Cola: The rest of the story

Published 11:53 am Wednesday, December 6, 2023

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After old man Joe passed on, Uncle Lennie brought me to the shelter. He had already contacted them to make room for me while he reached out for a family he had in mind. I heard him tell the staff, “Cola is one of my very special kids. Do whatever is needed for him.”  

Later I heard the staff laughing. “Lennie says that about all his kids.”

I spent a little more than two days at the shelter surrounded by other dogs and I was given the best food, treats and care. I never felt lonely.  

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Then on the third day Uncle Lennie came back with a couple and their 6-year-old son, Richard. It seems Richard has Down syndrome and he hardly ever spoke or played with other children.

I heard Uncle Lennie talking to Bill, Richard’s dad, saying, “Cola will be perfect for Richard, he loves children and will be a good companion when the new baby comes along.”

“Sit Cola,” Uncle Lennie asked and when I obeyed, Richard was brought over to meet me. The boy came over and wrapped his arms around me in a ferocious hug. All of a sudden I experienced a love inside of me that I thought I’d never feel again.

Later I was brought to my new home where my old bed, toys and my favorite treats were already there waiting for me. That evening I was brought to Richard’s room and my bed was placed below his. Richard asked me up on the bed with him and I gladly obeyed.  “No Richard,” his mom said, “Cola must sleep in his own bed.” 

I was placed in my own bed and mom left the room. The next morning when dad peeked in to check on us he began to laugh. “Come here Carol, you have to see this.”  

Richard had climbed down and spent the night with me on my bed. 

 From then on, my bed was brought inside by the bay window and I spent each night on Richard’s bed. Richard would put his little hands in my fur and knead me all night long, which comforted him and I must admit, I liked it too.

Richard began going to a special school and I would wait for him to come home each day. One day he received permission to bring me to school for show and tell. From that point on Richard made a lot of new friends and he began talking more, which made everyone happy.

When Richard was 8 and I was 7, Dad bought him a new bicycle with special wheels so he couldn’t fall over. Dad got a special job for Richard, delivering the local paper to our neighbors. Richard would ride out early in the morning and toss the paper near the front porch or steps and I would pick them up and put them where they belonged when he missed. There were only six clients at first but when the paper published an article about a boy and his dog delivering papers, his route ballooned to about 30.  

Richard got pretty good at tossing the papers and I think he would miss on purpose now and then, so I could do my job.  

Once a week Richard would collect his money from the neighbors and he learned all their names.  “Thanks, Mr. Phillip, thanks Mrs. Garcia.”  

“Your welcome, Richard,” they would answer.  

“Woof,” I would say. 

“You too, Cola.”  

Most people put a little extra in the envelope but I especially liked Mrs. Larsen; she would hand Richard two bags of cookies she baked, one for him and special dog cookies for me.

When Richard was 12, his dad bought him a toy portable piano. Richard liked to hum songs whenever he heard them. Richard’s mom and dad were instantly amazed when he began to play. It seems Richard is what some people would call a musical savant.  Richard could hear a tune once and play it, note for note, flawlessly.  

When Richard’s grandfather learned this, he bought Richard a real piano and all sorts of classical music. Richard was his granddad’s namesake and it pleased grandpa greatly to do something for him. Richard would go into a sort of trance as his fingers glided across the piano, playing beautiful music.

When Richard was 13, he was asked to perform a special concert at the high school auditorium. All tickets sold and donations were for Richard, who had been accepted to Juilliard for further classical training.

By now Bill, Richard’s dad, had built a ramp to help me get on and off the bed. Though Richard never eased showing his love for me, I was spending more and more time with Patricia, his younger sister.

When Richard was 14, he left for special classes at the music school and I spent much of my time on my bed.

One afternoon Uncle Lennie came over and was talking with Bill.  

“He’s in a lot of pain, Lennie, but the fella just won’t show it,” he said. 

“I guess it’s time,” Lennie said. “Where’s Carol?”  

“She’s explaining to Patricia that Cola is going to be with Grandpa. She said her goodbyes last night and wept in my arms all night long.”  

Then Bill knelt down and held me in his arms, “I don’t know how to thank you Cola, you were the glue that held my family together through very difficult times.”  

Bill helped Uncle Lennie put me in his car and as we drove off he said, “We’re going to see Dr. Donna, Cola.”  

“Oh good,” I thought, “I always feel better after I see her.”  

At the vet’s office I was placed on a table and Uncle Lennie held my head in his arms. He began to sob and I could feel his warm tears landing in my fur. I felt a tiny pinch and almost instantly all my pain went away. I felt like a young pup again and I was in the midst of a beautiful light. Up ahead I saw old man Joe and he called to me, “I’ve been waiting for you big fella.” 

I seemed to float over to him and I asked, “Where does this beautiful light come from?”  “It’s my friend that I told you about, Cola.”  

“Where is he, Joe?” 

Joe laughed, “He is everywhere. Come with me Cola, there are lots of Lennie’s kids here for you to meet and some grandkids.” As Joe and I walked together I experienced a joy inside of me I never thought was possible.

“Joe,” I asked, “Why was Uncle Lennie crying?”  

“He misses his kids when they leave him, but don’t worry…you’ll see him again, Cola.  My good friend assured me, there’s a place here for him, too.”

As always, thanks for listening.