This Heartwarming Tale Proves That Dogs Truly Are Man’s Best Friend

After I left home for college, my beloved Boots demonstrated a loyalty that amazes me to this day.

When he first arrived at our clapboard home in the arms of Alvin Whitmore—a family friend and distant cousin—on that steamy August morning in 1954, I just knew this small black ball of fur and I would be great partners for many summers to come. The colour of his paws triggered a few names that most 11-year-old boys would find perfect.

“We should call him Four-Socks or maybe Boots,” I said as my father paid the agreed-upon $5 for our new family member. “Good names, son, but I think this little fellow would like your second suggestion best. That’s a great name for a puppy with four brown paws,” said Dad with a smile. “Boots, welcome to our family,” he confirmed.

After Boots grew to knee-high and I turned 12, we both felt ready for after-school outdoor adventures. Not far from our back door lay hundreds of acres of open fields, a river, trails and forests. Once school was out for summer in late June, Boots and I would head out early to the green forests and riverbanks along the main branch of the town’s rolling river, the Saugeen. With my binoculars, a cut-down fishing pole and a canvas knapsack, we would ramble our secret trails, explore freshwater springs, eat wax-paper-wrapped sandwiches on a rock pile or riverbank, and fish all day for elusive brown and speckled trout. Usually I reeled in only suckers and silver chub, both of which never made it into my wicker fishing basket. But those hot summer days, rolling waters, and soft green banks undercut by decades of spring floods are forever embedded in my adult mind.

Mists of Time

Closing my eyes on this midsummer day some 50 years later brings back memories of sunburned arms and cool, shady days that marked every trek along that waterway, from one deep fishing hole to the next. Since I’m quite certain there’s a dog heaven, no doubt Boots is up there enjoying getting soaking wet on the shorelines before rolling in tall grass under the big willows.

A constant highlight of those “school’s out for summer” days was Mom’s lunch bag of thick jam, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, glass jars of chocolate milk and a mason jar of soft food for Boots. Now in her 89th year, she still recalls those adventures long ago shared by the two fast friends, both young and full of energy. I think she loved Boots almost as much as me.

On our daylong rambles, Boots had a knack for reading my weakness quite well by successfully begging for sandwich crusts or the corners of a cookie. Only peanut butter was forbidden: we learned that lesson months earlier in the kitchen. It’s no fun seeing a dog trying to dislodge peanut butter from the roof of his mouth with his tongue.

Boxing In The YardCourtesy John G. Dickson
Friend Ronnie Wells (left) and John clowning around while boxing.

It was also well-known in the neighbourhood that my black-and-tan buddy would protect me against any perils, real or imagined, without fail. Not that danger played a serious role in our small-town environment, although there were bullies in schoolyards then, just like today. My own four-legged safety net existed on our two-acre property. I believe a couple of grown-ups now in their senior years may still bear a few long-healed marks on their bottom cheeks from my dog’s reaction to the innocent one-on-one boxing matches we held every summer in our backyard. Gentle nips were delivered to opponents’ butts, but only when I was clearly losing a match. Whenever it appeared I was winning those outdoor fisticuffs, there was no such reaction. That system seemed fair to me, though others would surely disagree. I know of two grown men who freely admit today to throwing those summer matches, just to keep Boots happy—and distant!

While today’s parents are often accused of being overprotective, mine encouraged being close to nature, all day long if possible. Part of that learning experience happened on those full-day summer adventures, with my dog as my sole companion. And yes, I imagined he spoke back to me as we explored the fields, forests and cool waters that welcomed a small-town boy. Walking our familiar trails together often led to secret two-way conversations that helped me reach answers to teenage questions.

A Unique Watchdog

Two years later, after my last year in high school, there were bigger midsummer decisions to consider before September. Everyone knew that meant college far away from our small community. Admittedly an exciting adventure for me, but sorry, no dogs allowed. That fall was my time to begin on a new direction in the biggest city in Canada. But during that first year, it was also a time when everyone in our family witnessed an unusual canine talent that amazed every member. It still does, to this very day.

Skiing With BootsCourtesy John G. Dickson
John and Boots out for a ski.

In the mid-’60s, living 150 miles south of home in a university dorm was also an experience that strained my parents’ budget. To ensure the transition would be affordable, my father severed-off three building lots from our two-acre property. The money received from the sale soon mysteriously found its way into my bank account.

Weekends often meant hitchhiking home. It seems impossible today, but when I attended college, there was little concern about throwing on a knapsack and using your thumb to obtain a ride. Hitchhiking was common and considered safe. I used that exact method during my first two years away, often starting out on a Friday afternoon. On most occasions, I would reach home in four hours. Looking back on those weekend journeys, Fridays also proved that Boots was not an ordinary pet. He was a magical mutt!

Our house sat on a rise about 300 yards from where the highway bisected the town. The sightline from the edge of that rise to the highway is unobstructed. The moment I exited my last ride, at the juncture of our street and the highway, Boots would spot his master and bound rocketlike down the rise to greet me with a series of joyous leaps and licks. At first, I thought his timing was simple luck, and not an unexplainable instinct. But after many consecutive Friday journeys with the same happy greeting, I asked my parents a basic question: “Does Boots hang out on that same hill every afternoon until nightfall?”

“It’s the craziest thing,” answered my mom and dad in unison. “He certainly has a time clock of some kind inside that brain. We’ve watched his actions closely ever since you moved. Believe it or not, Boots only sits on that rise every Friday afternoon and he stays unmoving until he spots you at the corner. The other six afternoons, he acts normal. On those weekends when you stay in Toronto, he sits on that rise until very late at night, once it was nearly midnight!”

This proven talent of counting down days seems difficult to understand; no one we know could ever explain how he knew it was Friday afternoon. Boots was loyal and accurate for all three years of my time in college—always on watch on the correct day, regardless of the weather.

He was unique, at least in my mind.

After Boots left us for canine heaven, we decided not to get another furry friend from Cousin Alvin. Most likely my special pal would have disapproved of any substitute watchdog.

But our “Time Dog” is still on that small rise to this day, his name marked on a flat river stone I found along the shoreline.

Next, read the heartwarming story of how one woman adopted her first dog at the age of 65—and gained a new lease on life.

Originally Published in Our Canada