They approached from different directions, but gathered in the clearing between the all-you-can-eat treat station and the beach. Just south of the digging field and the marsh. Their tails wagged with excitement.
The assembling dogs were all fluffy, scrappy, and mostly large. They had one other thing on common too; they’d all lived in the Big Gray House and been loved and cared for by the humans who live there.
Muffin, who looked like her Old English Sheepdog mother but whose father was a naughty Irish Setter, had been there on the Other Side the longest. They all looked to her expectantly, “So? What did he say?”
“Samson at the gate on this side of the Bridge says she’ll be here any minute. She said Goodbye to them just a little while ago.”
“Oh, I can’t wait!” Oliver, who was white and tan and the smallest of the group, wiggled, “It will be nice to see her again – even if she did sometimes annoy me – and I can’t wait to hear about Grampy and G-Ma and my human too!”
“Everything annoys you, Oliver” the gray, white and wirey Bearded Collie Tilly added, “but come to think of it, it has been a while. You were the last one to fill us in on stuff happening back home in the Big…”
“I think that’s her!” Daisy, the large, slightly vacuous but sweet Old English Sheepdog interrupted with a bark, and they all turned to see Bootsie approaching. Her fur was black and white, fluffy and clean, and the sore bumps she had on her body which itched so much were all gone. Her joints didn’t hurt anymore and she could suddenly hear just the right amount; not too little and not too much. She didn’t like a lot of noise, you see.
Their tails all wagged with hospitality and she slowed, tucking her tail a bit and taking in their scents as she approached. Their individual smells seemed familiar to her, and then she realized why; each had left some of their scent back at home in the Big Gray House. It was then that she understood who they were. Her tail wagged and she padded up to them slowly but with a bit more confidence.
“Bootsie! Bootsie!” They all cheered and collected around her and told her they had been waiting patiently for her. “I know it’s sad to leave them, but we’ll have fun here together, and weren’t they just the best humans you could ever have asked for?!” gushed Tilly as she bounced up and down a bit on her big paddle paws.
“Oh yes” Bootsie responded shyly, looking up at them from her slightly bowed head, “I loved them very much and for as long as I possibly could. Until my joints got sore and I started to not feel so good.”
They reassured her that they understood.
“Bootsie! Tell us about them!” Oliver exclaimed with his tail spinning like a propeller, “Did you see my human? She’s the daughter of the humans in the Big Gray House.” he explained to the others even though they’d heard this story already, “I didn’t live there all my life, but one day, Mom – that’s my human – put me in the car and we drove and drove.” Oliver reminisced, “One time while we were driving, she pulled over to take a nap. She was snoozing when a squirrel came by. I worried it would wake her with its chattering so a barked Keep it down my human is sleeping! Ha! I really showed that tree rat! Anyway, we drove until it went from very hot outside to not so hot out, and we went to the Big Gray House and that became home!”
“Yes,” said Bootsie, “I spent time with your human. She’s the only one who could hold me in her lap just right when I was younger. On my last night at home, she gave me chicken from her plate at dinner!”
“From her PLATE!!!?” They were all shocked as this was not allowed, ever, at home in the Big Gray House.
This Bootsie must be something special, they all thought.
“What was your favorite part, Bootsie?!” inquired Tilly, “My favorite things were dumping out the big trash can and…” she thought for a moment, “riding in the car with Dad!”
“Ooo I like that too!” chimed in Oliver
“And me!” said Muffin.
Daisy scratched her ear with her hind paw.
“That was OK” said Bootsie, “Sometimes it made me nervous.”
“I also liked going on walks with Dad!” Tilly noted, looking to Bootsie for confirmation that she, too, loved this activity.
“Yes, well, that made me a little nervous too. I just didn’t know who might be coming around the bend.” Bootsie elaborated, “But if I was feeling shy I would turn my head around like this…” Bootsie turned her back to the pack to demonstrate and then flipped just her head around to look at them. They all nodded and she added “and I knew I was OK because Dad was always behind me!”
“Is the big glowing fort still in the backyard?” interjected Daisy, “There was a big fort there when I was there” she said, turning to Tilly, who nodded because she remembered too. “You know what my favorite thing was?!” Daisy changed the subject, forgetting about the fort “I loved to dig holes in the yard! That was so fun! Sometimes I could even get out from under the pen!”
“There was no pen when I was there!” bragged Muffin, who went on about all the places she’d been with Mom and Dad before they even got home to the Big Gray House. “I pooped on a fancy red carpet in the city once!” They all howled with laughter at the thought of it as they all took a seat in a circle and Muffin continued, “and this one time, I ate an entire wheel of cheese and then I was in the yard forever going like this!” Muffin moved to the center of the circle, squatted, and grunted dramatically.
Again, they all howled with laughter, some relating more with the situation than others.
“I was there when Mom and Dad had babies, and when the babies were in their crates, I was in charge of protecting them and so I would nap under their crates and make sure NO ONE came near!” they all looked at Muffin with impressed reverence as she demonstrated her most ferocious, protective sneer. What a big role Muffin played! “But one of my favorite things was walking Christopher, the boy, to school. That was so fun, because I would drop him off then wander around town…”
“You WANDERED around town!?” Oliver and Bootsie marveled in unison. Bootsie was seated next to Oliver because they knew each other Before, when Oliver was an old dog and Bootsie was just a bouncing puppy. Bootsie was so happy to see a familiar face in this new place.
“Yeah you could do that when I was there” Muffin continued, “and I would walk down the side streets and the butcher would give me salami butts and the baker day-old eclairs. And then I’d go home and Mom would be there to give me pats and tell me how pretty I was and then I’d nap. Boy,” Muffin thought wistfully, “It sure was great.”
“I dug holes!” repeated Daisy, helpfully.
“Tell us more” Oliver implored to Bootsie.
“Well, they are still very busy humans and never boring. And people come and go a lot. But they are never too busy for belly rubs and pats on the head and nice things to say. They were very loving.”
They all nodded in agreement and Bootsie continued, “Dad would work on his boat at the House by the Water, and I would lay in the sha – wait, do you all know about the House by the Water?” she asked to the pack, not wanting to leave someone out. “Oliver and Tilly told us about it!” Muffin confirmed as Daisy gazed up at a cloud, tracking it as it floated by.
Bootsie continued “OK so sometimes I’d be in the shade and sometimes the sun. It was so nice, dozing to the sound of his tools buzzing and tapping. But sometimes I would not sleep because I needed to keep an eye out for enemies while Dad worked. You never know who might come along! And I would go for swims there too. I love swimming! It’s my favorite! Sometimes I even swam with Mom.” Bootsie paused now and turned to the little dog, Oliver, “You know how we would run around and chase each other on the grass?!” Oliver nodded. As he recalled, this rough-housing sometimes made him grumpy and also worry that he might break a nail. Bootsie went on, “Well, I did that with your human’s dog Harlow, too. She’s pretty obnoxious sometimes,” but then, because Bootsie is a kind dog, she quickly added “…but she means well!”
“And at night at the House by the Water I would go to sleep in the bathroom where they left on a light for me because they know I like that. At home in the Big Gray House I sleep in the bathroom too but I pull down the towel because it smells like Mom and I can fluff it just right. I also really liked staying up late with Mom. I would lay under her desk while she made things with the glowing box running, and go to bed only when Mom was ready. I became a real night-dog!” she had warmed to the group and was really on a roll now, “When the sun started to come up at the House by the Water, I would tippy-pad through the house to decide which human’s bed I wanted to crawl under to sleep some more. Then I would shuffle under like this…” Bootsie now held court in the middle of the circle of dogs, and demonstrated her silent belly crawl to the group.
Every morning at home in the Big Gray House, Dad would give her lots of love and snuggles and then he would walk her through the yard around the house. “I could catch up on all the latest news; which dogs had been there and how many bunnies had passed through” all eight ears perked up at the sound of the word bunnies, “And I had a special place to poop too because I don’t like others seeing me poop. It’s indelicate.”
She told them about how back at the House by the Water, Dad would walk with her along the beach. Sometimes she’d go for a dip, and other times she would just enjoy smelling the tall grass and sand. The best was when she found fresh fish to roll in! Reeli and Billy would take her for walks on the road, and she would sit at Billy’s feet while he relaxed in his rocking chair, or under Dad while he napped in the hammock. She talked about digging holes and going exploring with Harlow, and laying under the big table listening to the humans chat over their food bowls and table games while she chewed on her nails with great dedication. She told them about how every night at exactly 9PM, she would politely request treats from Mom, and then she’d get treats! “It worked every time!”
The dogs all lay down in the soft green grass as Bootsie regaled them with more tales of life with their humans and how much they loved her. How on pancake and waffle days she would get to have some too. Oliver nodded, fondly recalling this himself. She talked about how brave she was protecting the Big Gray House when strangers came (she was honest though and admitted to them that she barked from the second floor). Oliver took this moment to proudly interject that he too protected the Big Gray House. Specifically from the suspicious and potentially explosive paper that came through the door every day.
Tilly nodded knowingly, and growled quietly with her brow furrowed.
Bootsie talked about the Christmas parties, and how during the last one she came down and socialized with all the humans, “I was less timid because it was so much quieter than all the previous parties. I felt very festive being there!”
Muffin shared how fun it was to herd all the humans at those parties and what a great source of dropped food it was.
“One time the party was over and someone left a bunch of sweet puffy things on the low table, and I went in there and ate them all!” Bootsie giggled, “It took them awhile to figure out what happened.”
Oliver perked up again, “Remember that time, Bootsie, when I ate all the cheese from that low table and then came into the other room with the bigger food table and threw it all up while our humans were having a fancy meal?!”
Bootsie did remember. It was gross but also pretty funny.
“They were very sad at the end,” Bootsie talked of their humans, “I hated seeing them so sad because they made me so happy and gave me such a fun life!” Bootsie continued as the others listened with understanding. “I don’t think I was doing very well right before I left them, but you know it’s the strangest thing; when I arrived here I sort of remembered what was wrong before, but now I just can’t remember. It’s like when you wake from a dream and suddenly can’t remember who or what you were chasing in the dream? I don’t remembering anything except good things. And that I was loved and that I loved them.”
The five of them – Muffin, Daisy, Tilly, Oliver, and now Bootsie – sat quietly for a while, the occasional nose twitching from a passing scent. After some time passed Oliver turned to his friend, “Would you like to go for a swim, Bootsie?”
She told him she would like that very much.
They all turned to look at their new friend Bootsie. Oliver made himself as tall as he could and quickly, lovingly flicked her ear with his nose, “Race you!”
Bootsie smiled (in the way dogs do), her heart full, and the five friends took off like a shot. Together.