A Loving Tribute to a Faithful Friend

by Derrick G. Jeter

I had to put my dog to sleep today. For eight years, Patriot was a faithful friend—more than a friend, a family member. He had bone cancer which spread quickly on his right foreleg. Dr. Taylor, our vet, said there was nothing we could do to save him. We had done the right thing, he said. No doubt we did, but it doesn’t make it easier to lose one you love. But I’m encouraged by the words of C. S. Lewis:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in the casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. . . . The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell.
Hell is no place to be, so I’ll continue to love. I’ll even love another dog someday, but not today.
✯ ✯ ✯
I read this speech many years ago. It’s a fitting tribute to my dog, Patriot.
George Graham Vest served as the U.S. Senator from Missouri from 1879 to 1903. As a young attorney, Vest represented a client in a lawsuit whose dog had been killed. When his turn came to address the jury, he made this emotional appeal (and if you’ve ever loved a dog and been loved by a dog then read this with a handkerchief handy):
“Gentlemen of the jury:
“The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name may become traitors to their faith. the money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.
“The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings, and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.
“If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by the graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death.”
By the way, Vest won the case.