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By His Side: Tales of Love and Loyalty Between a Man and His Dogs

By His Side: Tales of Love and Loyalty Between a Man and His Dogs

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By His Side: Tales of Love and Loyalty Between a Man and His Dogs

Longueur:
587 pages
9 heures
Sortie:
Apr 2, 2015
ISBN:
9781310076503
Format:
Livre

Description

BK’s dog, Batman, discovers cancer has returned in his mother, Georgia. As her health declines, Georgia shares an oral history of their master, BK’s, incredible life journey with dogs as he leaves college and enters the working world He finds love and marriage, raises four children, then loses it all in the Great Recession of 2008.
Georgia teaches Batman about the virtuous behavior required to be an “oath keeper” for their master. By recounting tales of dogs that have come before him, she illustrates to Batman stories of perseverance, courage, faith, trust, and loyalty through tales of the dogs, and offers advice on how to carry on the tradition. She reveals the miracle of Rainbow Bridge, and the promise the place holds. BK meets his spirit animal at the age of five years-old, and learns that he is destined to have a canine “oath keeper” walk by his side throughout his life.
The story opens in New Orleans in the late 1970s, where he receives his first dog as a gift, a Basset Hound he names Max. Not sure whether the young pup is a welcome addition or a burden, Max earns BK’s respect after the pup intercedes to prevent a mugging. After graduation from college, BK moves to western Colorado, where he pursues a career in real estate. You’ll meet Dixie, a black and white Springer Spaniel pup who joins BK on his journey, and becomes his first “oath keeper.”
The story moves to late 1970s Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, where BK hits his stride in his career, survives his first hurricane, and buys a Golden Retriever, which he names Jackson. You’ll read about their improbable deer hunting trip to Michigan, and BK’s life as a bachelor on the fledgling resort island, Stories of BK’s forays into love, travel, and a close brush with a Federal Drug probe are detailed in snapshots of lifestyle and island culture, long gone now since the resort boomed. Pre-development Daufuskie Island is remembered. Max’s exploits are detailed as BK has more and more trouble keeping his incorrigable hound on the right side of the law.
When BK returns to New Orleans for graduate school in 1984, Dixie assumes the full range of her duties as oath keeper. She sees BK through his marriage and the births of two new children, and raises Mocha, a Chocolate Lab puppy as the next “oath keeper.” Along the way they rescue a second, unusual Chocolate Lab named Coco. Mocha becomes a mother after having a litter of her own.
BK and his family relocate to Colorado in 1992. The family has another child. They deal with the presence of a ghost in BK’s ranch homestead. For the next eighteen years, BK builds a menagerie of furry friends on his mini-ranch, adding a horse, llamas, miniature donkeys, and a kennel full of Siberian Husky sled dogs. The book relates the thrills and frustrations of the new hobby, including a life or death experience where the sled dogs guide his daughter and him through a blinding snowstorm at night. The team's lead dog, Rocky, becomes the oath keeper upon Mocha’s death.
As the millennium passes, BK and his family add a pair of Springer Spaniel pups, Savannah and Georgia. The pups have a most entertaining episode in a boarding kennel. Georgia goes on to bear a litter of her own, which produces the book’s main character, Batman.
Batman tells the remainder of the story as it reveals BK’s special relationship with his dog, chronicled in BK’s nostalgic return to Michigan for a high school reunion, Batman’s near deadly spill from the truck, and his harrowing escape from a boarding kennel, followed by nine days of wandering in the wilderness. Georgia has a second litter of puppies, bringing Deacon to the family in the most improbable way.
By 2007 the family faces financial crisis as the economic downturn hits BK’s business. Tensions rise and BK’s marriage faces its biggest challenge yet. BK loses his own mother very suddenly while Batman cares for his mother during her own battle.

Sortie:
Apr 2, 2015
ISBN:
9781310076503
Format:
Livre

À propos de l'auteur

Brian Kolowich is an independent author currently residing in Bluffton, South Carolina. He has recently retired from a career in real estate brokerage, seaport marketing, and real estate development. His new release "By His Side" is narrated by his dogs Batman and Georgia, and covers a lifetime of experiences with several different breeds, including English Springer Spaniels, a Basset Hound, a Golden Retriever, a Chocolate Labrador Retriever, and a racing team of Siberian Husky sled dogs. Kolowich did both undergraduate and graduate business studies at Tulane Unversity in New Orleans. Originally from Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, he has lived in New Orleans, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina,and Ouray County, Colorado, before returning back to coastal South Carolina. He is an avid bird hunter, sailor, and boating enthusiast. He has four children

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By His Side - Brian David Kolowich

Foreword

When I sat down to begin this work, I had no idea where the process was going to lead. I don’t profess to be an authority on dogs, or any animal for that matter. My experiences are just those, experiences. But mine seemed to have another-world bend to them. Many simply defied belief. I told many of these stories over the years in classic raconteur fashion, to groups of listeners eagerly waiting for the climax. More than once I heard, You’ve got to write that down. So I started. I guess, in one way, I’ve been in training to write this book my whole life.

One inspiration came from watching my dog, Batman, tend to his mother, Georgia, during her decline due to a return of cancer. Over the next couple of months, they spent hours together each day in obvious communicative exchanges. I felt a bit left out, unable to decipher their words. Man has accomplished many feats of translation. We broke the codes of the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II, but we have never been able to produce a dictionary and thesaurus of dog expressions. None of my five senses allowed me to understand what they were saying. I would need a sixth sense.

While visiting Arizona in 2011, I began studying Shamanism and the concept of soul retrieval. A Phoenix shaman journeyed on my behalf into the spirit world, engaging her spirit helpers to aid in clearing the negativity from my soul, compartmentalize my fears, and free my spirit to live and love again. She met my spirit animal, or power animal, the animal spirit which resides within each individual adding to their power and protecting them from illness, acting similarly to a guardian angel.

Without knowing a thing about my past, the shaman recited a story from my childhood, ironically, a chapter I had penned less than two weeks before. The shaman also described the financial and familial strife I had experienced, and gave me rock solid advice for dealing with them on my journey. I learned that my power animal always made sure I had a teacher, guide, and protector on my earth journey in the form of a dog. And, not just any dog. Among many dogs I owned, one would choose me as I would choose them. They would become the oath keeper, pledged to be by my side. Upon reflection, I came to understand the significance of certain dogs in my life. My string of oath keepers has remained unbroken, to this day.

Another inspiration for capturing and assembling these accounts was to put vivid snapshots of the wonderful places in which I’ve been blessed to live into words. The world around us changes every day, and the surroundings in which I lived have, in many cases, been transformed beyond recognition. It takes only a generation for the details to fade, and eventually disappear from memory unless commemorated in writing. This book is for my children, and their children’s children.

Even the most ridiculous stories in this book are completely true. I simultaneously apologize to, and appreciate those who received a random phone call, email or text from me seeking to corroborate details of events, some going back 30 years or more. I hope I have faithfully reported those anecdotes.

Chapter 1 – The Routine

I can see a change in my mom. A pained, concerned look has appeared in her eyes. Her usual kinetic energy is waning, and she rises a little more gingerly now. I notice she hesitates – just a little, but noticeably so, before she leaps up into the truck, as if reassuring herself that she can still do it. Something is wrong.

From my roost in the big, green upholstered chair under the front window, I dive down and move toward her resting spot, where she lies dozing lightly against the painted brick of the fireplace hearth. She receives my advance with a half-turn of the head, followed by a nuzzle to my snout. Then, she slowly rolls over and raises her leg to the sky, letting me gently sniff and probe her underside.

Starting at the curly, silky fur on her breastbone, I move downward. I pass the scars of the missing teats that once nourished my littermates and me. Then, I feel it. There, in her loin area, under her skin is an unmistakable lump. It is hotter than the surrounding flesh, throbbing a little as blood pulses through the tumor. Dammit! It’s back.

I look up at BK, but his nose is buried in a book. The house is quiet, save for the incessant mumble of cable news mumbling through the TV on the mantle. It’s almost 3 p.m., and we’ll be loading up soon for the short drive to pick up Ryan from school. Then we’ll fill the idle after-school hours now that Ryan’s football season has ended. His older brother Andrew, a high school senior, has his own wheels. He’ll show up in a few hours, sweaty and ravenous after one of the final tune-up practices before his high school football playoff game this weekend.

Deacon, my younger Springer Spaniel half-brother, lies snoozing between the big chair and the draped table, in a makeshift cave that satisfies his den instinct. Deacon’s eyes flutter, and his front paws twitch, probably deep in a dream of chasing birds across the irrigated meadow at the ranch. A room away in Kristin’s bedroom, I can hear Chai, my sister, snoring lightly on her makeshift throne, a pink-draped circular ottoman. She goes there to keep her solitary vigil, waiting for her human companion to return home from graduate school, far away in South Carolina.

Batman, don’t worry yourself, Georgia whispers to me. We knew this day might come. The vet even told BK that I’d be lucky to get another good year after my cancer surgery. And it’s been longer than that.

I know, mom, but we have to let BK know. There has to be something he can do, I insisted.

With consoling eyes, Georgia replies, "Batman, BK will know soon enough, and take good care of me. He won’t let me suffer. I know it. I’ve lived a satisfying and happy life, full of love, loyalty and adventure with his family and him. I have no regrets, no fears. And I take comfort knowing that, when I leave this world, I will go to Rainbow Bridge. There I’ll be reunited with my sister, Savannah, and your brothers, Norman and Czar. I’ll see all the sled dogs. I’ll see Rico, the llama, and those silly Sicilian Donkeys.

"But how do you know it, mom?"

Deacon awoke with a start and raised his head a little, listening-in on our conversation.

Is it time to go yet? Deacon groggily asked.

Wait for the keys, Deacon. You know that, his mother replied. Then she returned to our conversation.

Mom, why does everyone make fun of the way I follow BK around all the time, and the way I mope and cry when he leaves me behind? I asked. Why do they think it’s ridiculous?

Son, your love and loyalty is always rewarded with BK. You’re not his first, nor his last canine companion. Neither am I. We are just two of many who have shared a part of his life. It is his destiny to always have a canine companion. There was Max, his wandering basset hound, and his companion, Dixie, his first Springer. There was Jackson, Mocha, Coco, Savannah, Rascal, Ranger, Rocky, Angel, Panda, Thor, and Yukon. All have shared his life. Some you have known in your nine years so far on earth, Batman. Others you have only heard spoken of.

How did you learn about all who came before you, Mom? asked Deacon.

"Their stories have been passed down to me by Rocky, the Aedelwulf, or ‘wise one.’ Rocky received his knowledge from Mocha, the Bardulf, or ‘bright one.’ Mocha was told the history by Dixie, whose spirit name was Faolan, the ‘little wolf.’ She was BK’s first partner he chose for himself. I’m thinking now that maybe it’s getting time for me to pass the stories along to you, too. My time here on this earth may be short. You have earned the right, Batman. Your spirit name shall be Randulfr - his shield and his spear. When the time comes, you will pass our history on to another."

The ding-dang-ding-dong of the mantel clock signaled that BK would soon rise from his chair, head for the fridge, take a long swig out of the milk jug, and pull something out of the freezer for dinner. It is the same every weekday, unless he goes out on a limo run. But today is Tuesday, the slow part of the week for the private car transport business, where BK ferries anxious visitors from the reliable jetport at Montrose, Colorado, sixty-five miles up the scenic byway to Telluride. It is early November now, and although he randomly scrambles out the door at any hour of the day or night when needed, the real business won’t heat up until Thanksgiving, when the ski resort officially opens. Today the phone has been silent.

BK usually takes us with him wherever he goes. The familiar sound we all understand is the jangle of his car keys when he grabs them, opens the closet door, and slips into his jacket. Every set of keys makes its own, distinct sound. The pitch of his keys is unmistakable as they bang against his carbineer and Newcastle beer opener. No matter what stage of sleep or play we might be in, we scramble at that sound like a firehouse squad and assemble at the front door, bouncing and stretching like runners readying for the starter’s gun.

This school run is relatively new for us, since BK, Georgia and I have moved back in with his sons, plus Chai and Deacon, earlier in the year. The family has been reunited once again, after a marital separation dating back to May, 2008, which had split not only the human members of the family, but the canine ones as well. We lived apart for six months. BK stayed on the ranch in Colona, while his wife Kathy took a modest rental house in-town. A Christmas Day armistice had been negotiated between the couple, and efforts had been made to patch up their broken marriage, with moderate success.

But Kathy opted to move to Texas a few weeks ago, chasing her big chance to jump aboard one of the lower rungs of the corporate healthcare ladder. That’s the same ladder BK had unceremoniously jumped-off of seventeen years earlier, electing to raise his young family in a pristine and peaceful lifestyle in Southwestern Colorado. This time, the decision to separate was driven largely by economics. A month ago, Kathy had been unexpectedly laid-off from her HR job with a regional home health and hospice provider. BK’s erratic and unpredictable work as a limo driver was not paying all the bills. It seemed like an obvious, even mandatory move to save the family. But below the surface, her departure signaled an ominous bellwether to the prospects of reviving their 24 year-old marriage. With Kathy gone now, and daughters Kristin and Allison away at school, it is just BK and his two sons left behind in Colorado now, plus my momma dog, Georgia, and those of us who remain of her offspring.

BK grabs the remote to kill the TV while we jockey for position at the front door. The four of us shift and shuffle, vying for the prime, inside post-position when the screen door will open. Chai’s long, thick, rope-like tail whips and beats the wall, the door and whichever of the other dogs who get pushed to the rear. We dance; we lunge, waiting for BK to release the hounds!

C’mon BK! Hurry up! we whine.

Once the latch is released, we simultaneously bolt through the opening, not waiting for the door to be fully swung open, but instead charging four-across through the crease. We hit the landing and leap off the porch into the yard, barking with excitement. BK rounds the front of the pick-up truck, and reaches for the rear door of the big, white crew-cab Ford diesel he affectionately nicknamed Moby Dick.

Let’s go! Up! BK orders. In unison, Deacon and I spring airborne, our front claws grasping and rear legs pumping to catch the edge of the seat to complete the four-foot leap up onto the back seat. Georgia, the older, wiser veteran of thousands of truck-loading ascents, waits momentarily for the younger bucks to launch. Once they clear, she makes a calculated, well-practiced movement. She deftly hops onto the running board, squeezes onto the floor of the rear compartment, then up onto the rear seat. All three of us turn and wait. Chai, always a bit of a princess halts, then turns and circles the truck once. Then she stalls, looks, and circles again.

Dammit Chai! Get in! BK growls impatiently, but he knows from experience that Chai, and only Chai will decide exactly when she will load herself. Finally, after three near-launches, followed by three hesitations, she leaps high, bounces off the empty edge of the rear seat. Setting her feet for a second, she then bounds over the front seatback, and lands squarely in the unoccupied front passenger seat. She looks down her nose at BK, as if announcing we can go now.

BK fires up the noisy Powerstroke, and lets it idle for a minute before backing out of the driveway onto Stratford Drive, the quiet Montrose street on which we now live. He cracks the power windows about halfway open, allowing Deacon, Georgia and I to thrust our noses out into the breeze as we build speed. Chai, who practices no such unrefined canine behavior, chooses instead to maintain her posture sitting in the front passenger seat, thoughtfully watching the world pass by through the windshield.

The student pick-up area at Columbine Middle School looks like one of those charity duck races, where yellow bobbers bump and jostle their way around a curve in the stream. Cars enter in a single line, but quickly spread four across trying to load their student cargo, and then continue out in single file. BK deftly guides his big truck through the mess, hoping to catch Ryan’s eye, and get out of the calamity as quickly as possible. We dogs array our heads out the open windows, trying to pick Ryan out of the sea of children pouring out the two exit doors.

Even though he is only a seventh grader, Ryan is easy to spot, as he is among the tallest of the adolescent boys. But rarely does he head straight for the truck, engaging instead in some mandatory socializing with his schoolmates. It usually ends with a long hug from his cute, eighth-grade girlfriend, Abbey. Finally he breaks away, pulls open the passenger door, and shoos Chai and Georgia into the back seat.

Hey little buddy, BK says, his standard greeting. How was school today?

It was fine, Ryan responded, sparing any further detail. We edge out toward the exit, give the standard salute to the crossing guard, and turn onto the street.

BK tries again to initiate a conversation, this time challenging him. What do you know now that you didn’t know this morning when you got to school?

Ryan thought for a minute, and then responded with a hint of excitement in his voice. Well, I caught my teacher, Mr. Hassel, on a history fact he had wrong. He even looked it up, and said I was right. It was about the Battle of Stalingrad.

How do you know about the Battle of Stalingrad? BK queried, thrilled and a little amazed that his son shared BK’s same love of history, and actually retained facts.

I learned it on my X-Box game, Call of Duty," Ryan replied, glibly. Then he looked at BK in time to catch the predictable eye-roll. BK was already lamenting that this small factual victory was inspired not by quiet reading of a book, but by a video game.

Rather than head home, we turn south and head toward the outskirts of town. Ryan doesn’t object. Instead, he turns and greets each of us with a rub of our ears and a pat on our heads.

I need to go to Colona and check on some stuff. Are you up for a little road trip? I think the dogs could use a swim before the pond freezes over, too.

Ryan nods, grabbing BK’s iPod and switching the Motown playlist to something with more of an urban beat. He adjusts the base on the truck speakers until a deep thump-thump-thump vibrates through the door panels. He looks sheepishly at BK, seeking approval. Instead he gets a compromising thumbs-down, followed by a pinched thumb-forefinger combination. It means Ok, but turn it down a little.

BK could not fathom how his sons, raised in the mostly white rural west, in a sparsely populated county, had become not only exposed to, but attracted to this bumping, thumping, and mostly illiterate gibberish. They had never lived in a big city, nor witnessed the gangsta lifestyle this music represented. To add to the irony, his sons Ryan and Andrew had an amazing musical vocabulary, ranging from classic rock to ‘80s disco, to country to rhythm and blues. Lately they preferred to blast hip-hop and techno remixes. BK suspected that having older sibling sisters away at college had influenced their affection for the sound. As was BK’s style, he had resolved himself to tolerate it, endure it, and even try to like it as a way of understanding his own kids. Remarkably, some of it was actually starting to grow on him a little.

Deacon, Georgia and I manage to squeeze our heads out the rear passenger window together. Our ears dance and tongues wag as our paws squeeze onto the armrest, and our chests press against the partially raised glass. I knew enough to avoid the power window switch, which could swiftly raise the glass on our necks in reverse guillotine fashion if BK had not activated the window lock. Chai, relegated to coach-class seating now, seems content to stake out the left side of the back seat, and quietly observe the passing townscape from a seated position. Her nose slightly elevates and dips to gather passing scents of the outside world.

We don’t know yet whether we are going to stop to do some errand on the south side of town, or go further to Colona. A trip to the ranch means we get to run free, either across the meadows there, or on one of the ranch properties that BK still owns in partnership, and takes us to so often. We deplore our new life in a walled backyard, in a city neighborhood where leashes are mandatory and barking not tolerated. It is a far cry from the unfenced, open land we had lived our lives upon thus far. We watch anxiously as we approach the last remaining stoplight at Appleby’s, then rejoice when we proceed through it, build to highway speed and head into the countryside.

Chapter 2 - Roots

BK was the third child born in a family of five sons and one daughter. His lone sister fell right behind BK in the birth order. Those six children had come in fairly rapid succession following his father, Fred's, marriage to Marilynn Lynn Convery in 1951.

Fred was from a well-to-do, ascendant family that had risen out of the Polish enclave in Detroit known as Hamtramck. His father, George, barely recovered huge financial losses in the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed. His dad, together with his wife, Irene, at his side had steadfastly re-established his business interests in banking, real estate development, hotels, grain elevators, and shipping, reportedly losing it all and regaining it at least three times in his life. At one point, George was elected to represent Michigan's 3rd district as a state senator.

Fred, the youngest of four siblings, had borne much of the brunt of the family’s roller-coaster finances. With his sister Kay, he was packed-off at age five to the good nuns at Hall of the Divine Child, a catholic boarding school in Monroe, Michigan, until his parents could recover. The youngest child of many traditional Polish families was essentially given over to the Catholic Church in order to replenish the crop of new priests. Fred followed the path from seminarian to novitiate, reading and writing Latin fluently, and earning a degree in Philosophy. Besieged with doubt about his calling to the priesthood, he withdrew from the Seminary at St. Michael’s College in Vermont two years earlier. He enlisted in the U.S. Army at the end of World War II, just in time for the postwar occupation of Japan. He was among the first U.S. soldiers to enter Nagasaki, one of the two Japanese cities leveled by atomic bombs. Upon discharge, he returned to Detroit and went to work for his father's companies as an accountant and bookkeeper. He spoke little about his experiences in Japan.

Lynn was a stunning young professional woman, fresh from a couple of years of university education at Barry College in Miami. She was from a modest, German-Irish working class family from the eastside of the city. But unlike many young women of modest means in the late 1940s, her education had given her an edge over her peers in the working world. She was eloquent and precise in her words, and had risen to a position as the trusted executive assistant to the district director of a nationwide insurance company.

Fred first spied her walking the gilded corridors of the Griswold Building, where they both worked. There was dating, a courtship, and eventually marriage.

With the arrival of their first son, Michael, less than a year after their marriage, the young family settled into a modest home on Fisher Road in the lakefront suburb of Grosse Pointe Farms. Another son, Bradley, was born thirteen months later. With the arrival of BK in November, 1955, they moved to a new, larger home on the brand-new street of South Duval in Grosse Pointe Shores. This fledgling subdivision had been carved out on ground that was previously farmed, and was still bordered by an expanse of corn fields and woods.

Fred surmised this would be ideal romping grounds for the boys, and convinced Lynn that the family needed pets. Fred brought home a pair of nine-week old English Springer Spaniel pups before BK was even a year old. Humorously named Brandy and Soda, they soon became more a part of toddling BK's daily world than his siblings. In the ensuing years, the dogs and BK literally grew up together, often falling asleep in a heap, arms, legs and paws intertwined in restful slumber.

BK's father trained the Springers to retrieve the ring-neck pheasant, plentiful there in Southeastern Michigan. BK loved to help his dad hide the scent markers, which were pigeon wings tacked to wood-shake roofing shingles. They were arrayed in the corn stubble out back, followed by frequent training sessions with the young spaniels. By the tender age of five, BK had learned to command Brandy and Soda to hup, heel, and fetch, and they dutifully responded to him with obedience and patience.

By mid-1960, the household was once again bursting at the seams. A younger sister, Sara Lynn, had joined the three boys in 1958, and Lynn was now pregnant with her fifth child. It was time to search for a larger home. They decided to buy a residence on the corner of Kenwood and Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Farms, a sprawling red-brick Georgian Colonial with five second floor bedrooms, and a large fenced backyard for the kids. It was ideally located only one block from the schools the kids would attend. Built in 1928, it contained maid’s quarters, a finished third-floor with a game room, model train room, an extra bedroom and bath, and room for a home office for Fred. It would need quite a bit of renovation before becoming ready to receive the family. Shortly after younger brother Thomas' birth in late June, the family and dogs shipped-off to Fred's mother's cottage across Lake St. Clair in Puce, Canada, while the upgrades were performed.

To call it a cottage might be a bit of a misnomer. The Dutch Colonial home looked quite stately with its gambrel roof, flared eaves, and orderly row of dormer windows on the second floor, accented by pale green scalloped shingles. Enormous striped canvas awnings resembling droopy eyelids hung over first floor windows. The main structure was set deep into six meticulously landscaped acres. Out back were a few hundred feet of frontage on the Canadian side of the lake. The beach was sandy, leading down to water that was clear and shallow for quite some distance. It was perfect for kids and dogs to run, swim, and play catch and fetch, or in BK's case, just to sit and craft mud pies with his sand toys. The grounds were carpeted with closely mowed lawn, punctuated by dozens of soaring elm, maple and walnut trees. There was an ancient and prolific grape arbor, chock full of vitis vinifera clinging to an elaborate white lattice and trellis framework. Cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc grapes flourished here, where they grew at the same latitude and in similar soil as their Mediterranean grape counterparts. The amoeba-shaped concrete fish pond was stocked with giant Japanese gold carp, moving serenely beneath a canopy of blooming lily pads. Spanning the pond was an arched, wooden footbridge, from which the kids would drop scraps of bread to the goldfish, or explore, looking for frogs and grasshoppers hiding in an elevated rock garden that rose from the terminus of the span. In the center of the circular driveway in front of the home was an old-growth rose garden, resplendent with a variety of pink, red and white blooms. All these were tended every weekday by a retired local farmer named Ellery, who delighted the boys with rides on the tractor, or shocked them when he wiggled the stumps of his two missing fingers, lost decades earlier in a careless accident with a hay-baling machine.

A couple hundred feet from the end of the long, gravel driveway ran a pair of railroad tracks, and whenever the train whistle was heard in the distance, the boys and their dogs would interrupt their play and turn to sprint toward the front of the property. It was always a race, for once the clanging of the crossing bells began to sound, it would be only moments until a gargantuan freight train would fly past. They marveled at the raw power of its locomotives, which literally shook the earth under their feet. They cupped their little hands over their ears to shut out the blare of its big air horns that drowned out their excited squeals.

Little BK always brought up the rear as the boys ran to see the trains as they passed the family’s cottage in Canada

That day, Michael and Bradley led the way, with little BK pumping his chubby little legs as fast as he could, but never able to keep up. Brandy and Soda, as if spotting them all a head start, spun and joined the chase. Soda, the more athletic of the two Springers, edged ahead of Brandy. He quickly passed the older boys, while Brandy slowed a little to match their pace. BK, running dead last, only wanted to get to the hedge that marked the property line before the train had passed altogether.

What possessed Soda to uncharacteristically keep running past the hedge is unknown. As soon as he had disappeared through a gap in the dense, green wall he was caught and rolled hard under the wheels of a car that had sped up to beat the falling red and white striped arms of the railroad crossing gates. It all happened in the blink of an eye. By the time little BK had caught up to his brothers, the train had almost passed, and when he saw the red caboose whisk by, he knew it was over.

The clanging gates fell silent and lifted as BK sidled up to his two older brothers, who had moved to the end of the hedge, and were staring at the road. There they saw their beloved Springer lying twisted, bloodied and motionless on the roadway. Michael turned to run back to the house to get an adult, planting BK's little hand in Bradley's, who held it tightly as a couple of other cars slowed, then stopped to assess the scene. Brandy circled Soda's motionless body, sniffing for any sign of life, but abruptly backed away as she registered the unmistakable smell of death.

Take your dog and your little brother and head back to the house, young man, ordered a kindly passerby who had appeared from nowhere, and could see the dog was gone. But Bradley and BK could only stare at Soda's dilated, lifeless eyes and watch as blood pooled beneath him and oozed slowly toward the edge of the road.

The Samaritan gently took hold of Soda's back legs and dragged him off to the shoulder, allowing traffic to start to move again. Another passerby reached for a canvas tarp in his trunk, and spread it over the crumpled body. Lynn soon came running, followed by Ellery, who was pushing a wheelbarrow ahead of him at a trot. She snatched up little BK, trying to shield him from the scene, but it was too late. He had seen it all. As they walked slowly back to the cottage, she quietly tried to explain to the boys what had happened, comforting them with the certainty of Soda's peaceful existence in heaven. Alternately, she explained to the older boys the consequences of carelessness around traffic. Ellery followed with Soda's broken body, and volunteered to begin excavating a final resting place on the edge of the rose garden. The older boys fashioned a wooden cross from pieces of lath to mark Soda’s final resting place.

That horrible vision of Soda lying there was indelibly etched into little BK's mind. He sobbed uncontrollably, calling Soda’s name again and again. To calm him down, Lynn administered a dose of German Compassion, an elixir containing a shot of Canadian Club whiskey, a tablespoon of honey and a squeeze of lemon. Then she took him to his room where she rocked him gently, humming until he fell fast asleep.

Chapter 3 - Botolf

The combination of that day’s trauma and the dose of compassion must have created a deeply altered state of consciousness. In his dream, BK was looking out over a broad, green meadow full of blooming wildflowers and shady trees. Before him gurgled a little brook, just a little too wide and deep to safely cross by himself. Ahead of him, where the land met the cobalt blue sky, rose a brilliantly colored rainbow arching high into the air, then disappearing from view.

The meadow was full of dogs of every size and breed, frolicking in the grass. There were hundreds of them, tumbling, rolling, playfully chasing one another, and barking with glee. Every now and again, a human would enter the big field, to be excitedly greeted by a single dog, or sometimes a whole group of them. After what looked like a reunion of sorts, together they would turn and walk straight up the rainbow, appearing smaller and smaller, and then disappearing over the top and down the other side.

Little BK marveled at the sight, reminded of his last few years playing with his beloved spaniels, and wishing he could join in the games. But he was blocked by the bubbling stream. While he looked up and down the shoreline for a shallower spot to cross, he hardly noticed one of the canines, bigger than the rest, had turned and was approaching him at a trot. It stopped before him on the opposite bank and bowed low on his front legs, its head cocked slightly, and a welcoming smile framing its large teeth. Its coat was thick, with pointed ears atop its head. The outsides of his ears were jet black, but the insides were silver, accenting the blended black and silver coloring of its fur on its back, legs and tail.

Although the dog was bigger than any he had ever seen, BK’s natural inclination was to coax him nearer.

Here boy, he called, holding out his upturned palm as he had been taught. C’mon boy, he repeated.

The dog rose from his bow and moved slowly, but confidently across the stream, then planted his head, nose downward, into BK’s midsection. It was a calm, submissive gesture, to which BK responded by vigorously rubbing his velvety ears. After a minute of shared affection, to his amazement, the dog spoke.

Hello Brian. I heard you are in a great deal of pain, he said. You lost a dear friend today. I am here to comfort you, and help you understand what happens when your pets dies.

What kind of dog are you? BK inquired. I have never seen a talking dog before.

I am a Grey Wolf, the ancient ancestor of all dogs. All those dogs in the meadow have descended from my kind throughout time. I have come to you because the Grey Wolf is your spirit animal. I do not speak in words that you can hear with your ears. You can only hear me deep in your heart. I am called Botolf, the herald wolf.

The wolf will always be your guide and protector as you travel an unexplored path. As you gain insight, wisdom, experience and confidence, you will bond with the wolf, becoming one with the pack. The wolf will bring you spirit gifts in the form of self-reliance, endurance and keen intelligence. The wolf will bring you energies of freedom and companionship. And the magic of the spirit wolf is intuition and telepathy. I know these are big words, Brian, but as you grow, the spirit of the wolf within you will be revealed.

BK scratched his head a little, and then turned his gaze across the stream.

Who are all those dogs then? BK asked, pointing toward the meadow.

Those dogs are like your Soda, Botolf explained. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone on earth, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. That meadow is for all our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals that have been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing: they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind. They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

"You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again."

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together.

But Botolf, if I find Soda out there, can I cross with him? BK asked.

Brian, I am only showing you a glimpse into the spirit world. It is not your time to cross the stream. You are very young. When you become older, you will choose, and be chosen by a dog with whom to travel life’s journey. It will come at a time when your heart opens up, and your spirit animal will manifest itself as a loyal companion to walk by your side. You will always have a loyal dog, Brian. It will embody the attributes of the wolf. Some will die, but others will come to take their place. When your walk on earth comes to an end, Soda and every other dog you chose, and who chose you, will be waiting here for you. Together you will cross the Bridge.

Chapter 4 – Self Discipline

The drive south to Colona from Montrose only took about twelve minutes on Hwy 550, and we clamored for a spot to put our noses out the half-opened windows in the back seat to catch a blast of breeze through our nostrils. The highway split the middle of the valley floor that was virtually flat, bracketed by orderly ranch parcels on both sides. The valley floor was flanked by the soaring Cimarron Mountain Range to the east, and the rising slopes of the Uncompahgre Plateau to the west. Ahead, the snow-capped peaks of the jagged Sneffels Range, some twenty miles distant, glowed amber against an azure blue sky. The afternoon sun began to sink a little, marking the wane of another ever-shortening day, now that daylight savings time was gone until next Spring.

We passed dozens of small farms and ranches, with giant rolled and square hay bales bursting from covered sheds, the product of a summer of irrigation over the willing grass fields. The high country was blanketed with early November snow. With the summer hay cut and put up for the winter, the pastures were now filled with cows and sheep, which had been brought down from their summer grazing in the aspen-filled national forests. Ranchers were careful to get their livestock out of public grazing lands before hunting season opened. It avoided the risk of their livestock being mistaken for elk or deer by over-anxious out-of-state hunters, who flooded the high country at this time of the year in search of meat and trophy racks of antlers.

BK reached over and turned the music down. Are you thirsty Ry? he asked.

I am, dad. I could use a Gatorade or something, his son replied.

BK hit the brakes hard as he approached Colona, and then made a quick left turn into the Dallas Country Store. The dogs skidded on their seats, digging their claws deep into the leather to avoid getting dumped on the floor of the cab. He and Ryan departed the truck and disappeared into the front door of the business, while the four dogs curiously watched and waited.

Don’t jump, Batman, Georgia ordered. He’ll only be gone a minute.

Mom, I want to go with him, I answered. "Batman, you are old enough to know that self-discipline is a virtue we must all master in order to be good dogs. You have really been slipping-up lately. That episode with the UPS driver last week was unnecessary. I mean, really?

But I must defend the homeland, mom. It’s my job.

Batman, she comes up the driveway all the time, always in that big brown truck. She drops a package and leaves. She is not a threat to anyone.

But mom …

Listen Batman. Good self-discipline means balancing reason, passion and appetite. You know by now that there is no reason to go after the driver. She brings no danger. Of course, we all know how passionate you are about being the alpha of our clan. And we appreciate your courage in facing any threat. But, in this world of humans and dogs, there are rules. That is why you must find a way to temper your passion to defend with the reason for doing so. Not every situation calls for the maximum response, Georgia explained.

But mom, every time he leaves, I worry that he’ll never come back, Batman said.

Batman, you’re almost nine years old now. He has always comes back. Always. Even if it’s weeks later, he always returns to you, doesn’t he? Even your four year old half-brother Deacon has learned to control his behavior, Georgia explained.

But Deacon has more than one master. He’s the family dog. If one of the kids crawls out of bed at 5 am for swim practice, Deacon just goes and finds another kid to sleep with. I have only BK, Batman argued.

You must be patient. Humans live in a much more complex world than do we, and sometimes they cannot spend all the time with us they would like. All things being equal, I can promise you BK spends a lot more time with you individually than he does with any of us. Your appetite for more time with him is what will someday cause you, and maybe him, some real problems, Georgia continued.

I know what you’re saying, mom. But it is easier said than done, Batman replied.

You do this through practicing good behaviors, son. I realize that your father is different from the rest, and that your genetic make-up is therefore different from ours. Springer Spaniels tend to be much more adept to learning to balance our passion with reason. Your Swiss genes are more in-tune with being a one-man dog, and we all get that, Batman. That is all the more reason you’ll have to trust that he’ll come back to you. If you always have to go looking for him, you’re going to bring nothing but trouble on yourself, and on him. Remember how brilliant it was to break out of the boarding kennel and go looking for him? You were gone nine days, and where did that get you? He still came back and picked us all up at the end of his trip.

I know, mom. That was pretty stupid, Batman acknowledged. Georgia gently licked the weeps from Batman’s eyes, thinking how to illustrate this lesson to her son.

Have I ever told you the story of his first dog he had as an adult. Maybe if you hear how that turned out, you’ll think twice before always taking off, Georgia explained.

Chapter 5 – Nuthin’ But A Hound Dog

BK had enough hours to graduate, but according to his counselor, he was lacking the proper distribution in credits to get his degree. How had that slipped past him? Had he not surpassed the total credit hours thanks to buckling down at a couple of summer school sessions, and submitted his honors thesis in history? Yes, but according to the dean’s office, somewhere during the past three and a half years at Tulane, he had missed out on earning a final physical education credit and a humanities credit, both needed to get the liberal arts shingle.

BK left the administration building a little despondent, but resigned to the fact he would not be graduating a semester early after all. His plan to move to Colorado and start in the real estate profession would have to be put on hold, at least until next May. Besides, he thought, spending his last semester in college with a course load that consisted of a class in Ballroom Dance, a Phys. Ed. credit, and History of American Music, which satisfied the humanities requirement, did not sound all bad. He just hoped his Dad, who was footing the college bill, would not hit the roof over the miscalculation.

BK walked to the registrar’s office and submitted his request for the two classes, then turned his attention toward packing for his Christmas break. Flying home for the Yule to visit his family in Grosse Pointe was the plan. The Delta flight would have a two-hour layover which would allow him to meet Carol at the airport and exchange gifts before he continued on his way north. BK was excited to give his girlfriend of three years, Carol, a present that was finally substantial, worthy of the serious feelings he was having for her now. The diamond tennis bracelet would signal a strengthening commitment to the girl he could seriously see himself marrying someday.

After all, he could afford it now, since he had started manning model homes during the weekends for one of his real estate professors. The previous school year, BK had signed up for Principles of Real Estate class, given at night through the business school. The adjunct professor, a gentleman named Guice, was a successful New Orleans developer. Guice had informed students that the classroom portion of the class met the education requirements to sit for a State of Louisiana real estate salesman license. If students got themselves licensed, Guice offered students a chance to test their skills part-time by selling one of his projects. BK took him up on the offer, and beginning in the summer between his junior and senior year, he tried his hand at real estate sales.

BK learned that he had a knack for building rapport with potential homebuyers, selling them on his product, and closing the deal. This had translated into weekend commissions earned that sometimes surpassed

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