“I want you to shoot his paw,” I said to my friend Randy, a talented photographer who stopped over one night a few years ago.
I didn’t need to explain why I didn’t want the typical head shot most folks take of their dogs. Randy knew how I once followed behind Buddy on that beach in Maine, purposely taking my eyes off him and instead allowing myself to be guided only by his tracks. Stopping to photograph his prints in the sand, I pondered their perfectly molded impressions, and although they would not remain everlasting with the tide, I considered the permanent impressions this animal had made on my life.
I decided then Buddy’s paw print would symbolize this indelible stamp he has had on my life. No further explanation was needed that evening as Randy lay on my kitchen floor next to my sleeping dog.
“Get me some light,” he ordered as he swapped lenses and eyed the underside of Buddy’s front foot. Buddy’s eyes grew heavy without care as I quickly grabbed a droplight from my workshop and plugged it in. “This is gonna be great, but kill the other lights,” said Randy. I obliged.
His camera shutter snapped once. “I like it,” Randy said, glancing at his screen. “That’s the one,” I whispered. Randy proceeded to capture nearly 50 shots of Buddy’s paw that night, but it was the first one snapped that I liked best. Printed on canvas, it hangs on my living room wall above my couch.
“That’s Buddy,” I said while holding my 6-week-old daughter, Lily, as she refocused her attention from my eyes to the wall above the couch. At 3 a.m., while my eyes were half open, hers remained almost entranced. For great lengths of time I watched in amazement as her eyes examined the detail of Buddy’s paw on that canvas behind me.
Maybe it’s the smooth texture of his worn pads, like dried-out antique leather. Maybe she was studying the brilliant snow white tufts of hair erupting from between those pads, providing an insulating barrier from the sting of a harsh frozen ground. Maybe the neurons in her developing brain were contemplating exactly what it is she is seeing for the first time.
Regardless, I spoke to her softly in her mesmerized state, explaining who Buddy was and what he meant to me. She listened intently while staring, almost as if she understood my words.
“Those pads have walked many miles,” I said, recounting all the mountain passes Buddy endured with me.
“Buddy was my best friend. I always wished he would stick around long enough to meet you. You have no idea how much he would have loved and protected you. He was the best dog in the world. I suppose you’ll hear this many times for the rest of your life. I hope someday I can teach you what I’ve learned from Buddy. You will rarely find a more trusted and loyal friend than a dog. As a matter of fact, I think you should make it your life mission to find a partner who most closely resembles the unconditional characteristics of one just like Buddy. It won’t be easy finding a more dedicated companion than him. But if you do, you’ve hit the jackpot and that’s the one you should hang onto.
“And don’t forget to reciprocate as only a dog would. Remember, they don’t have a voice to ask for it in return. Always practice the patience, understanding and kindness that our pets teach us.
“And remember a dog’s plea to always treat them with respect — that no heart on earth is more grateful, deserving and loving. All the money in the world will never compare to the pure and unbridled joy you’ll find in the gift of a dog. Dogs will love you whether you’re short, tall, skinny or fat. They’ll never leave your side, in or out of bed and certainly no matter what happens in sickness and health. And at the end of the day, even if they are old, cloudy-eyed and deaf, seeing you brings them pure euphoria. Someday I hope you’ll marry someone who will love you the same.”
Just then I noticed Lily’s eyes were now locked on mine, which were quickly blurring over.
“And if you don’t,” I concluded, “I will.”