A Dog Named Boo
As author Rheta Grimsley Johnson's time with an old friend comes to a close, she looks back on the years they've spent together.
- by Rheta Grimsley Johnson
Many children get stylish monikers so that any given year a kindergarten class has six Jennifers or 12 Matthews. It’s as if a committee somewhere takes a vote.
I always try to envision yelling a dog’s prospective name loud and long into a populated world without sounding foolish. I try to keep it simple.
Boo was the perfect name for a perfect piebald, brown and white, mixed-breed. I’ll admit. I first wanted him just to release some of the pressure cooker steam that powered my young yellow Lab, Mabel. I wanted another energetic puppy to run her ragged.
Boo did that and more. He was devoted and diligent, even after he caught a slow-moving pickup truck that broke his leg. It was set but never mended properly. That didn’t slow him much, not for a decade and a half anyhow.
Boo was born to play toady. He didn’t seem to mind leftover collars and leashes and bowls. He took whatever bed that was left, possibly remembering the hard ground from his year in the joint. As long as he got enough food, he was uncomplaining, even happy.
Boozoo has outlasted the elegant Mabel and several other faithful dogs. What’s more, I have lived with the little man longer than I’ve ever lived with anyone, including my parents. I have been divorced and widowed and, let’s just say, will never be in a church basement celebrating 50 years of marital bliss. Boo probably is as close as I’ll come to a lengthy and successful coexistence.
Life without him is hard to imagine.
But on a recent Sunday I had to start. Imagining. Life without Boozoo. Friends took turns digging a grave for him across the branch in the hollow in North Mississippi where I spend much of my life.
Boozoo had fallen, reinjuring that old break in his front leg. He’d essentially been a three-legged dog for all these years, but now he was down to his two back ones, those stiff and straight from arthritis. Any attempt to walk sent him crashing on his head, or sometimes his side. When that happened, he thrashed about frantically like a beached fish and yelped.
The plan was to take him to his veterinarian on Monday, soon as she opened, let her inject a little mercy and bring his tired carcass home. Plans are for fools.
The doctor couldn’t see us till 2 p.m. I was glad for the extra time. I spent most of that day lifting Boo to wherever he needed to be, and then watching him sleep a fitful sleep. Because he’s always been about the feed bowl, I gave him extra and special rations.
Once as a reporter I covered the execution of a man at Parchman Prison. His sadly plebian request for a last meal was Sloppy Joes.
I gave Boo Vienna sausages. I knew from experience – countless fishing expeditions as a child – what a guilty pleasure those could be.
I left a little early for the vet’s office to drive a way we never go. My thought was that by using a different route Boo wouldn’t suspect our destination.
I went inside and told Boo’s doctor what was happening and asked if she’d bring her needle to the car. She pressed me to allow an examination.
I rather reluctantly brought Boo to her table, resenting the trauma that he always feels when boosted onto the slick exam table. Not a good last memory, I thought. Better to have ended with Vienna sausages.
“It’s not broken,” she said. “We could try an anti-inflammatory and if it’s going to help it will help quickly.”
That is how Boo and I soon were on our way back to the hollow, adjusting to a new routine. The shot made a dramatic difference. The pain seemed to go away. He still stumbles but less frequently.
Boo for the first time is the center of attention. The other dogs sense he’s been promoted.
And I am walking that fine line, doing a little stumbling myself. It is hard to decide when to let go. On the one hand, it’s easy to do all you can for an old, old friend who has never made many demands before. But I don’t want to make Boozoo – veteran of The Joint – suffer needlessly.
For now, at his doctor’s suggestion, we soldier on. “It won’t be for long,” she said.
Boo has been through all the states between Mississippi and Colorado. He has visited in Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and Tennessee. He’s been in the back of a half dozen vehicles and on the cover of a book. He’s growled at one person, nipped one person, fought occasionally over food, but mostly been a sweet-tempered, long-suffering, patient-to-a-fault companion.
The pile of dirt across the branch is a constant reminder of Boozoo’s ultimate destination. Pulling back from it, if only for a few days, feels right.
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