I wanted a dog in the worst way. Oh, we had a dog on the farm, a good cattle dog named Bruce, but he was Dad's dog. I wanted a dog of my own. I wanted a dog that would follow me around like Bruce followed Dad. I wanted a dog that would look to my eyes for the answers. I wanted a dog that would love a first grader.

At Christmas that year, a little puppy showed up at our house. My parents claimed to know nothing about its arrival, blaming it all on Santa Claus. It was a beautiful puppy--the most beautiful I had ever seen in my life. Obviously of mixed parentage, it looked like a pudgy, underslung collie of some sort. I named her Rex. Yes, she was a female, but I had always wanted a dog named Rex, so no other name was even considered.

Rex licked my face the first time I picked her up and she piddled on the floor the first time I put her down. It would be the first of a lifetime of licks I received from Rex and the last time she would ever have a mistake on Mom's floor. Rex grew up to be a slightly larger version of the puppy I first saw on that Christmas day. She also became the best friend any boy has ever had. We did everything together.

We had experiences that every farm boy and his dog should have. Rex was smart, protective and playful. She was a great cattle dog-even my Dad said so. She loved her job and she loved being a dog. But best of all, she loved being with me. We did everything together.

We had so much fun that I didn't notice that the years were racing by. I found myself in college-a smart alecky student who thought himself much wiser than his years. I was far away from the farm that Rex remained on, keeping herself occupied by chasing the cattle for work and chasing rabbits for fun. I missed having her around every day, but college life and a part-time job kept me busy. When summer rolled around after my sophomore year, I found employment not too far from the family farm. I moved back home. Rex and I began to go for walks in the same woods that we had walked daily before I went off to college. Rex still chased the cows and the rabbits. No dog was ever more adept at nipping the heel of a misbehaving cow while avoiding a kick in return than Rex was. But she didn't chase them with the same gusto she once had. She had lost a step or two, like a world class athlete grown old. The summer went by, the job went well, but Rex became slower and more listless with each passing day.

One day, the veterinarian was visiting our farm, tending to some of the cattle. I was so worried about Rex that I asked the vet to have a look at her. He examined her carefully and gave me the bad news. He told me that she had lived a good life and that unfortunately she was dying. Not only was she dying, she was suffering. He advised that the best thing to do would be to have her put to sleep and that he could do that job for me.

I turned down his offer. The job that needed to be done seemed to me like something that should be handled by someone who knew and loved Rex-a friend.

The vet left and I walked to the house to get the rifle and to the machine shed to get a spade. My eyes ached and my throat was knotted, but I dared not cry. I needed to be strong. I needed to be a man.

I returned to the barn where Rex lie in the straw. She perked up when she saw the rifle. A little of the old fire came back into her eyes. Rex had always fancied herself a hunting dog. I said, "Come on, girl, let's go for a walk in the woods." She struggled to her feet, but her tail wagged as it had not for some days. I walked slowly toward the woods, while Rex, showing her age, struggled to keep up. The bounce in her step was gone, but the enthusiasm of her spirit remained. I turned often as I walked to look at my long-time, faithful companion through my moistening eyes. I thought of picking her up and carrying her, but Rex would have none of that. She had her dignity. I thought of all of our adventures together. The mad bull that chased me with evil intent until Rex intervened on my behalf. The time she remained by my side all the smoke-filled night as we fought a fire in our woods. The skunk that sprayed both of us with a cologne that refused to go away. The tomato juice bath that Mom gave us both so we wouldn't smell like Pepe LePew.

I had never thought of life without her before. I could not cry. I did not want Rex to see my unhappiness. Rex and I walked to a favorite spot of ours under a huge oak tree. This was to be her gravesite.

I sat on a stump and Rex eased her way to my side. She looked up at me with those brown eyes filled with love and gave me a good lick, not unlike the one she had given me on the day we first met. I patted her head and rubbed her muzzle. I told her that she was the best dog ever. I told her that I loved her. I told her to stay. I told myself not to cry. I picked up the rifle and walked a few feet away and then turned to look at Rex. She had laid her head on the ground, exhausted from her walk. She was right where I had told her to stay. She always did what she was told. I admired the beauty of my old friend. Her soft eyes looked up at me with a sign of understanding and then they closed. She trusted me to the end to do the right thing.

I aimed the rifle, I pulled the trigger and then I cried. She felt no pain. I felt it all.

ŠAl Batt

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