We brought home a little black pup when I was 4 years old. It was a cold rainy day, and I remember the warm, sweet smell of that puppy in my arms. In a world where boys and their dogs ran free, that black pup became my constant companion.
I called him Arfus, and he grew into as fine a dog as a boy could have.
Arfus was half lab, half pit bull, and killed snakes with a wild eyed zeal. He’d bite ’em, and whip ’em back and forth so fast it sounded like someone cracking a whip. I was one of those kids who liked snakes, but if Arfus got to it before I did, it was lights out for the snake.
Arfus had real class though. He never crapped in our yard, preferring instead to do his daily business in the Donahue’s yard. Arfus had a poor understanding of tactics, though, because he did his crapping in broad daylight.
We’d all be playing football in the backyard after school when a piercing shriek from Mrs. Donahue would be heard. I’d look, and there’d be Arfus trotting home from her yard like a boss.
Arfus’ crimes were compounded by the fact that-for some reason- Mrs. Donahue thought I was the worst boy in the neighborhood. She even kept a notebook entitled, “Things Jeff Has Done”, and Arfus’ name was in those pages as well. That’s a true fact, because Mrs. Higgins saw it and told me. You know, I’d pay good money to have that notebook.
Thinking of old Arfus crapping in the Donahue’s yard makes me smile to this day. That’s probably wrong, and suggests some character issues on my part. Still, dogs are smart, and Arfus knew Mrs. Donahue had it out for me. Ever loyal, he chose his dumping ground with an eye for justice. A fella learns to appreciate stuff like that.
All the sensible dogs like Arfus ran free. A bad dog named Buff did not.
Buff was an old time, big boned, German Shepherd. He was huge, he was mean, and he was the terror of the neighborhood. He’d done bad things, so his owners kept him in dog jail. His incarceration, however, did not lead to his rehabilitation, and when he escaped, he did more bad things.
Buff escaped one time, and he came after Arfus and me as we pedaled past his house. I saw him coming, and started pedaling faster. Buff was gaining, Arfus whined for me to pedal faster, and I did. I had that orange Royce Union flying, but Buff ran us down.
Arfus, of course, made a valiant stand to protect his 10 year old master against this homicidal maniac that outweighed him by 50 pounds. Arfus Maximus fought bravely, but he was getting mauled. Meanwhile, I was trying to ram Buff with my bike tire, and just bawling like a calf in a hailstorm. We were both saved when Buff’s jailer came out, grabbed his collar, and took him back to jail.
Years and adventures went by. Many summer nights I slept in the backyard with Arfus guarding me. If I swam to Magdalen Island in the Hudson River, Arfus swam with me. When I was stupid enough to throw sticks at hornet’s nests, Arfus took his stings with me. He was semper fidelis.
It’s hard to watch a beloved friend get old, isn’t it? Time went on, and old Arfus developed tumors in his body. When he was unable to hold his water all night, I could see the humiliation in my old friend’s eyes when I mopped it up. The sad day came when he took that last ride to the vet, the place he hated most of all.
It was the end of an era. I had turned 18 years old, and Arfus was 14. We’d had a good run together. He’d been my constant companion, and the best dog I’ve ever had.