By Ray Hill

One year ago on August 3, I lost my beloved Scottish terrier, Mackie. I still miss the little fellow something fierce and there’s not a day that goes by without my thinking about him. Losing anyone we love profoundly is a terrible loss. It literally changes one’s world because without that loved one in it, it really is a very different world. The world will never be quite the same again. While I don’t know that we grieve less for the loss, somehow we gradually learn to live with it, yet it is mighty hard.

Several months before Mackie passed, I got a Jack Russell terrier. I thought a new friend might help to extend Mackie’s life and I believe it did. I had never had a Jack Russell terrier before and was looking for a puppy when my friend Cameron Brooks found a veterinarian who raised Jack Russells. I was perusing some of the available dogs and much to my surprise there was a white and tan little guy with twinkling eyes and a mask. I made arrangements to meet two puppies and the slightly older dog. What I found astonishing is the fact the older dog (he was 11 months old) was named Billy. There wasn’t anything especially amazing about that save for the fact it is exactly what I had intended to name a new puppy. I happen to believe God will lead us if we will but follow. The two puppies were energetic, playful and adorable. Billy was friendly enough, but appeared to be a bit put upon by the puppies who followed him everywhere and made every effort to engage him in play. I decided to follow the clue the Lord had left for me and I am mighty glad I did.

Not every breeder takes the time to learn the personality of the puppies or dogs they raise, but that vet knew Billy’s personality very well. She mentioned how Billy followed her everywhere she went and that he seemed to prefer people to other dogs.

Once Billy was bundled into the passenger seat, we drove home and I would look at him to see how he was doing and noticed he was looking down at the seat forlornly and trembling. I got him out of the car and opened the front door and he immediately saw Mackie, who stood up in his crate. Billy wagged his tail for the first time since he came to his new home.

Having lived with Mackie for almost twelve years, I was used to him and he to me; I knew his likes and dislikes and loved his sweet and gentle spirit. Billy was a wild little thing, expressive and interested in everything. Billy proved to be exceptionally bright and quickly adapted to the routine Mackie and I lived by daily. He had never walked on a leash, but within a few days he was doing extraordinarily well. Billy also, following Mackie’s lead, was quickly potty-trained.

Mackie was almost as interested in Billy as Billy was Mackie. They spent hours playing together. As Mackie’s cancer got worse, the time became shorter until Mackie simply couldn’t play with Billy anymore. Like a little boy, Billy couldn’t quite understand why Mackie no longer wanted to play. While Billy certainly liked being active, he enjoyed sprawling on the sofa with Mackie and me. Billy always had a habit of wedging himself Mackie and me. Billy was close to his friend and could rest his head on my knee. That wasn’t entirely all right with Mackie. Every evening, Mackie would simply push Billy off the sofa and rest his head upon my leg and gaze down at Billy.

Mackie was thoroughly convinced everyone loved him and he loved everyone. Mackie just knew everyone wanted to meet him and would fly out the door the moment I opened it. Billy is more discerning and reserved, at least initially. Billy stands at the top step, surveying things carefully before descending the stairs. When meeting someone new, Billy is cautious until a particular moment when he decides to extend himself. Billy’s attitude reminds me of a young lady who is particular about the dates she goes out on, lest one of them be a serial killer.

Billy was puzzled the day Mackie didn’t come home. He looked around the house and sat in Mackie’s crate. We went for a very long walk together that day and I suppose I was pretty quiet for a while. Billy hated it when I was upset and would do his best to comfort me. Mackie had loved to walk, but I had suspended those when he was ailing as I didn’t think it fair to take Billy and leave Mackie at home. Once Mackie was gone, I had to face that new world without him in it and Billy and I have been walking together ever since.

I remained very restless and unsettled for several days. Since my heart surgery, I had slept much better, but was used to Mackie sleeping on his Serta bed beside my own. At the suggestion of a friend, I tried bringing Billy back to my bedroom, first in his crate. That was a failed experiment if there ever was one. Billy laid in his crate for about ten minutes before he began wailing, softly at first and then more persistently. When I moved his crate back into the kitchen, all was well with his world. Then I tried bringing him back and placing him in my bed. That worked. Now all I have to do is announce it is time for bed and Billy hurtles down the hall wiggling with excitement. Quite often, he has launched himself into the bed and is waiting for me. Wild Bill is ready to play, which we do for a few minutes. When I remove my glasses, he settles down and curls up into a little ball. Billy is content to let me sleep as long as I wish on the weekends. Yet he is quite ready to begin his day whenever I rouse myself from sleep. We then go outside for the necessities of life.

Once back inside, Billy has his breakfast and joins me while I drink a cup of coffee. Billy enjoys his crate and will put himself in it most days. Billy knows exactly where his treats are, but he also has several loves. While Billy has a marked affinity for Cheerios, his real love is popcorn. Yet even popcorn is not his sole love. Billy, being a man of the world, has several. Billy will simply look at me when I tell him to “come” but will fly like he was shot out of a cannon if I merely ask, “Do you want some peanut butter?”

Billy will lose his mind occasionally when a bag of popcorn goes into the microwave. Billy also notifies me whenever the timer goes off on the range or the microwave. Wild Bill also loudly announces the arrival of the postman. Billy has an altogether different bark to signify someone is at the front door.

Billy loves suppertime, mine and his own. Billy gobbles down his own supper and eyes mine and gives me a reproachful look if I am thoughtless enough to have a salad. Oftentimes, he will look at the salad, then look at me with mild disgust and jump off the sofa and lie beneath the TV tray. I believe that is Billy’s method of expressing his unhappiness with a menu selection he believes to be unfortunate. Chicken, beef, pork and even fish meet his proper requirements for mealtime. I never knew dogs could belch until I got Billy. Billy will end a hearty meal by ripping out an appreciative and surprisingly loud belch.

Like any small boy, Billy is very fond of his toys, but his favorite is his red ball. Billy enjoys chasing his ball until he apparently begins to wonder if I intend to give it back. Bill oftentimes decides I can no longer be trusted to give it back; at that point, he settles somewhere and gnaws on it or will toss it himself and flies off to retrieve it.

It didn’t take long to discover Billy loves riding in the car. Billy would also hurry over and turn himself so that I could better affix his leash to his collar so we could go outside. Billy also developed some highly defined likes and dislikes of his own outside of foodstuffs and treats. Billy doesn’t much care for thunder or fireworks. He looks at cats the way I image a human being would gaze upon a creature from another planet. Billy doesn’t like being scolded and will oftentimes argue about it, barking at me in return.

Billy is remarkably patient and is content to lie with one of his toys under my desk as I work on these columns or book projects. Wild Bill is not at all afraid of the vet and seems to enjoy his visits to the Dogwood Animal Clinic. It may be quite a different story once Billy visits the groomer.

Yet Billy likes to purloin things and is something of a kleptomaniac. Billy loves the laundry and will select from the laundry a choice piece of clothing, be it a sock, underwear, or a rag. Billy also likes to destroy paper; he is nothing less than a four-legged paper shredder. I learned rather quickly not to simply put the mail down. I also learned Billy could pretty much leap anywhere he wanted to go. That guy can leap with the ease of a tiny gazelle and if pouncing were an Olympic sport, Billy would doubtless have several gold medals. I frequently would look at the pile of laundry and think to myself, “I thought there was more of it…” Once I looked up to see a towel, apparently moving on its own, disappearing from the den into the kitchen. I quickly looked under my desk where Billy was happily gnawing on the towel. Now I have learned to observe both the laundry and Billy while putting it away.

Wild Bill has very definite opinions about things. He will let me clip his toenails without complaint, although he sails into the kitchen immediately afterward to collect his expected treat, although not before biting the clippers. If he sees me with the scissors to trim around his eyes, he immediately runs to his crate. Only a bribe of peanut butter will coax him out for that. Billy also loves to wrestle and one need not do much to encourage him in a Texas Death Match. Billy plays all out, growling and biting. I suspect Billy has won more of our wrestling matches than I have.

Billy has adapted quite nicely to our life together and he provides me with a lot of laughs, company, and affection. Billy is lively, inquisitive, amusing and sweet. Of course, he’s very different from Mackie in many respects just as siblings differ though they have the same parents. Mackie and Billy are different dogs. Yet there are some wonderful similarities. One of my sisters kept Mackie while I was in the hospital having triple bypass surgery. I worried more about him than I did myself. She later told me she thought Mackie was more a “one person” dog and Billy may be, too. Mackie followed me everywhere I went in the house and so does Billy. Mackie, uncommon for a Scottie, was quite obedient and the smartest dog I’ve ever known in my life. Billy is less obedient than Mackie and I wouldn’t trust him off his leash. Another thing they have in common is they both help bring me happiness.

Life can be as full as we make it or as empty as we allow it to be oftentimes. I thank God I listened to the hint he gave me that day.