The True Story of a Lab by Neela Whatley
It was a pretty Saturday in June, 2020. The sun was shining through the Valley Oak tree, and glistening off its dress of luscious green moss. The petite brown sparrow was singing happily with her mate and unearthing small grubs from the leafy ground.
As I watched from the kitchen table my brother yelled, “Turkey!” I peered around the juniper tree to my right and sure enough there was not one, but six turkeys. “Gobble, gobble,” my brother said, imitating the greyish brown birds. There were two pults, three females and one tom. This male turkey was very funny. He was sticking out his turkey beard and wobbling his snood, a bright red flap of skin, up and down.
“Neela,” my dad called from his office.
“Coming” I told him. I reluctantly trudged over but wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen next.
“Neela, I just got a call from grandmama,” my dad told me. His face looked distorted but I didn’t really notice.
“And . . .” I pressed.
“Well,” now I could hear the sadness in his voice, “ Grandmama is going to put Buddy down.”
“What?” I said, practically yelling. Buddy was my grandmother’s 15 year-old black Lab. Buddy was a sweetheart and so nice to people, especially kids. I had known Buddy all my life. When I heard the news I couldn’t believe my ears. “Buddy’s going to be put down?”
“Yes,” my dad replied.
No, no, no, I thought. This can’t be true. I felt like my eyes were going to explode.
“We’re going to see him now. Grandmama told me Buddy couldn’t get up this morning and wouldn’t eat.”
Buddy, like most Labs, loved food so I could see how grandmama knew that she needed to put him down. My grandmother also had had a lot of other Labs and Buddy was 105 in dog years so I knew that it was time for him to move on.
So, I got ready, and with mournful faces my family and I drove off to the Lafayette Animal Hospital.
“There’s grandmama’s car,” I said glumly, pointing to the blue Subaru with it’s hatchback open. My dad pulled into a parking spot, I grabbed my mask and rushed out.
As I said earlier, it was June, 2020. This meant that COVID-19 was happening. Instead of putting Buddy inside, grandmama had to keep him outside, in the back of her car. Due to the COVID situation I had to wear a mask too. I went over to see Buddy. The black Lab looked up at me with cute puppy eyes and wagged his tail. Labs always have the happy tails, my grandmother once told me. I looked over at grandmama. She was good at not crying but I could see that it was too hard not to. “Hi grandmama,” I said in a small voice.
“Hi Neela D” my grandmother said with a sad smile. Buddy looked up at me and wagged his tail again, then moved his head closer to me like he was gesturing to me to come. Buddy and I have always had a special relationship. I remembered the times he would lay on my feet when I read, or jump up on the couch when my grandmother and I would watch a movie, and all of the other fun Buddy moments. Then, all of a sudden those memories came falling out. The dam that my eyes had tried so desperately to hold up finally collapsed. Salty water flooded my face and drowned it in wetness. I popped onto the trunk and began petting Buddy. I scratched behind the ears and on his favorite spot. My tears spilled out more freely now. I didn’t know how to describe how I felt because my emotions were mixed up in a hurricane, so big the weather forecasters could only say it was as big as the universe if anyone wanted to know its size
“Don’t worry Buddy,” I whispered to him, “everything is going to be alright.” But it wasn’t. There wasn’t ever going to be a time where that hole in my heart would fill. Buddy looked up at me. This time his expression was worried. He also didn’t want to close his eyes, like if he did a strong current would wash over him, flip him, toss him, and never let him see the surface again.
“Don’t worry, there’s no need to worry, everything will be just fine,” I said repeatedly to Buddy, but every time I looked at him a chunk of my heart seemed to be ripped out, and black clawed hands with long sharp nails grabbed for my eyes, my mouth, my whole face. And, every time, I screamed inside my head. For each scream, billions of tiny tears rained down my face, and I was caught in another emotional hurricane. This time it was so big that the poor weather forecasters had no way to measure it. Bigger than the universe, and greater in mass and size than infinity. And these horrid hands refused to yield and I then I finally burst. I exploded into thousands upon thousands of pieces. More than the grains of sand on the beach and more than the stars in the universe. Infinite.
I stretched over each memory of Buddy in my mind ─ happy and playful memories. With each one a single beam of light shone through my vast field of thoughts and binded one piece with another until I was back in reality, no more terrifying hands, or gigantic hurricanes. Now I was at another level of sadness. I was exhausted and had no tears left in me so all I did was rub Buddy all over. I looked at him and saw that his eyes were closed. At first I thought frantically, Is Buddy dead? But then I saw his steady deep breaths.
“Wow Neela,” grandmama said. I had almost forgotten she was there. “Not only can you excite Buddy, but also calm him down. She came over and sat down next to me and Buddy.
“Oh, my angel dog,” she said to him. I could spot a few silent tears streaming down her face.
“Neela, we need to get going now.” My mom said to me.
“Can I stay a little longer?” I asked.
“No, we need to go now. Give grandmama some time with buddy,”
“Oh no, Neela’s given me lots of time to be with Buddy,” my grandmother informed my mom.
“Okay, but we still need to get going,” said my mom.
“Bye grandmama,” I said to her with droopy eyes. “Bye Buddy,” I leaned in close to his black face. He looked more relaxed now. “Everything is going to be alright,” and this time I meant it. A tear trickled down my face as I tried to give him the best smile I could. He licked my face. “Goodbye,” I told him. “There’s no need to worry,” And with that I slowly walked over to the car, certain this was the last time I would ever see my beloved Buddy.
But . . .
How wrong I was.
What follows is how I would imagine Buddy describing the events . . .
* * *
I was scared. After Neela and her pack left I was put onto a bed with wheels. My Mama was wearing her worried face and smelled of sadness. Then the two people who had put me on my little car rolled me away from her. I was brought into a room that I had never seen before.
There were a lot of things going on at once. The two people who brought me in looked frantic. There was a lady with a red bandana tied around her head. She smelled like she had put on too much perfume and then tried to rub it off with white flower. Her mask smelled like a dog with a little bit of cat. The man next to her had a scruffy red beard and a mask covered with dog bones. He smelled like a Lab, German Shepherd, and Great Dane. I liked that. However I was nervous. I moved my head back and forth. They shaved my back leg and put something in it. I think that it was called a catheter. This made me really nervous.
Then I decided I needed to escape. Before the two people could react I jumped off the rolling bed and made a break for the door. I needed to go home. The door opened and I saw Mama. She looked very surprised.
“What Mama?” I thought.
She kept on looking at me like she couldn’t believe her eyes. Well, I was going home. I didn’t care where anyone else in the world was going. All I cared about was going home. Then Mama (who was still very bewildered) put my leash on. She walked me around for a little while then picked me up and put me into the car.
“Oh the car! The cozy den-like car!” I thought.
Mama looked at me. She was very happy now. That made me happy too. I wagged my tail in the air like a helicopter. Mama drove me home and not only was she happy but my little brother Ozzie was because he didn’t leave my side for the rest of the day.
* * *
Grandmama always said that buddy had the elixir tongue. Whenever I got hurt she would always have him lick my wound. And it always made me feel better. This time, however, it wasn’t Buddy’s tongue that provided the cure, but rather the hands of his pack members petting him. Grandmama says that all of the love and attention that Buddy got from my parents, my brother, grandmama and me gave him the strength to live on. I think she is right. And happy thoughts always make everyone feel better. Buddy is so strong, gentle and kind. He still lives and is 15 and a half (108). This story always makes me happy. It’s cute, funny and most importantly a good life lesson to everyone. Always be strong just like the black Lab named Buddy in June 2020. This is a true Lab’s tale.
All About the Author
Neela Whatley lives in Lafayette California, a town in the East Bay. Her love for dogs still lives on! She also has a taste for riding horses with her grandmother. Buddy is still alive and in great shape. He goes on walks and is as cute as ever. Ozzie, Neela’s grandmother’s other dog is great too. He loves to play but sometimes harasses Buddy. However, Buddy is so patient and lets Ozzie do what he wants to except for some occasions where Ozzie gets to be too much. Neela Whatley is currently 10 years old and has written a story about the coronavirus pandemic (“Gratitude in the Time of Pandemic”), a solar argument essay (“Why You Should Go Solar”), and many more. Be on the lookout for more stories that she will publish soon!