The loss they felt was evident in their sentiments, as they recalled wonderful memories from the years they shared, and the painful process of watching the failing health and ultimate passing of their canine companions.
It was a feeling I knew all too well and it spurred me to pay a visit to my own faithful friend. The walk spanned no more than 100 yards from our house and yet, in the busy-ness of life, it was a path I had not traveled in quite some time. The growth of field grass over the summer months had all but obscured the smaller tracks made by the last visitors - the three children who ventured to the back field to say hello.
When I approached the grave of Reese - our 16-year-old beagle named by Missy for her peanut butter cup markings - the cross I made from scrap wood was gray and weathered. It no longer bore any resemblance to the colorful one the kids had decorated with small trinkets and her name outlined in Sculpy after we buried her two autumns ago.
As I cleared brush and worked to tidy up the spot, I recalled countless afternoons of Reese bounding happily through this same field after waiting patiently for one of the kids to leave a door ajar to ensure her escape. I remembered how stealthily she could steal food from a table without disrupting place settings, how she would camp underneath the high chair of our babies, awaiting the morsels that would undoubtedly fall her way.
I remembered how she laid with us when we were ill and intervened in the kids' physical conflicts. How terrified she was of thunderstorms. How patient she was with Ruby when we introduced the bulldog pup into Granny Beagle's world. How she let the kids dress her up and take her picture. How she would howlingly "sing" for us if we enticed her with the right note.
And I remembered seeing her broken, nearly lifeless body at the end of the driveway after she finally failed to cheat death in crossing a busy roadway. How I gingerly lifted her to the back of the van as Missy hurried three crying children into their seats for an emergency trip to see our friend and vet Dr. John Flowers. And how Reese died on the way to John's West Gardiner clinic.
In the time it took me to clean up Reese's gravesite, I remembered all these things - the good and the bad - and I realized how truly fortunate we were to have this wonderful pet (and her feline companions, Ashes and Abner) in our lives for so many years. She made our lives richer, fuller, more complete. She made us laugh, tried our patience and loved us unconditionally even when we didn't give her the time or attention she deserved. And I think, in her own quiet way, she helped teach us important lessons about caring for another living being.
For all of this, I am truly grateful.