So Long, Old Friend

By Mlle. Dinkley

Warning: SEVERE angst alert!

The years were beginning to take their toll on him; he could no longer run and had difficulty climbing stairs, yet he remained a loyal companion to his human friends. And while each of them knew that the dog had far outlived the life expectancy for his breed, none of them could ever have imagined what they saw playing out before their eyes.

The huge Great Dane lay listlessly on the floor, his breathing shallow and labored. He had neither eaten nor drank for the past three days, and barely responded when the redheaded girl leaned over and stroked his smooth, brown coat. And while Fred, Velma and Daphne understood the inevitability of the dog's impending death, the skinny man just refused to accept it.

"Like, come on, Scoob," Shaggy urged, prying apart the dog's lips and forcing a cube of ham into his mouth, "you gotta eat, it's just not like you not to eat."

The dog's only answer was a deep and labored sigh. Shaggy moved closer to the giant dog; surreptitiously, he wiped a tear from his eye, hoping that none of his friends had witnessed his decidedly uncharacteristic gesture. "Come on old buddy," he sniffled, "like, don't do this. You just can't do this to me…to us. What are we going to do without you?"

Fred walked over to his despondent cohort, gently putting his arm around the lanky man in an attempt to console him. "He's old, Shaggy," the blond man began, "he's been with us since we were children."

Deep in his heart though, Fred knew that his platitudes were of no comfort to his friend.

"I know you don't want this to happen," Fred continued, "none of us do. Unfortunately, though, it's a part of owning and loving a dog. Our own mortality is something that we all have to face eventually."

"I know," Shaggy replied, "but, like, I never thought that it would come down to this."

"None of us did, Shaggy. None of us did."

The two boys shifted their gaze back to the dog; he was still breathing heavily, though with each successive breath, the time between breaths was increasing.

Daphne dropped to her knees and gently stroked the dog's head. "It's alright, boy," she whispered, her voice quavering, "we're here, we're not going to leave you."

Scooby whined softly, his suffering momentarily allayed by the redhead's kind words. He managed a weak thump of his tail in response, the sight of which brought Daphne to tears. Here was a dog who had virtually no strength left, and yet, managed to thank the human for her kindness in the only way that he could.

Daphne leaned over and pressed her face against the dog's head. "Oh God, don't do this," she wept, shifting her gaze to the sky in a silent prayer. "Please. Don't."

Fred shook his head, sadly; it broke his heart to see Daphne cry. He turned his back to her momentarily, but it was of little use; no matter which way he turned, he was going to see one of his friends suffering. He walked over to the one who was suffering the most at that moment and gently put a hand on his shoulder.

"I know you don't want to think about it, Shaggy," Fred began, "but it's wrong to let him suffer like this. It's not just painful for him, it's painful for us too—for you, because he was your dog; for the girls, to have to watch him suffer; and for me, to have to watch Daphne and Velma go through this."

Shaggy considered Fred's statement, but didn't say a word.

"Ask yourself, Shaggy," the blond man continued, "are we keeping him alive for his sake…or for ours? Is what we are doing really in Scoob's best interest?"

The skinny man offered no reply.

"We need to think in terms of his interest, Shag," Fred continued, "not ours."

The dog whined softly, as though echoing the blond man's sentiment.

Shaggy sighed with resignation; he dropped to his knees and moved in closer to the dog.

The Great Dane's eyes met with his owner's; the dog's eyes were dull, and the life fire had faded from them, yet the dog found the strength in him to make one final gesture to his owner. Summoning his strength, Scooby moved his paw and placed it over the skinny man's arm. He gave a low, soft whimper, as if the exertion had taken more energy than he had left.

Shaggy looked at the floor and shook his head; the dog was trying to tell him something, and in the bottom of his heart, Shaggy knew exactly what it was. "I understand," the lanky man sniffled, as he struggled to regain his feet. "Come on, Scooby, like, let's go."

The two boys carefully lifted the dog and placed him in the back of the van for one final ride. Shaggy's knees knocked, but not out of terror as they so usually did; this time, it was out of raw sadness as he thought about the impending good bye.

Fred paused for a moment as he glanced at the giant form lying listlessly on the floor of the van. For one brief second, the form changed into a tiny, tan puppy, full of life and vigor, and just as quickly, the vision was gone. Heaving an audible sigh, Fred gently closed the rear doors to the van. Daphne and Velma flanked his sides, gripping his arms tightly for emotional support. Fred looked briefly at the two distraught girls; in spite of his immense sorrow, he still managed somehow to comfort them. As the leader, it was his job to be strong for them.

The blond man climbed mechanically into the driver's seat as he had done so many times in the past. Ordinarily, each person would take their place, the two girls in the front seat next to Fred and Shaggy and his dog in the back. Today though, it was different.

"Freddie?"

The blond man turned around to face the owner of the voice. It was Daphne.

"If you don't mind, I'd like to sit in the back with Shaggy this time..." Her voice quavered

as it trailed off.

Fred shrugged, giving a wordless answer. What else could he do?

Shaggy settled next to his dog in the back of the van. He turned and looked at his other companion, the bespectacled girl. "Velma," he asked, in a barely audible voice, "do you want to, like, sit with us, in the back?"

Velma carefully considered her choice. She looked up at Fred; he was all by himself in the front, and right now, he didn't deserve to be alone. "No," she replied, shaking her head, "if you don't mind, I...I think I'll sit up front."

Shaggy and Daphne nodded as the younger girl climbed into the passenger's seat in the front of the van.

The blond man lowered his head and took a deep breath, summoning the courage to start the engine; it was as though that very act would confirm the finality of Scooby's impending death.

No one spoke on the seemingly long drive to the vet's office; everyone was seemingly engrossed in their own personal memories of the dog. Velma, in particular, recalled the times that Scooby had saved her life and the special bond she had shared with him since his puppyhood. Apart from Shaggy, she had the closest bond with the dog, and Shaggy's suffering seemed reflected in her own. She lifted her gaze to the rear view mirror where she could see Shaggy and Daphne attempting to console each other. She dried a tear from her eyes, then shifted her gaze back out to the horizon, staring at nothing in particular. It was all she could do to keep from bursting into tears.

They were met inside the waiting room by a vet tech in a white lab coat. The technician had seen that look on the faces of many of the clinic's patients, and didn't even need to ask the reason for the visit. Wordlessly, he opened the door to the examination room and gestured for the gang to enter; Daphne and Velma entered first, then turned around to glance at the two boys.

Fred, Shaggy and the vet tech carefully carried the huge dog into the room, then shut the door behind them. No one else needed to bear witness to the gang's suffering.

In the privacy of the examination room, the technician faced the gang. "Do you want to stay with him?" he asked, mechanically. It was a routine question, uttered in a flat impassive tone that the tech had perfected.

Shaggy sniffled and nodded.

"He won't feel any pain," the technician explained, "it's just an overdose of an anesthetic. He'll go right to sleep." He approached the dog, ready to administer the shot, but Fred stopped him.

"Wait," Fred uttered, holding up his hand in authoritative gesture, "let them say goodbye." The technician obliged.

Fred watched in silence as each of the gang took their turn in saying goodbye.

Velma leaned over and placed a small squeaky-toy under the dog's front paw. "You sleep well, okay?" she breathed, patting Scooby gently on his head.

Daphne dropped to her knees and gently scratched Scooby behind his ears. "I love you," she whispered, her voice choked by her tears. "Sleep well, okay?"

Shaggy had only four words to say. "So long, old friend."

At the sound of Shaggy's words, Fred lowered his hand and gestured to the technician to proceed; he approached and began administering the fatal dosage.

The huge dog looked up at the four humans and whined softly. He was feeling no pain and was groggy, but still managed to find the strength to thump his tail in a final gesture of goodbye. With each passing moment, his breathing grew less and less labored, until he drew his final breath and crossed the bridge into the next world to join those who had preceded him.

For a moment, the four humans stared incredulously at one another, as though they had yet to realize the finality of what they had done. Daphne was the first to realize it. She wiped a tear from her eye, then walked over to Fred, burying her face in his sweater and sobbing. The blond man held her tightly, trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to suppress his own emotions in order to comfort his distraught friend.

Shaggy stared in disbelief at the lifeless figure lying at his feet. A wave of sadness ran through him, and he immediately reached out and drew Velma into a tight embrace. Ordinarily, it was he who would comfort her, after a failed romantic relationship or a fight with the others, but this time, it was different. Holding the younger girl tightly; his embrace seemed to say 'don't leave me. I need you.' Sensing that need, the younger girl returned the embrace.

Fred sighed as he watched Shaggy's behavior; it broke his heart to see the skinny man—normally upbeat and laid-back about everything—so distraught and saddened. He knew he had to do something. Releasing his grip on Daphne, he walked over to his friend. "Shaggy," Fred whispered, putting his arm around the skinny man's shoulder, "I realize that this was a hard decision; but you have to understand that you did the best thing for Scooby. And do understand that he was not alone when he died-he was surrounded by those who loved him, and those who he loved, too."

Shaggy listened to Fred's platitudes, but remained unconvinced.

"Shag," Fred continued, "I know how you feel—we all do." He gestured to Velma and Daphne, who were now consoling each other. "You are not alone in your feelings, Shaggy. So please don't feel that you are."

Shaggy looked up at his friend. "I know I'm not," he sniffled, "but, like, somehow, I feel that I am."

Fred, Velma, Daphne and Shaggy hugged each other in a tight group embrace; they knew that they would have to rely on their friendship for the strength to continue with their lives after such a tragic loss.

Fred guided the van into the driveway of the Knittingham Puppy Farm kennels. It wasn't a necessary act, but the blond man believed that somehow, it could offer closure to himself and to his friends. The elderly breeder opened the door and cheerfully greeted Fred.

"Why hello, children. Do come inside."

At the sound of the invitation, Fred motioned to the others; Shaggy, Velma and Daphne approached the house in silence. None of them, Daphne least of all, could contain their anguish over what had just happened. Daphne wiped her eyes with her scarf before entering the house, though it was plain to see that she had been crying only moments earlier.

Fred took a deep breath and gathered his composure; he knew it would be difficult to speak, but he felt that it was his responsibility, especially since Shaggy was in no condition to do so.

"How are you children doing?" the breeder asked.

The blond man shook his head and lowered his eyes to avoid her gaze. "We...we just..." he stumbled on his words and felt as though he would break down and cry within the next few seconds. "We just put Scooby...to sleep..." he stuttered, his last words lost in a half-choked sob.

Swallowing a huge lump in his throat, Fred managed to continue his conversation. "...and we just wanted to come by and say...thank you. Thank you for twelve wonderful years with that dog." Fred could contain his emotions no longer, and he burst out, crying.

The elderly breeder looked at the four people standing in front of her and favored them with a kindly and compassionate regard. As a breeder, she knew the cycle of birth, life and death all too well, and that it did always not occur in that sequence. "I am so sorry," she began, gently reassuring the blond man and his companions.

Fred could tell from her voice that she was sincere.

"My female just had a litter about nine weeks ago. They're in the other room, and you can go take a look at them if you want."

"No," Shaggy immediately objected. "I don't want another dog. Like, there can just never be another Scooby."

Mrs. Knittingham nodded. "I understand your feelings, son," she commented, sympathetically, "and those of your friends as well. But I think it would do you some good to at least take a look at the litter; whether or not you choose to adopt one of the puppies is your decision."

Velma and Daphne answered the suggestion before the boys did, and disappeared into the neighboring room. The two girls stopped in front of the nesting box, gasping collectively at the sight of the squirming Great Dane puppies, yipping and whimpering, full of life. Velma reached into the box and lifted one of the pups. The squirming animal strove desperately to lick both girls.

"Hey," laughed Velma. "No fair! You're licking my glasses!" She continued to laugh, pretending to escape the little pup's loving wrath by rolling on the floor, but her actions only incited more loving licks. "Oh, Daph," Velma laughed, happily, "Daphne, get him off of me! He's just too much!" The redhead smiled as she pretended to pry the overly affectionate little dog loose from her friend.

Shaggy turned his attention to the two girls. For the first time in a week, he managed a semblance of a smile. "Looks like you found a friend, Vel," he commented, flatly.

Velma raised her head and managed to bring herself to a standing position. Picking up the gangly puppy, she slowly approached the skinny man. "It's not for me to say, Shaggy," she began. "It's ultimately your decision, but..." She held the puppy close to Shaggy so that his face was within reach of the little dog's tongue; the little Dane promptly licked him, but the skinny man remained impassive.

"Come on, Shag," prodded Fred. He too had fallen in love with the little pup's antics, though he hated to admit it. "He's related to Scooby..."

"He has champion bloodlines," continued Mrs. Knittingham, "and he's from the same parentage..."

The skinny man shook his head, refusing to make eye contact with either Fred or Mrs. Knittingham. "He may be related to Scooby," Shaggy began, monotonously. "But, like, he ain't Scooby and he never will be."

Velma looked towards Shaggy. Once again, it was her turn to comfort him. She handed the puppy to Fred, then approached the skinny man. "Shaggy," she asked. "Can I talk to

you for a minute?"

Shaggy nodded and gave a shrug of his shoulders as he followed the younger girl to another room.

She faced him, and began speaking, trying not to let her emotions interfere with the message she wanted to convey.

"Shaggy," she began, in a soft, gentle tone. "First of all, I want to say that I understand how you feel, and that those feelings are reasonable."

Shaggy nodded, silently acknowledging Velma's words.

"I also realize that no gamboling pup is going to replace your beloved pet, and that you need time to mourn—we all do—but please don't shut out that option of adopting another dog." She reached out and took his hands, gently lifting them to arms level.

Shaggy sighed, trying to reconcile his conflicting emotions. "I…I do want another dog," he began, "but, like, I just can't bring myself to allow another dog into my life. It's as if I'm betraying Scoob's memory, and especially, so soon."

"You're not betraying his memory, Shaggy. In a way, you are honoring him—you're bringing another Dane into your life, and one from the same lineage as Scooby. Shaggy, sometimes, the best cure for sadness over death, is the reintroduction of life. And if it means anything to you, Shaggy, I would like another dog. No one will ever replace Scooby, that's true, but it would be unbearable on all of us—especially you-to live without a dog." Velma lifted her head and looked at Shaggy through her coke-bottle glasses. "It's your decision, Shaggy," she continued, "but I believe that I have spoken accurately for Fred and Daphne as well."

The skinny man looked at the younger girl; she had always had a way with words, and her speech had been very convincing. Shaggy carefully thought of what Velma had said, then managed a semblance of a smile. "You know, Velma," he began, "like, you've always had a way with words."

Velma smiled at him. Instinctively, she knew what his words meant.

Shaggy took his first steps into the adjoining room, accompanied by Velma. "Vel and I had a serious talk," he began. "And I've made my decision..."

Daphne tightened her grip on the little puppy, reluctant to give him up, if that was indeed what Shaggy had chosen to do.

Fred, Velma and Daphne looked at their cohort, nervously anticipating his next words.

"So, like how long do you think it'll take us to train this little guy?"

Hearing those words, Fred, Velma and Daphne joyfully rushed forward and hugged Shaggy, relieved and happy that he had decided to adopt another dog.

"He's still a little bit young to be separated from his mother and littermates," the breeder commented, "and ordinarily, I would not send the pups home before they are twelve weeks old, but I trust you children, and know that you will take good care of him." She could not tell whether or not the gang had heard her words, but she could already see the bond beginning to form between the little dog and the four humans.

The little animal squirmed to get out of Daphne's grip, stretching its neck to lick Fred.

Fred closed his eyes and laughed, pretending to push the dog's face away from his own. "You better come up with a name for him, Shag," said the blond man, barely able to contain his laughter, "because I want to know what to call him when he rips up the upholstery in the car, destroys the carpets and snatches food off the table!"

Shaggy grinned. "Like, I don't think there's any question as to what I'll name him. If there can be seven 'Lassies,' I see no reason why I can't name my second dog 'Scooby.'" He gently scratched the pup behind its ears.

"You got some pretty big paw prints to fill there, little guy," began Fred, "but I think you can do it."

The little puppy answered with a shrill yip and the gang laughed in response.

Standing outside the house, Shaggy shifted his gaze towards the sky and waved. Fred, Velma and Daphne silently imitated his gesture. It seemed the most fitting way to say goodbye to their most trusted companion. So long, old friend, they thought to themselves. We will never forget you, no matter how many dogs we have. The little pup remained quiet for the duration of the tribute, as though silently acknowledging his predecessor.

"You're gonna have to hold him on your lap, Shag," said Fred, as he climbed into the driver's seat, "and don't let him run loose in the car until he's housebroken."

Daphne managed a sly grin. "We don't need any 'accidents' in the car, " she quipped, "we'll have plenty of those on our hands in the house for the next few weeks."

Everyone laughed in response; clearly, the mood was already lightening, and once again, life felt good.

END

A/N: This piece was originally written in November of 2001 when I unexpectedly lost my dog to a stomach disorder, rare in small breeds, but common in large, deep-chested dogs. It was not intended as a "shock" piece that deliberately kills off one of the main characters, but rather, as a tribute piece that could capture the raw emotion involved in losing a beloved pet. Certainly, everyone's experience with the death of a pet is different, and no one piece can adequately capture all the emotions involved, but the sadness felt by the characters, and by those of us in the real world, is, I believe, universal.