. The irony of this overwhelmed us all.

Meantime I remembered an experimental ointment I had heard of called DMSO that supposedly eases arthritic joints in horses and ballplayers. Sure, the vet said, he would let us have a bottle, but warned us that it wouldn't work. A couple of days later Lindon called and said, "Dad, guess who's walking?"

So, with daily rubdowns, Fred had four more years. They weren't necessarily good years for Fred, as he was in pain most of the time and sometimes needed a steroid injection along with his rubdown just to get up off the floor in the morning. Soon after this, he lost his bowel control, and Lindon had to follow after him and clean up. He went blind and deaf. We all knew this story could not have a happy ending.

Lindon is in deep mourning. He is suffering the loss of a loved companion. He suffers the guilt of the bereaved. "I yelled at him, Dad, mainly when I was tired of cleaning up after him. He may have left because of that. But, I certainly didn't mean it. I fed him before I fed myself."

He thinks if he could just find his body, he would be easier about it. He could bury him and put up a memorial in the back yard. But dogs who answer the call go where they can never be found; they go there, curl up, and let go. The poet James Dickey has theorized in a poem that animals go to a heaven that is defined by their earthly lives:

"If they have lived in a woodIt is a wood.If they have lived on plainsIt is a grass rollingUnder their feet forever."

But Fred cannot be in such a heaven. Not yet. Not until the day that his dull eyes brighten and he sees a man with long flowing black hair coming toward him, not riding in his wheelchair but somehow with it, and it is loaded down with guitars and model planes and telescopes and car parts and Alpo. And Fred rises and runs, his muscles no longer stiff and aching; he is striding out, weightless, timeless, toward the only life he ever wanted.