It had been about three months since I last saw our neighbor, Yash, and his Beagle, Mijo, resting together on a patch of grass dappled in morning sunlight.
Yash sat quietly with his eyes closed, his breathing as easy as nature intended. Mijo, meanwhile, lay sprawled on his side, his flank pressed against Yash’s hip - a floppy ear draped over his left eye to block out the dancing shadows.
My wife, Susan, had told me that Mijo had cancer. Yash was being the doting and diligent puppy-papa, exploring both traditional and homeopathic remedies. Short-term improvements were reportedly met by as many setbacks and the physical and emotional toll on both pup and pop was getting steep.
Before her social breakthrough in our local playgroup, our Boston terrier, Lilly, often did gymnastics when she met an aging and sheepish Mijo on the sidewalk. While Lilly spun and sputtered in her greetings, Mijo remained the perfect gentleman, though he did pipe in now and then with a joyful howl to let Lilly know that he still had it - for an old man of 14.
Through it all, Yash was always good-natured and understanding. He somehow knew that Lilly - in her awkward way - was just asking to play. He also knew that Mijo probably did not share Lilly’s youthful exuberance.
On my drive to work a few weeks ago, I saw Yash walking through the neighborhood with a friend and her dog.
Mijo was not with them.
Yash mustered a quick smile to his friend’s playful poke, yet the weight of his companion’s absence was evident. Yash lumbered along. That night Susan told me she’d seen Yash on the sidewalk that day and got the news that Mijo had passed.
Two nights ago, I was returning with Lilly from her pre-bedtime potty break when we happened upon the silhouette of a man and a buff-looking pooch. I picked Lilly up as I often do when dog-walking figures suddenly appear at close range in the dark. Drawing closer, I could see Yash and a grey and white pit bull in tow.
“He’s a foster,” Yash said, smiling. “The shelter named him Willy Wonka.”
Lilly trembled a bit, but she kept her composure and I set her down. The two dogs sidled up to each other, then offered and received sniffy greetings. Willy’s long, white-tipped tail rose and swung earnestly back and forth like a New Yorker hailing a cab. Lilly’s curious bug-eyes softened as she turned to face Willy and kiss him on the lips. Willy dropped on his back and offered Lilly his belly.
You could have knocked both Yash and I over with a feather.
“They told me not to stimulate him too much during the first two weeks,” Yash said. “But this is amazing!” I, too, could not believe how well Lilly was doing considering her playgroup went on hiatus last November and opportunities to meet new dogs since had been scarce.
“I wondered whether it was too soon to have another dog in my life,” Yash continued. “And no dog could ever replace Mijo.”
“Of course not,” I replied. “But when the time is right, you’ll know just how to love that dog for who he or she is.”
Yash and I fell silent. As we watched two new friends frolic, I realized that Lilly was teaching me that time and distance could not steal her newfound dog etiquette.
And perhaps Willy was teaching Yash what time it is.