For those of you that have been following my stories, will know that Vader the boxer and my dog Brutus have pretty much grown up together and have been best friends right from the start. The things that these boys have got up to have been nothing short of entertaining and on occasions, embarrassing – involving snot, farts, belches and lots of mutual humping of each others heads.
Vader like many boxers, is often misunderstood by other breeds of dog and because of his snub nose and noisy breathing, he can sound pretty aggressive when in fact he just wants to play. Except for when he doesn’t want to play and he wants to start a fight instead, totally forgetting that because he doesn’t have much of a ‘face’, he can’t even defend himself when the dog that he is winding up; retaliates.
He has often called other dogs ‘Wankers’ and other such insults and Brutus being the coward that he is, would frequently pretend to be blind, deaf, elderly or just hide behind a tree so that he wouldn’t get beaten up. Of course when they were in the basketball courts in our local park, it was ‘game-on’ because both boys were safe in the knowledge that no other dog could get to them.
This usually ended up with the boys doing some fence-fighting which is actually a favourite hobby for many dogs – it involves dogs from both sides of the enclosure, running up and down the fence and threatening each other while yelling stuff about their mothers being a mongrel with no collar from the streets.
Whenever the dogs had time apart or didn’t see each other for a while, Brutus liked to sit right next to the dividing fence where he would find some kind of comfort when he heard his flappy jowled friend snorting or barking from his garden. I have many pictures of Brutus sitting by the fence like a stalker, the photo below is just one of them.
And then they got old….
The years went by, life happened, COVID and lockdown happened and they didn’t see each other as often as they once did. But on Brutus’s 9th birthday last year, Vader was invited over to our house to celebrate Brutus’s birthday party. Well I say birthday party, it was a party for two because Vader and Brutus didn’t need anyone else as a third dog would have just messed up the dynamics.
Brutus had been ready for Vader’s arrival for ages. He had checked himself in the mirror three times, smoothed down his grey muzzle and had tried to put black shoe polish on his face to make himself look younger. Once he had heard me bring Vader through the garage door and into the back garden, Brutus impatiently wagged his tail and started doing his high pitched squeals that he has never grown out of doing when he gets excited.
“Vader!” Brutus grinned and went to body slam his old friend as he hadn’t seen him for a long time. “Wanna pee on my head?……” Brutus’s voice trailed off as he saw his mate limp slowly over to him and acknowledge him with a feeble wag of his tail.
“What’s happened to you?” Brutus barked in shock and double checked that it was the same Vader – his oldest and ‘bestest’ friend in the world.
“Old age and illness, that’s what!” Vader puffed and then suddenly looking confused, he said “Where am I?” before slowly walking over to the grass to have a crap.
Brutus laughed, “What do you mean? You know where you are! You are funny Vader, I have missed you. Fancy a game of chase on the limestone wall for old times sake?”
“What’s that over there?” Vader growled at some leaves in the corner.
Brutus frowned, “Are you OK?” At 9 years old himself, he was no spring chicken but he still could run fast, jump and pull magpies out of trees (yes, that was not his finest moment).
Vader looked up and grinned, “I am OK, let’s play!” But as soon as he had said it, he took a deep breath and then cocked his head to the side. “Where am I again?” He muttered at no-one in particular, “Oh look – there’s some poo on the grass, is that mine? It’s massive!”
Desperate to play with his friend, Brutus kept nudging him to react.
But Vader just stood over the water bowl by the garden tap gulping down some water, only occasionally looking up at a crestfallen Brutus who simply could not understand why Vader didn’t want to play with him.
“Hey do you remember when we did a fence fight with those two husky dogs and they threatened to eat us?” Brutus barked excitedly. Vader said nothing, his cloudy eyes stared vacantly up at the sky.
Brutus tried to think of happy memories to tell Vader to try and make him remember things. “Do you remember when we got arrested with a violent gang of whippets and taken to the police station for robbing the pet store?” He said desperately. This wasn’t going the way he had planned, Vader was behaving so oddly that Brutus didn’t know what to make of it.
“That didn’t happen, did it?” Vader suddenly piped up, momentarily remembering where he was.
Shrugging, Brutus said that no, perhaps it didn’t, but it would have been fun had it really happened. He was clutching at straws now, wanting to have the Vader back that he knew and loved.
I could see how frustrated Brutus was. He kept nudging him, pawing him, gifting him his fluffy snake and when that didn’t work, he brought out the rubber pig – he never brings out the rubber pig.
Vader’s breathing was strained as he bent down, had another big drink and then stared up at the sky as he once again had checked out of reality while the water dribbled out of his mouth. Brutus was quick to wash Vader’s face as he always had done in the past. The two boys would often clean each others faces and enjoyed doing so as well.
And once Brutus realised that Vader wasn’t well and not up to playing, there was no consoling him as he barked frantically and circled the grizzled elderly boxer dog. In the end he was so upset that I had to put him inside and take Vader back home.
14th December 2021
Brutus was in the garden laying on his bed. The sun had warmed him up quite nicely and he was enjoying reading his favourite dog magazine ‘Naughty Whippets with No Collars’. He was about to turn the page when he heard a husky voice say “Hey Brutus, are you there?”
That was Vader! He must be feeling better Brutus thought. He felt immense relief just to hear Vader’s voice. Maybe he could come round for another playdate?
“Are you OK?” Brutus whispered through the gap in the dividing fence. If he squinted, he could just make out Vader’s cloudy eyes staring back at him,
“I’ve just farted.” Vader snorted and then after a few minutes straining, Vader pushed out another loud fart, causing Brutus to laugh and let out a fart as well. And just for a few minutes, things were back to normal and the worries about Vader’s confusion and sickness were forgotten as the boys enjoyed some ‘toilet humour’.
“You have been my best friend you know, you do realise that don’t you?” Vader barked. It wasn’t a strong bark, but it was his unmistakable ‘rusty dog bark’ that was unique to him.
“Yes and you are mine as well. You were there for me when Rocky died and Gordon the cat too. Mates for life that’s what we are. When you are better you can come round to my house and shit in my garden just like the old times!” Brutus said happily.
Taking a big breath, Vader said, “Well – that’s what I want to talk to you about, while I can still remember who I am of course………”
Later that day
“Brutus, dinner time!” I said to him. Normally he does his own little happy dance at meal times which involves him dancing from paw to paw and throwing in a couple of twirls and some bounces because he gets so excited.
But this time he took his time and walked slowly towards the living room door and ate his dinner before jumping up on to the sofa where he remained for several hours until I had to force him out for his bedtime pee.
His brother Kevin (the bastard) usually takes immense pleasure in winding Brutus up and bullying him from his prime position on the sofa but as though sensing something was up, Kevin sat quietly next to Brutus while just occasionally looking at him to see if he was OK. No words were said between the two of them, but Brutus appeared to be grateful for the little ginger cats company.
15th December 2021
Vader was sitting by the door in his house. He had forgotten where he was again but thought that if he stayed by the door and stared at his human siblings, it might help him remember stuff like who he is and what his purpose is. He loved his human siblings so much – mainly because they fed him their leftovers, but they were his family and he was very protective of them.
Vader does have three cats and a little dog sister called Trixie that he lives with – he loved them of course but not as much as his tiny humans. Even in his moments of confusion there is one thing that always remained constant and that was he knew that his tiny humans needed him and he loved them right back.
He saw both children eating their breakfast and wondered what kind of adults they would grow in to and how many dogs they might have in their lives after he had gone. “Who am I? What should I do?” Vader whispered and then looked up at his Mum Lexie for the answers before silently pleading with her, “Help me, I am done here.”
6:33am – I had not long woken up and was getting ready for work. I heard my phone beep and saw that it was a message from Lexie letting me know that she was sending Vader to Rainbow Bridge that morning and if I wanted to come and say goodbye then I was welcome to go round.
I just pulled on some clothes and as I was about to rush out of the door, I looked at Brutus who was curled up on his bed staring right back at me. He knew where I was going, I just know that he knew.
“He might not know who you are, he is pretty confused.” Lexie said to prepare me. But as soon as Vader heard my voice, he took some unsteady steps to come and greet me.
“Well good morning! It’s a lovely day to be going to Rainbow Bridge don’t you think?” Vader said happily. He looked so old and tired. I allowed myself to imagine his arrival at Rainbow Bridge and how he would be received and who would greet him – maybe even my Rocky dog. Then turning round to Lexie, I started to cry.
“Don’t be sad, I’m not!” Vader smiled and pressed himself into my legs and allowed me to pet him.
“Goodbye old boy, it’s your time now.” I said quietly. Then hugging Lexie, I walked to the front door leaving Vader saying, “Where am I? Am I there yet?”
Bowie the big white greyhound – otherwise known as ‘The Gatekeeper’ of Rainbow Bridge, sat by the gates with his clipboard while chewing on his pen. “Rex, we have one more coming and then we can knock off!” Bowie spoke in a posh accent and looked down to where Rex was standing.
Rex the Jack Russell, nodded and smartened himself up for the final arrival. He wore a tweed peaked cap on his little head, his tan and white coat glistened in the sun and his blue leather studded collar completed the image. He looked the perfect advert for a healthy dog.
Glancing at a couple of clouds, Rex couldn’t see any signs of the new arrival. But as with all animals that enter Rainbow Bridge, they are often heard long before they are seen and this one was no different.
“Where am I? Am I there yet? What’s my name?” An old croaky voice could be heard from behind the clouds.
“You will find out, just follow me – it’s just behind this big cloud on the left.” A kind and patient voice could be heard talking back to the croaky voice. “Oh Lord, was that you?” The voice coughed and gagged as a loud fart sounded from behind the clouds.
“That wasn’t from my bum!” The croaky voice replied, “What’s my name?”
Rex and Bowie fell silent as the clouds parted and an old boxer dog limped up to the gate followed by a beautiful cream Saluki guiding him. With each step, he farted, laughed and asked where he was and who he was and just who had made that smell.
“Hello, mate – I don’t suppose you know where I am do you or even who I am. I am buggered if I know!” The old dog asked Bowie.
Bowie smiled, “Your name is Vader the boxer – Welcome to Rainbow Bridge. Rex, can you take him through please?”
“Follow me lad.” Rex said in a strong Yorkshire accent. He added, “If we get a move on, you can join in the games on the grass and I believe there are lots of treats, dog beer and sausages for afterwards.”
Vader looked at the dogs having fun in the distance. Some where chasing balls, some were digging holes, others were chasing butterflies and a cheeky young Schnauzer was running along the field with a string of sausages in his mouth while shouting ‘Catch me if you can!’
Cat’s lounged in trees and on benches, some chased rabbits – but never caught them, some bicycled furiously with their hind legs while kicking toys and some just enjoyed being where they were and living in the moment.
It really was a spectacular scene, peaceful, harmonious with each animal comfortable in the company of the others.
“Oh I don’t think I can do that, I am breathless and my joints hurt and I haven’t felt like eating properly in a while.” Vader apologised.
Rex laughed, “Trust me me lad, you are going to be just fine….”
As Vader walked with Rex through the gates to the other side, he found that he could breathe a little easier, walk with less pain and with each step that he took, he became younger and fitter as though he had never been sick. He carried on farting of course, but then some things never change do they?
A little black kelpie had stopped playing with his tennis ball and had started to walk towards Vader. It was Rocky – my dog who had gone to Rainbow Bridge in September 2018.
Let me explain about Rocky and Vader. There was never any love lost between them and they would regularly bark, growl and trade insults from either side of the fence.
They marginally tolerated each other on walks although Rocky did go for a dog that went to attack Vader on the beach one day. So there must have been some low level friendship there. Rocky would go mad just hearing Vader snorting and Vader used to wind Rocky up a treat by fence snuffling or pissing up our gate causing Rocky to bristle with disapproval.
It took a few seconds for Vader to notice Rocky who like every animal at Rainbow Bridge, was young, fit and healthy.
The two dogs squared up to each other and held direct eye contact. Tails erect, body posture stiff as they sniffed the air around them.
“Ey up Bowie, I think it might kick off over here with the boxer and the kelpie!” Rex said to Bowie on his mobile (yes they have special doggy mobiles at Rainbow Bridge).
“No they won’t.” Bowie said confidently, “They will find their dynamic – just leave them.”
“Are you sure?” Rex asked in a concerned voice.
“Absolutely.” Bowie replied and ended the call.
“Vader!” Rocky said without taking his eyes off him.
“Rocky!” Vader barked right back.
The two dogs gave each other a couple of shoves – as if testing their strength while Rex nervously watched on, still clutching his mobile phone.
Then as quickly as it started, the shoving stopped and both dogs started to play-bow to each other with their tails wagging high. They pranced, jumped and played together for a few minutes before Rocky said, “Fancy chasing some rabbits?”
As they walked off leaving a relieved Rex to report back to Bowie the greyhound, Rocky could be heard saying, “I never really hated you Vader.”
“I never hated you either, in fact I missed you when you left…” Vader admitted.
“Friends?” Rocky declared.
“Friends!” Vader barked back, “Now let’s go and chase some rabbits!”
A couple of hours after Vader had left, Brutus dutifully took position by the dividing fence where once he realised that Vader was no longer there, he proceeded to cry for quite some time.
“Brutus?” Kevin asked him later that evening.
“Yes Kevin,” he sighed.
“Rainbow Bridge must be a pretty cool place to be.” Kevin said matter-of-factly.
“What makes you say that?” Brutus said sadly.
“Because we all go there eventually!” Kevin replied cheerfully and started to wash his bum.
And although Brutus was upset at losing his best friend, he knew that Kevin was right.
Dedicated to Vader the boxer
This special dog found a way into my heart the very first time that I met him. Brutus and I would call round to Lexie’s for our evening walks and the boys would come back exhausted from their escapades.
They were also regulars on the lure coursing field at Guildford Polo Grounds. They never won of course, they were too busy play fighting on the field to win anything. Vader’s jowls flapping in the breeze like inflated shopping bags as he ran. While Brutus thought that everyone was there just to cheer him on. It kind of became a highlight if anyone managed to get a photograph of them.
I could always hear Vader before I could see him, his snuffle breathing, snorting and his farting. We had a standing joke that when he came to my house, he would do at least four shits in my garden. Lexie would even send him over with a supply of poo bags. I never knew how one dog could hold so much turd and save it up for my garden, I could imagine Brutus proudly cheering him on while doing it.
Vader didn’t like men, he was nervous of them. We would laugh at him barking and growling at my husband who was minding his own business in the living room. Vader would be in our garden, wiping his snotty nose on our window thinking that he owned the place – he did really, well at least in his eyes.
Anyway, I have only just been able to write this blog and even then I have cried while writing it. In case you didn’t know, Vader was actually in my book ‘Planet Iggy’. he inspired me to write so many chapters and played starring roles in some of the short stories.
I honestly believe that had I not met Vader and Lexie, I would never have met the Italian greyhounds and their lovely owners. Which means that I would never have written Planet Iggy either, as Vader’s antics with Brutus fired up my imagination in such a way that it made me look forward to escaping into my own magical little world of talking dogs.
This blog is dedicated to Vader the boxer – the Goodest Boy in the Land
Samantha Rose (C) Copyright March 2022