My best friend
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.