When I was 8 years old, I remember the day I met my best friend. He was an adorable, fluffy black and white puppy with tiny brown dots for eyebrows. He sprinted down the hallway to meet me for the first time, like he knew how close we would become. In just days, this Border Collie we named Reilly became my constant companion.
I spent much of my free time that summer teaching Reilly commands like “sit,” “paw,” “down,” “stay,” and “come!” He picked up on them in no time and was the most well behaved pup that we had ever seen.
Reilly always came with us on our family hiking and running trips. He loved chasing sticks that we’d throw and swimming in the rivers, streams and lakes. Even when he got older, he acted like a puppy and made all of our adventures more fun. If he heard a deer or even a bear while we were in the woods, he took off chasing them. But he always returned after about twenty minutes and joined our hike again.
I’m reminiscing about all the good times with Reilly because recently I received a call from my mom. She started out by saying, “Jessie, Reilly is really sick.” I became short of breath and began to tremble. She explained that on his last hike with my dad, Reilly was walking very slowly and my dad became concerned.
After a trip to the vet’s office, my dad was told to take our precious boy to an emergency animal hospital. An ultrasound revealed a metastatic tumor on Reilly’s spleen that was bleeding. The vet said Reilly probably wouldn’t even survive the trip home because of how fast the tumor was bleeding. I knew my mom was telling me Reilly was being put down at that very moment.
My heart broke into a million tiny pieces. A major part of my life was gone. I know I’ll grieve over the loss of Reilly for a long time. But I also feel blessed to have had such a loyal dog, and that I was able to spend almost half of my life with him.
Though this hole in my heart may never mend, I’m grateful to have an endless supply of memories to look back on. Hikes on Hawk Mountain and the Appalachian Trail, swimming at World’s End, Ricketts Glen, and Tuscarora State Parks. Countless rides in our Jeep on back roads and through cornfields on summer nights. Loading him in the car for late night McDonald’s runs. Cuddling with him during thunderstorms, spending hot summer days in the backyard by the pool, and running with him as I trained for track and cross-country season. These are just some of the memories I am lucky to have with Reilly.
This loss has made me believe in the companionship of a dog. It can be difficult to find reliable people, but you can always rely on your beloved dog. I believe in their love, loyalty and healing capabilities. I am proud to say that Reilly was my true companion from my childhood all the way to young adulthood, and for that I am ever grateful.
Jessie Setlock is a nursing student at Penn State University Park. Sometime in the near future, she’s planning on adopting another border collie to make new memories with.