It seemed like any other day to the little yellow mongrel until his owner took him to a different, unfamiliar park. It was a place that he had not been before; the smell was instantly new and strange to the little dog, as he sniffed the air redolent with fragrant newly-cut grass arona. His owner stopped and tied his lead to the railings that surrounded the ornamental pond, then he walked quickly away, disappearing in an instant. The dog whined and tried to pull free to follow him but he had vanished. Fortunately the sense of abandonment did not last long.
“What’s up, mate?” came a voice from above. A scruffy young man was approaching; tall, skinny with long greasy dark hair, looking as if he had recently been sleeping in a skip. He came up to the dog and stroked his head.
“Looks like you and me are in the same boat now, both homeless. Maybe we should team up. I’m Ray, and I think I’ll call you Sandy.”
Ray untied the dog’s lead, and that was the start of a beautiful friendship: for around the next two years they were inseparable. Ray had been homeless for a few years now. He told Sandy his story, one evening when they were bedding down in a shop doorway. Like so many of the street people, he was an addict. In his case, the addiction was alcohol: he was unable to keep a job or a roof over his head owing to his alcoholism. He had been sacked from his last job as a teaching assistant because he kept missing work due to being hungover. Then he couldn’t afford to pay the rent on his flat, got in arrears and was chucked out. There was nowhere else he could go, no one to take him in: his parents had also been alcoholics and had died early deaths as a result.
During the day Ray and Sandy would beg in the streets for money for food. Ray tried not to buy alcohol with it, despite the temptation: now he had Sandy to look after as well, besides himself, so he made sure that feeding the dog was a priority, before spending any of the money on himself. It did him good, having another creature to care about; made life seem not quite so hopeless and dismal after all. They did quite well with Sandy performing some simple tricks Ray had taught him. “See, my previous teaching experience is coming in very handy here,” chuckled Ray. “So glad that I can still use my skills, even in the situation I am in now.”
Sandy turned out to be a real asset from the point of view of getting money from people. He definitely earned his keep. When he sat up in the begging position or waved his forepaw imploringly at passersby their heartstrings were yanked, and they gave generously. In the evenings Sandy would watch over Ray while he slept to protect him from anyone who would steal his meagre possessions or beat him up for fun. For a small dog, he could be very menacing when he growled and raised his hackles at anyone who appeared to be threatening them.
They had been going on like this for a couple of years on the streets. The time, the days and incidents, all ran together into one. It was as if they had never known any other life, as if neither of them had ever had homes. Ray sometimes thought back to his previous life and wondered idly about the chance of ever getting off the streets; of finding a job and a place to live again. Could he ever do it? He was still drinking from time to time, but his addiction was not so bad now, probably because he had the dog to care for, a dependent, which made the difference. But needed to find accommodation where he could take the dog, or it was no good.
Then it was winter, a particularly harsh one. Ray had picked up a chest infection with a hacking cough. He was getting weaker and weaker. Sleeping rough was making his condition worse, but Ray would not consider going to a homeless shelter because they would not let him take Sandy in with him. That night they slept in an alleyway near the park among the trash cans and the smell of rotting food and urine. They did not let the stench bother them as it was at least sheltered from the worst of the wind and the rain
Sandy woke up first next morning. It was freezing in the alley-way. Why wasn’t Ray awake yet? Sandy licked Ray’s cold face but got no response. Why wouldn’t Ray wake up? The little dog began to bark hysterically. A girl just coming home from a night out came over to see what was going on, and called for an ambulance on her mobile.
The ambulance came quickly and the paramedics loaded Ray’s remains into a body bag and onto the vehicle. He had died in his sleep, most likely from pneumonia, the paramedics said. Sandy tried to stop them taking his beloved master away. He barked and growled at the men but his protest only got him a swift kick in his ribs causing him searing pain and sending him sprawling. Sandy howled with his loss and the pain in his side. He tried to chase after the ambulance as it pulled away. The dog did not see the car coming up behind him. The car hit him full on. Everything went black.
After a while, the blackness cleared, and Sandy found himself looking around. He was no longer in pain; he felt light and free. He saw the body of a small yellow-ish dog lying by the side of the road and realised it was his. Just as he was wondering what to do next, he heard a familiar voice:
“Sandy! Come here, mate. It’s me. We’re going on a big adventure together.. We’re free now, from all of this: we are going on to a much better place.
The little dog looked up and saw Ray, but it was a different Ray; he looked happy and healthy, beaming with joy, and a light surrounded him.
Sandy wagged his luminous tail and ran to him. Together they entered a brilliant white light, in the form of a kind of spiral staircase, and they went on to the afterlife – together forever
Picture courtesy of www.marcthevet.com