It was a black blotch on the stark, white, landscape; visible from a quarter mile away. Perhaps it was due to the unnatural position of its body, or its stone-like stillness, but the closer I got the more convinced I was that the dog was dead.
I was driving home on a rural back road through wide-open Colorado ranch land. The road was snowpacked, and slow going. I don't ordinarily stop my truck to examine roadkill. But with time on my hands, and having seen no other vehicles for miles a dead dog merits a downshift.
I decided to stop once I noticed the expired canine had company.
Sitting quietly in the snow, about 5 feet away, sat a similar looking pet, only white of color. It blended into the landscape so well, if I had kept my speed I might have not noticed.
I assumed that my stopping, and backing up, would spook the white dog away. But even after I got out of the truck and approached, it didn't move. Other than its posture, the deceased dog showed no signs of trauma. My guess was it was hit by a passing vehicle.
Mine weren't the only eyes on the departed pooch, his companion couldn't seem to look away. Even as I approached them both, the living pet never took its gaze off his dead buddy. It sat calmly, as if waiting for something to happen.
I spoke quietly to the survivor, trying to sense its mood. Was it grieving or just unsure of his friend's condition? It looked to be more curious than sad. I was hoping to get some sort of a humanistic feeling of loss and grief from the dog left alive. Instead, it seemed placid and at peace. It did not pull away when I walked over to pat it, but never took his eyes off his friend.
I followed its lead and stared silently at the still victim. There was no noise, no traffic; the wind was the loudest sound to be heard. I stood there for about 10 minutes in silence. I was so intent at watching the fallen hound that I didn't at first notice his companion getting up and heading away. After one final look he jogged off without looking back. The dog had no tags, there was no one to call, so I drove on.
I've been confused, curious and a little haunted by my experience. Was the living creature saying goodbye or expecting his pal to waken? With animals heightened senses and instincts, I don't really believe the white dog wasn't aware his friend had died, but who knows?
The spiritualist, and animal-idealist in me, would prefer a more profound explanation. I'd like to think that the mourning mutt was simply waiting for his friend's essence to leave his earthly vessel and travel to where ever the souls of dogs go. Wouldn't it be ironic, if the same question that mankind anguishes and argues over, for animals, is a forgone conclusion?
Is there any bigger question than what happens when our life is over? There are many who profess to know. But none are convincing, to my satisfaction, and most seem to have bad haircuts, forced smiles and want my money or vote. For most of us, it becomes purely a matter of faith. My own personal belief is a marriage born of personal history, hope and a desire for reparation. When witnessing the suffering of innocents, or children, the prospect of divine recompense dulls the grief and guilt that is part and parcel of beholding misery while you are living a blessed life.
I know it is slightly perverse, but I envy those who are convinced, even if they're wrong. It would be lovely to be able to say goodbye to a fallen friend with a resolute certainty of a better place.
I've told this story to many friends with reactions that range from spiritual to cynical. There have been many plausible explanations offered. Some offer the 'waiting for his pal to wake up' scenario. Others suggest perhaps both dogs were hit, one died the other was dazed. After much consideration, I contend that I was a witness of one friend keeping vigil as his pal entered the next world.
That might be crazy or it might be faith ...
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.