It became a regular thing once I left home. Every time I flew back. Same thing. Whenever I would drive down to my Dad’s rural Nova Scotia home. The same drill.
Pull into the driveway with the rental car. Get out and look over at the doghouse. It was a great work of craftsmanship nestled underneath a towering maple tree, looking like it was going to topple over down the hill. Maybe take part of the house with it. It was painted to match the light baby blue of the house. It blended in well.
Sometimes he was hiding. I would call out his name and watch him slowly exit to walk towards me.
He was named after the various dogs of the same name that Hockey Legend Don Cherry had over many years. A great name that anyone would remember.
As he approached me his tail would start swinging. In his still-younger days he would completely lose his mind at the sight of anyone he knew. I could be gone a year or more. Sometime I was.
Old friends reuniting.
I would let him off his chain and he would follow me into the house. Even if Dad was home we would still head into the front room of the house. On the way there, I would pass the fridge and grab a beer, or put the kettle on for tea. I would feed him even if it was a little before his dinner time. It didn’t matter.
We would spend hours in that front room and look for a good game on TV or watch an old movie. Good times with an old friend. If I was ever to stay the night he would never leave my old room. He would follow me in and crash out on the floor for the whole night. Never moving until sunrise.
Blue was a husky mix that followed Dad home one night during a walk. I remember the night he brought him in the house even though I was not there. I was visiting a cousin in New Brunswick and on the phone with my brother. Mid-conversation I heard some chaos.
“Dad let some dog in the house!”
I was splitting my time between my Mom’s apartment in town and Dad’s old house. When I arrived back I was rather excited to meet the new addition. Dad still was not sure if he was going to be kept or if he was going to be adopted out. It was a tough call. A few difficult weeks went by where he had to be trained a bit. After all, he still was a pup. By the time a month went by it was pretty much a certainty that he was going to be a member of the family.
I remember many long late nights staying up with him because he would not settle. He would hear something outside and want to go after it. He needed a lot of work to be trained to settle in to a normal and less chaotic life. He was a pup that was allowed to run and roam freely. He was not fed properly if at all. It was a drastic sudden change for him to have some structure and people constantly around.
Somehow it all worked out.
Later on into my teens I began to spend more time in town. Still I would make regular and frequent trips down to see Blue. Sometimes I was truly there just to see him. Even my Dad knew that and was cool with it.
Long after I left Nova Scotia those trips down to the house became more important. I wanted to see him first more than anything or anybody. Every time I left it was always difficult. As he aged I would always think more about if I would ever see him again.
During the last year or so of his life things were a bit difficult for him. Dad would run home after work to ensure he was fed before running back out the door to tend to the needs of my Grandparents. Their own health was starting to slip and he did a lot for them. Some of his relatives would come down to tend to Blue when they could. Dad would still get back home in plenty of time to have at least a couple of hours with him before calling it a night.
While I mean no disrespect to my Dad’s memory, as my brother and I were both gone I used to worry constantly that he was not getting enough attention. I was told multiple times by Dad and some of his relatives that he was, but I never always bought those explanations. I missed Blue more and more.
One night Dad called to tell me something was wrong with Old Blue. He seemed very weak and unstable. Somehow later on that night he had calmed down and was back to his normal self so Dad did not worry.
Two days later Dad called again but this time it was with rough news. The night before after he had taken Blue in and went through his usual evening routine, he seemed really off again and suddenly. He laid out on the floor and seemed really warm. Dad put a fan in front of him to help cool him off. He was getting ready to take him to the Vet but before he could even get a phone call in to the clinic, Old Blue had passed away. Right on the living room floor where he and Dad spent hours together.
Dad was crushed. The guilt consumed him for some time. He always felt responsible and that maybe he could have saved his life by doing something two nights before. He waited until the next day to tell us because he was too grief-stricken.
On my first trip back after his passing, I will never forget driving down to the old house and pulling into the driveway just like normal. I got out of the car and started walking towards his dog house. It was still there. His chain was still attached to the house and stretched out completely towards the patio. As if I expected him to magically appear, I called out his name again.
I waited a few irrational seconds. It sank in. He was gone. I picked up his chain, disconnected the end from the structure and headed indoors.
Over time as I reflect back on Old Blue’s life, I dwell on what a wonderful rescue story he was. He seemed to enter our lives at the perfect time. He was given a home and a family. He gave us life lessons and loyalty. This photo now hangs in my home office. I look at it every few days but not with a sense of loss.
Rather, with a sense of love for an old loyal friend.