In a small children’s book “A Friend is Someone Who Likes You,” by Joan Walsh Anglund, we read that a friend can be a boy, a girl, or even a dog "that wags its tail extra hard whenever you are near."
Brodie, a sweet and gentle German shepherd belonging to Betty and Fraser Lang, has been such a friend. She has also been an extended family and staff member to all of us at the Block Island Times, and it is to Brodie we now bid a very reluctant farewell.
Eleven years ago, Brodie came into the lives of Betty and Fraser, and from the time they took up publication of the local paper in 2006, she accompanied them to the office each day. She became a singular presence — funny, at times, as she sprawled in the midst of the narrow path between desks — but comforting in her friendly bulk and the reassuring look in her deep, soulful eyes.
It has been very easy to love Brodie, for she came without many conditions. It is true that she would rush up to her special visiting friends — June Regan, David Housman, Geoffrey Lawrence, Brett Ann Montgomery and Martha Ball — who often came bearing treats.
And, yes, she was always poised for any spontaneous snacks that staff might share with her. For example, she would often sniff my purse for what became our weekly ritual of muffin-splitting on proofreading day. However, even when there was nothing to nibble, she would come over to nuzzle me and whisper that she was glad to see me. I can still feel the warmth of her face against mine. I wonder about what it is that is so satisfying in that kind of acceptance. Whatever it is, I just want to hug it close and keep it near always.
The need for friendship does seem to be elemental in most of us, some call within us to answer another, some response in kind that immediately links us. And among the deepest attachments we make are with those sentient four-legged creatures we call our pets — and the pets of friends and family.
Naturalist Henry Beston says our understanding of animals is often limited or condescending, and he tries to help us alter it: “We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals… For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time…”
As such, we may think of them as crossing over from their parallel worlds to befriend us, to trust us with their lives even as they touch ours. By her presence among us, Brodie leavened our often too-serious concerns with humor. Who can be somber with a dog whose nose is deep into a muffin?
More importantly, I think she has taught us to understand love differently — in its simplest yet most profound way — returning simple affection for affection, and devotion for care. As she leaves us, even as we miss her, we also feel grateful for the time we were given together. Goodbye, girl! Goodbye, Brodie — our friend.