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Tough to say goodbye to an old, loyal 'dog'

This isn't a story about a dead cat. The reason for that being that Danny Boy wasn't a cat. He couldn't have been or I wouldn't have loved him. I don't love cats -- don't even like 'em.

But, I confess, I loved Danny Boy. I called him that because he liked to hear me sing my favorite song. Actually, I loved him for two reasons -- first, he wasn't a cat. Second, he liked to hear me sing.

In all honesty, he did look a little bit like a cat. But that was after my wife cleaned him up. At first, though, when she dragged him out of some rescue pile, he looked like a mangy old dog that had been left behind in the oil and mud of a junkyard. So, I can understand how she thought she was actually bringing a dog home to replace my dear old Cairn terrier.

She dipped him, dunked him, dusted him, combed out his thick fur, washed his dead eye because she thought it was plugged with a clot of goo, brushed him and fed him. In the process she discovered that somebody who liked furniture more than cats had clipped off the tips of his toes -- back and front. He was, thus, defenseless, except for his diplomatic skills. These, I later discovered, were formidable -- necessarily so, because Danny Boy was afraid of everything, even birds and mice.

It was about then that my worst fears seemed to be realized. Here was an animal with a thick orange and honey-colored fur coat, its nose pushed deep into the recesses of its meditative face, one working eye peering at the world. Yikes -- a Persian!

As if sensing my antipathy to cats, Danny Boy avoided me for six months. Then, one night I felt something hop onto the bed, landing as lightly as a butterfly on a peony blossom. He curled up beside me, and fell into a snoring slumber. He remained there all night.

This was his first diplomatic triumph! Get your enemy to trust you by trusting him. The next night, step two. He crawled up under my chin: snuggle with your enemy. Step three, the third night -- crawl under the covers with him and refuse to leave. By stealth, Danny took the same territory that my dear old terrier had occupied for 16 years. He stayed there every night for the next nine years.

Then, he made the next big move to prove to me that he could be a good and loyal dog. He began walking with me. Step for step, at my heels, he followed me along the paths, through the gardens and into the brush and trees around our property. Toward a ravine there is an old stone well. For safety reasons, it has a heavy concrete cover. For nearly 20 years, my terrier and I sat there during our walks. We had some good conversations there, and some richly quiet moments just being us.

Danny was lagging behind when I sat there on our first walk. One graceful bound took him six feet horizontally and three vertically. He curled up beside me, his back against my thigh. I talked. He slept. Bees hummed. It was good.

We walked and sat almost every day. Danny had become a dog. Well, that's not totally true. I tried to teach him to bark. But his flat face made his barks into sneezes. To fool me, though, he never once meowed. Not in 10 years.

He's gone now. We found him in a coma. He lingered for three days. We said it was time to let go. He agreed. When I picked him up to take him to the vet, he gave two sharp, long meows. I guess he couldn't keep his secret any longer. He's out back, near the well, under a flat stone, with the other dogs we've loved and lost.

It's OK to cry now. I am.

Tim Allan, of Hamburg, teaches history at Fredonia State College and has always lived in a home filled with pets.