Camping with Brandy our Best Friend 

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Brandy, my Springer Spaniel, was my main emotional support at the most difficult time in my life. My sister Sarah had a malignant brain tumor and one morning at 3am I received a call that our father had dropped dead from a heart attack. Sarah had a six-hour surgery to remove the tumor when my ex-wife notified me on the phone that she had hired a lawyer and we were getting divorced. It resulted in my having a sad five years until Sarah died. In the evening when I came to the apartment after visiting Sarah in the hospital, Brandy waited for me by the door. Sensing that I was depressed, she related to my mood and looked sad. My ex-wife’s phone conversion resulted in my being unable to get involved with anybody, which I told the women with whom I slept.   

On a Memorial Day weekend, I drove with Brandy and the girlfriend I had at the time to Montauk Point. Before I left Israel, I lived in Tel Aviv a block away from the Mediterranean and developed a passion for the sea. After we arrived in Montauk and registered at the motel, we went to the beach and I bought a large colorful kite. The wind was strong and while I flew the kite, Brandy swam in the ocean between the waves always keeping me in sight. All of a sudden, I felt somebody pulling on my finger and saw a small child holding his kite who told me, “Mister I can’t fly my kite.” Not wanting to be bothered, I told him he should ask his father to help fly his kite. He shook his small finger and said, “my father couldn’t do it and told me to ask you to fly my kite.” 

I wrapped my kite string around his hand and got his kite in the air. Next, I saw 50 kids standing in line holding their kites expecting me to help fly them. When I finished getting all the kites in the air, my girlfriend told me, “I am going to tie all the kite strings to Brandy’s collar and send her to the moon. The reason why you cannot get attached to anybody is because you love Brandy. The girlfriend, who was a nice person, was right. My ex-wife’s phone conversion that we were getting divorced while my sister Sarah had a 6 hours surgery made me bitter and I could only love Brandy.

Five years passed by before I met Ellen, who has been my best friend for the past 45 years. When we met, Ellen had two Siamese cats, Foxy and Carousel. For the first month living together they stayed on the top of the fridge where Ellen fed them and they snuck to the kitty litter when Brandy was sleeping. When they realized that Brandy would not hurt them, they became her “best pals.”  

Feeling like a bitter old man, I told Ellen that I had missed something out of life because of my unhappy past and suggested we should bike, ski and go camping. Ellen’s response was, “I have never done all of that but will give it a try.” 

For five years every summer we took a month-long camping vacation with Brandy sleeping in a tent and visiting the Northwest, National Parks and Canada. At that time the National Parks didn’t have recreational activities like mountain biking and 4-whellling they have today so we had the parks to ourselves.  We took 5 miles hikes with Brandy as our guide when we climbed up trails that had very small markers on the stones.  

We always camped near the ocean, lakes or rivers so Brandy could swim. She didn’t get out of the water until the evening when she smelled the barbeque. Then Brandy visited the various campsites, said “hello” to the children and “sampled” the hotdogs and hamburgers they were eating. The parents, realizing the children were happy playing with Brandy, fed her additional hotdogs and hamburgers. When Brandy finally came to our campsite, she stood next to me making sure I did a good job barbequing. When we drove to our next destination, Brandy sat between me and Ellen, reminding her I was the most important person in her life. 

Our favorite campground was Dunvegan in Nova Scotia. Wanting to be away from the other campers we pitched our tent on the beach close to the ocean. At dinner time we looked at the sun, a large orange ball slowly drifting into the sea. Every day Brandy swam in the cold ocean like a duck without splashing water and didn’t come to our site until it was time to have dinner. One evening, she returned to our campsite with a beautiful ten-year-old girl with black hair and large blue eyes. The girl told us that she met Brandy on the beach and had fun having her fetch driftwood from the sea. The little girl visited us every morning, said hello and then ran with Brandy to the sea holding a piece of driftwood and spent the entire day with her. At sunset she walked with us and Brandy along the water’s edge. While I photographed the sunset, Ellen walked next to me giving me a different lens when I needed it and the little girl walked ahead of us with Brandy, her pal.   

One evening while I barbequed our dinner, I saw a beautiful sunset, grabbed my camera and ran down to the water’s edge to photograph. Brandy joined me and while I photographed, she swam. When we came back, she entered our tent and dried herself on the sleeping bags. That night the temperature dropped. In spite of this, Brandy decided to swim again before we went to sleep, then entered the tent wet and tried to sleep next to Ellen, who told her to move away but she refused. 

Next to our campsite was a beaver dam. All of a sudden, I saw a bunch of young kids throwing stones at the dam. When I asked them what they were doing they told me they wanted to get the beaver out of his dam. Upset, I asked them how they would feel if I threw stones at them so they would know how the beaver felt. They didn’t reply and ran away. Next, we saw a Deacon coming to our campsite wearing his long black gown. When he met us, I offered him coffee and cookies. The Deacon, pleased I was not a confrontational person, told us that they were delinquent kids from rich families and he and the Priest brought them for a week’s camping vacation. When they told the Priest that the nasty man who camped by on the beach threatened to throw stones at them, he told the Deacon to check what kind of trouble they got into.

For a full week. the Deacon, who was my age, visited us every day and discussed his conflicts with me of becoming a Priest or giving into his father’s wish that he join the lucrative family business. I told him that I don’t like to give advice and didn’t have the luxury to have such a choice since I had a bad background. We had endless conversations about his conflicts. When I asked him how happy he would be in twenty years with a wife, children and being the president of his father’s business instead of being a Priest he said, “I would be sorry I missed my calling in life by not becoming a priest.” Next, he told me he would like to bless me. When I told him I was not a religious person, he said it didn’t matter and blessed me in Aramaic.

The following year, without coordinating it, the Deacon and the ten-year-old girl whose family belong to his church came to Dunvegan campground the same week we were there and both visited us every day. The Deacon told us that he had made up his mind to become a Priest and the following year he would have his own Church in Sidney, Nova Scotia. The church was located by the beach and he invited us to visit him saying we could camp on the church grounds, use their facilities, and when it rained stay indoors with him, including Brandy. We couldn’t accept his offer because the following years we traveled and camped in the Northwest and the National Parks, but Ellen kept corresponding with him for 7 years describing the places we visited. 

Twenty years later I met a Jesuit priest for lunch and told him the story about this priest.  He was touched and told me that I was God’s messenger making sure the Deacon didn’t leave the Church. The following day he emailed me:  

    It was very nice meeting you. It was very interesting to hear about your Priest friend and his discernment. I know you’re not religious but still, in Thanksgiving, I will be praying for you and your wife, that you be blessed with health and happiness.    

In Christ, Br. Ronald Conklin   

Brandy’s health failed when she was fifteen and a half, the medication stopped taking effect and she had seizures. Our favorite vet and Ellen both asked me to let Brandy die in peace, but I couldn’t bring myself to make that difficult decision.  

I was forced to face my sad reality when I walked Brandy one morning and she fell against the sidewalk, hitting her ribs. Devastated, I brought her to our apartment and told Ellen that we can’t let Brandy continue to suffer. Relieved I had made the decision, we drove her to NJ where the vet clinics was located. While I drove my mind was racing, not sure I was making the right decision. After we arrived, I changed my mind and was ready to bring her back home and took her for a short walk so that she would be comfortable. Brandy tried to squat and fell face forward against the grass. At that moment I realized that we couldn’t prolong her agony and walked into the vet’s office. Brandy, who loved him, wiggled her tail as she always did when she saw him. The vet looked at me and said, “do you agree with me that the time has come for you to let Brandy go?” I couldn’t answer and just nodded my head. She looked beautiful and peaceful after the vet put her to sleep but I was sorry she was gone. The vet, realizing how upset I was said, “She is no longer suffering and is in a good place now.”

Since than we’ve had other dogs but couldn’t get another Springer Spaniel and I promised myself that I would never let another one of our best friends suffer when it was time to say goodbye. When Ellen and I meet a Springer Spaniel, we are sad remembering Brandy, who was our Best Friend.    

Dani can be reached via SMC – http://www.smcdata.com/contact