Time for a leader dog to rest

When she bounded out of the back of their SUV, they wondered how she would get along with their other dogs, two outside dogs that paced the perimeter of their acreage and sang karaoke at night under a full moon.

The outside dogs took immediate notice of the black and tan German Shepherd with the distinct markings and stately stance. They watched her go in and out of the house, something they were never allowed to do. As close as they ever got was inside the garage. They didn’t seem to mind that Casey had special privileges. Maybe they understood. Maybe they sensed that she was there for my nephew, serving as a second set of eyes.

Casey was a touch unbridled at first, not always responding to commands, sometimes steering my nephew off course as she explored something that caught her eye. She was curious, full of life and adventure. She didn’t just give my nephew increased mobility; she gave him confidence and courage in a dark world.

Shortly after the two joined forces, my nephew had a lot of dental work done. My father sat with Casey in the waiting room as she lunged and pulled, howled and barked and tried to scratch through the wall. The dentist invited Casey back to the treatment room. It was either that or replace drywall.

She was never far from her buddy. There was not a restaurant table or enough chair legs to keep her from getting close. Sure, her big paws, long nose and tail might be splayed on four different sets of feet, but she didn’t mind. Nobody else did either.

She’s been a fixture at every family celebration from graduations and birthday parties to baby showers. When my dad died, she was there lying in the hallway outside his bedroom door. As the end approached, she lifted her head and let out a long mournful cry. “You speak for all of us, girl,” someone said.

For years now, she and my nephew have gone to work every day at a warehouse where people assemble faucets, the sort that go on the outside of your house. Casey rests at his feet, leads him to the break room, back to the work table and out the door when the shift is over.

Each night she beds down on the floor beside his bed, but sometime after midnight begins her first patrol. She pads out of his room, down the stairs, through the living room, the kitchen and into the master bedroom where she checks on my brother and his wife.

Then she retraces her steps back upstairs and turns into the guest room. You sense someone or something nearby, crack open an eye in the dark and see the big eyes of a German Shepherd inches from your face. She nuzzles in close and waits for a few pats on the back.

Finished with patrol, she pads on back to him, her best friend and loyal companion.

But now time has gotten the best of her. Her hip is bad. She struggles on stairs. Her sight and hearing are nearly gone.

And so it has come time for the inevitable. The day of dread.

And now? Well, now it will be like Orville without Wilbur.

Tom without Huck.

Calvin without Hobbes.

Casey really was a young man’s best friend.