Saying so-long to four-legged friend

By Norman Knight

The oak tree is big, nearly 14 feet around. Majestic and awe-inspiring, I get a sense of permanence when I look at it. It reigns on the edge where the forest meets the field.

Just beyond the base under its spreading branches is where over the years we have buried our family’s pets. It is where Becky and I recently laid to rest our long-time companion and loyal friend, Sydney. He was a good dog.

We are not sure exactly when he was born. He showed up on Amanda’s south side Indianapolis front porch during a cold snap in January 2003. “Mom, there is a cute puppy on my doorstep,” she said over the phone. Becky suggested she leave it alone and it would find its way home. Amanda called the next day and reported it was still there.

On the third day she called and Becky said, “Amanda, are you feeding that dog?”

“Well, yeah,” she replied as if it went without saying. Becky sighed, and said she would take the dog “just for a while” until the weather got warmer. By the time the cold was gone Becky, who had been living by herself in her country house, had warmed to Sydney. “He’s good protection,” she said, “and someone to talk to.” He became part of the household.

Becky and her neighbor would run on the road in the early mornings. Sydney would follow along taking side trips to sniff, worry squirrels and chase the occasional deer. They usually ran three or four miles while Syd ran five or six. He was full of young dog energy.

I like to say I was the second stray Becky took in. We two humans met and after Syd’s approval started dating. Soon Syd and I became fast friends and boon companions.

We traipsed the hills and woods of the country and explored the side streets and alleys in the city where I lived. He accepted the leash and the concrete streets without complaint, but when we humans decided to make the country our sole home, I think he was as happy and content as we were with the decision.

We established a sort of shorthand with Sydney. I would put on my work shoes and old coat, and without me saying a word Syd would get up from one of his various spots around the house and follow me out the door to the garden where he would find a shady spot to supervise my work.

Becky would don her garden hat, grab her tool basket and make ready to go kneel in the garden. Sydney would establish himself nearby, sometimes annoying her by lying directly on a favored plant. He would move if she insisted.

It is sometimes hard to see changes in the familiar. You are surprised to notice the few flecks of gray around the formerly coal black snout. You are suddenly aware that the playful puppy that once tossed a toy at your feet daring you to try to pick it up, now prefers to stretch out on his special pillow sleeping.

You realize the dog that lived to run with you now sits on the porch following with his eyes only as you head down the driveway.

Becky and I would be in the meadow and realize faithful old Syd was slowly hobbling his way down the hill to join us. The vet suggested medicines to relieve his aching joints, and they worked for a while.

There came a time, however, when the potions no longer seemed to do much good. There came a time when it was hard for him to stand up by himself.

Sometimes with pets we put off doing what needs to be done for our own selfish reasons. One evening last week we decided that the time had come to say goodbye to our companion of 14 years. We made arrangements with his vet, and Sydney went to sleep peacefully lying right next to his two human friends. Good dog.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to