As a Christian, I suppose I should say Jesus is my best friend. As a husband, perhaps I should say my wife is my best friend. As a father, I might be expected to say our children are my best friends. And, as a grandfather, some would argue my best friend is our grandson.
I think I’ll dispense with all that, and just say my best friend is Buddy.
He’s a mostly black border collie, mixed with another brand. I am hopelessly devoted to him, and I suppose there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him. He’s my shadow – I’m his Pied Piper of Hamelin. He tries to follow me everywhere. He’s lying at my feet as I write.
When I get in the house, the first to meet me at the door and pine for human touch is not, as you might expect, my wife Sherry, but Buddy. Until and unless I reach out and pet him, he won’t leave me alone. Once I do, all’s well with his world.
All this gushing, sentimental fluff about my pet got me thinking about a story I read some years ago. It helps set the context as to why man’s – my – best friend really and truly is a canine.
George Graham Vest (1830-1904) was an American lawyer and politician, known for his skills in debate and oration. He is best known for his “man’s best friend” closing arguments from the trial in which damages were sought for the killing of a foxhound named Old Drum on 18 October 1869. Vest was the attorney for the plaintiff.
After the final witness had been examined and the counsel for the defense had given his closing argument to the jury, Vest rose to speak.
“Gentlemen of the jury,” he said, “the best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. Even his own 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 upon their knees to do us honour when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.
“Gentlemen of the jury, the one absolutely unselfish friend that a 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 lie near his master’s side. He will even kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and the sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He will guard the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. And when all other friends desert, he remains.
“When riches take wings and reputation falls into pieces, a man’s dog 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 and 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 grave side will the noble dog be found, his head between his paw, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even after his master’s death.”
The jury deliberated for only a few moments, after which it brought in a verdict for the plaintiff. This legal action became one of the very few instances where the amount awarded was much greater than the sum asked.
One of my early morning delights is perking my first caffeine fix of the day. Then, coffee in hand, while sitting on the chesterfield, I travel the world with a good book. Without fail, I am joined by Buddy, who wants nothing more than to snuggle beside me. He will stay there as long as I do. If I have to leave the house, he accompanies me to the door, where he sits and looks plaintively at me until I pass him the first treat of the day. Since rereading the story of Lawyer Vest, I understand much better the role Buddy plays in my life, and I in his.