Olivia and the Best Dogs by Jenna Hanan Moore

Like most dogs, I was nervous when I arrived at my new home, a big red bow tied around my neck. My fears faded when Olivia entered the room. She squealed with delight the moment she saw me. She picked me up, hugged me tightly, and danced around in circles.

 “His name is Popsicle,” she declared. “And I love him! He’s the best doggie ever!”

Olivia and I became the best of friends. We were inseparable. Even though I couldn’t move my paws to follow her on my own, Olivia carried me everywhere. When she rode her tricycle—and later, her bicycle—I sat in a basket that hung from the handlebars. She even tried to take me swimming in the pool with her, but I got waterlogged and had to sit in the greenhouse for three days until my stuffing dried out. After that, Olivia carefully set me on a table, under an umbrella, to watch her swim.

 “You’ll be safe and dry here,” she explained, before jumping into the pool. 

Whenever Olivia was scared or sad, all she had to do to feel better was hug me and let her tears fall on my soft, blue fur. I couldn’t hug her back, but I comforted her with my thoughts. It worked every time.

Everything changed when Calvin came along. He had coarse brown and white fur, a loud bark, and a slobbery tongue. Unlike me, Calvin could use his paws to follow Olivia around the house and yard. He chased the balls she threw and brought them back. He even swam with her in the pool! Olivia spent more and more time playing with Calvin—and less and less time playing with me. 

 “Oh, Calvin!” she said, rubbing his belly. “You’re just the best dog ever!”

My heart broke. I thought I was the best dog ever! Calvin could run and play and swim with Olivia, but he couldn’t possibly be as good at comforting her as I was. As I sat on the pillow, lonely and confused, I waited for Olivia to need comfort after a bad dream or a skinned knee. Then they’d see who the best dog ever really was!

I was wrong. One night, Olivia’s parents got her ready for bed early. They explained that she would start school the next day. But Olivia didn’t want to go to school. She wanted to stay home and play with Calvin. As she sat on her bed weeping, Calvin walked up to her, licked her face, and let her hug him. As she held him, she gradually stopped sobbing. How could I compete?

The next morning, Olivia and her parents left the house for several hours. When they were out, I remained in my usual place on Olivia’s bed while Calvin howled in the kitchen. After a while, he came into the room, paced a few times, then jumped onto Olivia’s bed. He  turned around in circles, trying to burrow under the blankets. Finally, he settled down, with his chin resting on Olivia’s pillow and his nose an inch from my front paws. 

As much as I hated Calvin, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. He had stopped howling, but he was whimpering softly, a forlorn expression in his eyes. If he would come just a little closer, maybe I could make him feel better as I did for Olivia. Concentrating as hard as I could, I sent comforting thoughts towards the whimpering dog.

Calvin stretched his neck forward and sniffed at me. Then he picked me up, jumped down, and ran to the living room. He dropped me onto a dog bed near the sofa and curled up next to me, resting his chin on my head. Gradually, he stopped whimpering and drifted off to sleep. 

It worked! I comforted Calvin!

The next two or three hours passed with Calvin napping peacefully, his warm soft chin resting on me. As soon as we heard the key turn in the door, he jumped to his feet and bounded to the door, leaving me behind. The door opened and in walked Olivia and her mother. Calvin’s tail wagged ferociously. Olivia dropped to her knees and scratched him behind the ears.

 “Oh, Calvin!” she cooed. “You’re such a good dog! Me and Mama, we peeked in the window and saw you sleeping in your bed.”

Calvin dashed to the dog bed, picked me up, and ran back to Olivia. He dropped me on the floor at her feet and did his best sit. 

 “Did Popsicle cuddle with you so you didn’t get lonely?” She picked me up and looked at me. “Good boy, Popsicle. You took care of Calvin. You’re both the best dogs ever!” She ran to her room, clutching my paw. Calvin followed. I didn’t hate him anymore.

As Olivia grew taller, she spent less time playing with Calvin and me, and she spent more time writing at her desk, painting at her easel, and leaving the house without us. Calvin didn’t howl or cry when she left. He knew he could turn to me for comfort.

When Olivia was as tall as her mother, Calvin started walking more and more slowly. The brown fur on his face became flecked with white. Sometimes he whimpered when he jumped onto Olivia’s bed. Other times, he tried to jump, but didn’t quite make it. Eventually, he stopped trying. Olivia and her father brought a new dog bed into the room. Calvin slept a lot more, often resting his head on me for comfort. Some days, Olivia and her parents had to help him get up, especially in the mornings. 

One morning, Calvin didn’t want his breakfast. Olivia cooked hot dogs and put them in his bowl. He ate the hot dogs, but he ignored his kibble. She sat on the kitchen floor pleading with him to take a treat she held in her hand. “Please, Calvin. This is your medicine. It will make your joints hurt less.”

Calvin got up ever so slowly, and walked to his dog bed in the living room, his back hips sagging. Olivia looked up at her mother. “Mom, I don’t know what to do!”

 “It’s your decision, Olivia, but I think it’s time.”

Later that day, a nice lady named Dr. Bevins came to the house. Olivia, her parents, and Dr. Bevins all sat on the living room floor, forming a circle around Calvin’s bed. I was on the floor near the hallway, forgotten by everyone except Calvin. He whimpered and looked in my direction, but they didn’t know he was asking for me.

 “This won’t hurt,” Dr. Bevins said, patting Calvin’s head. She then poked something into his front leg and wrapped a bandage around the leg to hold the thing in place. “Good boy, Calvin.” She looked up and addressed Olivia and her parents. “Spend as much time as you like saying goodbye.”

Dr. Bevins got up and stepped away, allowing the family to have their final moments with Calvin. They each told him what a good dog he was and how much they’d miss him. They told him it wouldn’t hurt and that he was going to a place where his body wouldn’t ache anymore.

 “You’ll be able to run and play again,” Olivia said, fighting back tears. “Just like when you were a puppy!” 

They were saying all the right words, but something was wrong. Unlike me, Calvin could not understand their words; he could only understand the tone in their voices and the tears they were choking back as they spoke. Calvin did not hear their comforting words; he heard only their sorrow. He was scared.

From my place near the hallway, I strained to send comforting thoughts to Calvin, but he was too far away. He looked up and whimpered. 

 “It’s okay, Calvin,” Olivia said. Calvin stood up, unsteadily. He started walking towards me, but his hind legs gave way before he reached me. With a whimper, he laid down on the floor.   

Olivia looked at me. “He wants Popsicle! Why didn’t I think of that sooner?” She picked me up and brought me to Calvin, who gratefully held me in his mouth. Olivia and her father helped Calvin back to his dog bed, where he set me down and rested his chin on my paw. He was no longer scared. 

Dr. Bevins gave Calvin a shot. He licked Olivia’s hand one last time, then closed his eyes. His breathing slowed, then stopped. The tears Olivia held back earlier flowed freely now. She and her parents took turns saying one final goodbye to Calvin. Then Olivia helped Dr. Bevins carry him outside to her car.

That night, the house felt oppressively silent and empty. Olivia fell asleep hugging me for the first time in years.

“Oh, Popsicle, I miss him so much!” Her tears fell on my soft fur, which had worn thin in spots. “He was such a wonderful dog!” I tried my best to comfort her, but she kept crying. Had I lost my ability to provide comfort? Perhaps it was because I, too, missed Calvin. 

The next day, Olivia’s mother came into Olivia’s bedroom to wash Calvin’s blankets. When she noticed me, she sat on the bed, picked me up, and held me on her lap.

 “You miss him too, don’t you, Popsicle?” She sighed. “Don’t worry. Calvin lived to be a very old dog, and he had a good life. He’s in a better place now. No more failing body to hold him back.” She sighed again, tears welling up in her eyes. I tried to send comforting thoughts. 

After a long pause, she wiped away her tears and continued. “If not for you, we never would have gotten Calvin, did you know that? Olivia was so tender and loving with you that first year, we knew we could trust her to take care of a puppy. And she did. You taught her that, Popsicle.” She smiled. My comforting thoughts were working again! “Olivia said you were the best dog ever, and she was right. You and Calvin both. You were both the best dogs ever.”

A few weeks later, Olivia put me in the front seat of her car on top of a box of art supplies. She hugged her parents, then drove away. We were moving to an apartment in the city near where she went to college. At first, it was just Olivia and me. Someday, she would bring home another dog—a slobbery dog like Calvin who could move his own paws—but this time, I wouldn’t be jealous. Olivia had enough love in her heart to take in another best friend. 

When Olivia was ready for a new pet, she brought home Chloe. Chloe was quieter, more graceful, and less slobbery than Calvin, with soft black fur and bright green eyes. She was nervous her first day in her new home—so nervous, she didn’t make a sound all day. I did my best to send her comforting thoughts. When Chloe finally opened her mouth, the strangest sound came out. She rubbed against Olivia’s leg and said, “Meow!”

Jenna Hanan Moore is a speculative fiction writer who loves to travel, take pictures, drink coffee, and immerse herself in nature or in a good story. Her other stories can be found in places like Luna Station Quarterly, Land Beyond the World Magazine, and 365 Tomorrows.