Joyce had had her dog Bob since she was five. But it seemed like he had always been there. He was one of her best friends. When kids at school were mean, she could always come home and find Bob waiting for her.
She was now sixteen, and her older brothers were off fighting in the war. She missed them. She now had a younger brother and sister, and that helped, but many things fell to her since she was the oldest child at home, even things that men usually did. Without her brothers, her father needed her help even more.
They did hire some German soldiers from a prison camp in the area. The prisoners liked to work at the farm because Joyce’s family fed them well, and food at the camp was rationed. But the one constant in all of it was Bob. When the turmoil of life became overwhelming, in the evening, after chores were done, Joyce would still take Bob and read under the apple tree.
But that year when she turned sixteen, Joyce started noticing a change in Bob. His whiskers turned gray, and he did everything more slowly. He was still there to meet her after school, but he walked slower going home.
Joyce’s father noticed as well. He told Joyce and her siblings to stop sending Bob to get the cows in for milking. Whenever the bull had attacked Bob, Bob had expertly dodged the bull, then given the bull a sharp bite for the trouble. But Bob’s reflexes weren’t what they had been, and Joyce’s father was afraid that if the bull ever attacked again, Bob would be hurt.
As time went on, Bob struggled to keep up with Joyce, even on the most casual walk. But she knew the end was getting close the morning she called for Bob and he didn’t come. That had only happened once before, and that was when the migrant workers had stolen him. But this time she went to find him, and he was still lying in his bed.
He tried to rise to greet her, but his legs trembled, and he fell back into the straw. Joyce ran to get her father.
He checked Bob over and said, “He’s suffering a lot. Maybe we should put him down.”
It was not the way of farm life to let an animal suffer, but Joyce couldn’t stand the thought of having Bob’s time on earth ended by them. She pleaded with her father not to.
Her father sighed. “I can understand how you feel, Joyce. But you can see in his eyes that he is hurting.”
Tears flowed down Joyce’s face. “Please, Father. I will do what I can to make him comfortable.”
Her father nodded and left to take care of the chores.
Joyce kept her promise. She changed the straw on Bob’s bed every day. She made sure he had good milk to drink because he couldn’t eat anything else. As Bob’s condition deteriorated further and he couldn’t even sit up enough to lap the milk, Joyce would soak a rag and squeeze the milk out into Bob’s mouth as she had done when he was sick once before.
But one night, Bob wouldn’t even take that milk, and Joyce knew it was the end. She sat down in the straw, pulled Bob’s head onto her lap, and lovingly stroked his fur. When she finally had to go to bed, using all the strength he had, Bob raised his head and licked her face. The next morning, he was gone.
Joyce’s father asked her where she wanted to bury Bob, and she chose a beautiful spot by the apple tree. She and her father took turns digging the grave while the younger children and Joyce’s mother looked on. When they finished burying him, Joyce fell to her knees and sobbed.
Her father pulled her into his arms, and even though most teenagers held back at such things, she was grateful for his strength. She looked into his face and asked, “Father, do you think all dogs go to heaven?”
He smiled kindly. “There are a few I’ve known I have my doubts about, but I know one I am sure is there now.”
Joyce smiled. She was sure of it, too.
(To be continued)