It wasn’t the usual doggie greeting, as far as I can recall.
Their noses passed closely for a quick, mutual whiff – but it was the way their eyes lit up that I remember. Recognition of one kindred spirit by another illuminated their faces and happened in a second, but it would last their lifetimes. Now of the same heart, the two of them turned in unison and ran off together. Love at first sight, I guess you could say.
That’s how Zelda met Bear.
Bear was a handsome, tall and solidly- built yellow Lab with love written all over his face. My Zelda was a beautiful, girly-girl of a broad-chested Bernese Mountain Dog, sturdy and exceptionally strong for a female. Physically, they were a close match and at first I attributed their bond to that. But the sparkle in Zelda’s eye when she caught sight of Bear, or the way he freely relinquished control over the tug rope during a contest told me that they shared a much, much deeper connection.
The Two of Them
Zelda was nearly as much of a water dog as Bear. She learned to swim by hanging around with the Labs at our local lake and just decided one day to join the pack in retrieving the sticks, balls and bumpers catapulted into the water by owners hoping to take home a tired dog. She enjoyed it ok – but when she could play with Bear in the water – well, that was even better than a peanut-butter bone!
Fortunately for the two of them, Bear’s parents had a lovely place to go in Florida on the Gulf of Mexico, where Bear often went boating with his dad. Secured in his life-jacket, Bear rode forward on the bow, scouting for the porpoises that randomly surfaced, spewed water out of their blow-hole, and then just as quickly disappeared back under the water.
Bear wasn’t fooled. He knew exactly where they were, and where they were going to surface. He’d stand on the bow and accurately predict the next surfacing as we motored out to a small island off the coast for a day of fun. I suggested to Zelda, hunkered down in the stern, that she should also learn a useful skill, like Bear.
Closing in on the shore, it took both of us dog-moms to keep the excited pair on the deck while the boat was secured. Capitulating to an intensifying force greater than ourselves, we stepped aside as soon as we could, and the pair abandoned ship for the deep turquoise water and bleached sand of the small island.
I couldn’t tell you how long they played together. Bear chased Zelda. Zelda chased Bear. The dog dads threw sticks into the water, and Bear always got there first but Zelda always tried to take them away as soon as her paws struck bottom.
But the prize of the day was a coconut. I don’t know who found it, but it was the “keep away” prize that managed to pass between them throughout the day. Zelda loved to chew on coconuts, and we brought that coconut back with us. It stayed in the back of my SUV for two years.
Clouds in the Florida Sky
I remember how I sat back in the boat and pondered the metamorphosis of the snow-white cotton candy clouds as they journeyed along a lofty jet-stream high above our heads. First like a pillow, then a few wisps appear, and then they are gone.
Zelda has been gone for nearly four years.
And as of last Friday, now Bear.
Together, I hope, they are chasing each other along their own lofty jet-stream in an infinity-blue sky, liberated from cancer and bad hips and arthritis.
In my heart, I know they are.
A few years have gone by since then. I now have a rescue Berner, Heidi – but Bear’s parents have passed on adopting another Lab. Bear’s paws were just too tough to fill, I guess.
Not long after Bear left us, I created a photo bracelet for Bear’s mom…
And while some of the warm and brilliant sunlight that illuminated our very short time of fun and frolic together has faded in memory just a bit, a smile of remembrance still illuminates my friend’s face every time she looks down at her bracelet.