My best friend

The Compass - - EDITORIAL OPINION -

As a Chris­tian, I sup­pose I should say Je­sus is my best friend. As a hus­band, per­haps I should say my wife is my best friend. And, as a fa­ther, I might be ex­pected to say our chil­dren are my best friends.

I think I’ll dis­pense with all that for now, and just say my best friend has four paws and a tail. Her name’s Mady … ac­tu­ally, Madisyn.

She’s a black-and-white bor­der col­lie. Well, mostly col­lie, mixed with an­other un­de­ter­mined brand. All four of us as a fam­ily are hope­lessly de­voted to her and, de­spite her oc­ca­sional ir­ri­tat­ing habit, I sup­pose there’s noth­ing we wouldn’t do for her. She’s my shadow — I’m her Pied Piper of Hamelin.

Our chil­dren live in St. John’s. My wife and I work away from home. When I get home in the evening, the first crea­ture to meet me at the door and pine for hu­man touch is Madisyn. Un­til and un­less I reach out and pet her, she won’t leave my side. Once I do, all’s well in her world.

All this gush­ing sen­ti­men­tal fluff about my pet got me think­ing about a story I read some years ago. It helps set the con­text as to why man’s — my — best friend re­ally and truly is a canine.

Ge­orge Graham Vest (1830-1904) was an Amer­i­can lawyer and politi­cian, known for his skills in de­bate and ora­tion. He’s re­mem­bered for his “man’s best friend” clos­ing ar­gu­ments from the trial in which dam­ages were sought for the killing of a fox­hound named Old Drum on Oct. 18, 1869. Vest was the at­tor­ney for the plain­tiff.

Af­ter the fi­nal wit­ness had been ex­am­ined and the coun­sel for the de­fense had given his clos­ing ar­gu­ment to the jury, Vest rose to speak.

“ The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, per­haps when he needs it most. A man’s rep­u­ta­tion may be sac­ri­ficed in a mo­ment of ill-con­sid­ered ac­tion. The peo­ple who are prone to fall upon their knees to do us hon­our when suc­cess is with us may be the first to throw the stone of mal­ice when fail­ure set­tles its cloud upon our heads.

“ Gentle­men of the jury, the one ab­so­lutely un­selfish friend that a man can have in this self­ish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves un­grate­ful or treach­er­ous, is his dog.

“A man’s dog stands by him in pros­per­ity and in poverty, in health and in sick­ness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the win­try winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may lie near his mas­ter’s side. He will even kiss the hand that has no food to of­fer; he will lick the wounds and the sores that come in en­counter with the rough­ness of the world. He will guard the sleep of his pau­per mas­ter as if he were a prince. And when all other friends desert, he re­mains.

“ When riches take wings and rep­u­ta­tion falls into pieces, a man’s dog is as con­stant in his love as the sun in its jour­ney through the heav­ens. If for­tune drives the mas­ter forth and out­cast in the world, friend­less and home­less, the faith­ful dog asks no higher priv­i­lege than that of ac­com­pa­ny­ing him, to guard him against dan­ger and to fight against his en­e­mies.

“And when the last scene of all comes and death takes his mas­ter in its em­brace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no mat­ter if all other friends pur­sue their way, there by the grave­side will the no­ble dog be found, his head be­tween his paw, his eyes sad but open in alert watch­ful­ness, faith­ful and true even af­ter his mas­ter’s death.”

The jury de­lib­er­ated for only a few mo­ments, af­ter which it brought in a ver­dict for the plain­tiff. This legal ac­tion be­came one of the f irst in­stances where the amount awarded was much greater than the sum asked.

One of my early-morn­ing delights is perk­ing my first caf­feine fix of the day and sitting on the ch­ester­field, cof­fee in hand, while I travel the world with a good book. In­vari­ably I am joined by Mady, who wants noth­ing more than to snug­gle be­side me. She will stay there as long as I do. Then, when I leave for work an hour-and-ahalf later, she walks with me to the door, where she sits and looks plain­tively at me un­til I dis­pense her first treat of the day.

Since reread­ing the story of Lawyer Vest, I un­der­stand much bet­ter the role Mady plays in my life, and I in hers.

Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at­bur­tonj@nfld.net.

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