by Brett Harrison
I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only person who has ever gone to see his sick sister in the hospital. But I am 100 percent certain without even the tiniest doubt whatsoever that I am the only person who has ever taken a long overnight bus ride to see his sick sister at The Cornell University Hospital For Animals in Ithaca, New York.
You see, my “sister’s” name was Doobie. This four-legged sibling was a 10-year-old terrier mix who was originally a gift to my human kid sister Juli but was by now a full-fledged member of the family.
Because it was the day after my 30th birthday, I can even give you the exact date, which is not something I can usually do with my memories. I left Philadelphia on Friday, Aug. 5, 1988, and arrived at Ithaca in the morning on Saturday, Aug. 6, 1988.
“Thirty” is not the worst birthday one can ever celebrate. Forty can be a bear, and 50 can be even worse. But if you’re working full-time at a snack shop and are way behind in your goals in every way, 30 can suck.
I turned 30 on Thursday, Aug. 4. It wasn’t so bad at first, and the $31 check I got from my dad made it a little better. I deposited it in the bank and pretty much just went on with my business. But as the day went on, I started thinking of how old I was and how I was hardly taking the world by storm. Needless to say, by dinner time I wasn’t feeling too perky.
Then I talked to my sister Juli. After wishing me a happy birthday, Juli updated me about Doobie. About a week before, Doobie was very sick, and it was feared she might die. The vet wasn’t quite sure what was wrong with her but was sure he couldn’t do much for her.
So my parents and Juli took her to Cornell, where the doctors promised they would give her every test available until they could help her. That weekend the three of them were going to Ithaca to visit Doobie from their home in Williamsport, Pennsylvania (in Lycoming County, 130 miles northwest of Philadelphia).
Back then I only went home to Williamsport maybe four or five times a year, sometimes more when I could, but when Doobie saw me, it was as if I had just taken her for a walk the day before. I would walk in the door, and she would immediately start yapping as if she were trying to break the Guinness World Record for yapping. Then she would run around the dining room table until she got tired.
But these were dark days for The Doobster. If Cornell couldn’t help her, her yapping days would soon be over. I’d like to say that what happened next was based on my deep sense of duty and love towards the family pet, but I’d be lying.
What happened had everything to do with feeling I was getting old. I had to do something to make me feel young again. So after I touched base with Juli and found out my family’s plans, I made mine. I caught a bus to Scranton late at night, waited at Scranton several hours in the middle of the night and got into Ithaca at about 6 the next morning.
I then walked to Cornell from the bus station and waited for my parents to show up. Although Juli and my parents were surprised at first, the surprise soon gave way to happiness. And I think the fact that I came all the way to see Doobie pleased them even more.
I’d like to say Doobie jumped up and down when she saw me, but that was far from the case. She was still pretty sick and barely recognized me. My parents and Juli brought her a whole rotisserie chicken, which she barely nibbled at.
After we left Doobie, we had lunch in Ithaca, and I rode with my parents to their home in Williamsport. The next day I took a bus back to Philly.
Not too long after that, we got the good news. With the right medication, Doobie would be right again. They brought her back home, and Doobie lived another nine years. She had a great life for 19 years, probably a longer life span than 99 percent of the country’s companion dogs enjoy.
Every time I came home, Doobie would meet me at the door hoping to break her previous yapping record, and I would walk her every chance I got.
We’ve all made decisions on the spur of the moment. Some have turned out right and were great fun. Others were disasters. I’ve done both, but I can say with 100 percent certainty that taking the bus in the middle of the night to see my little “sister” was one of the best spur-of-the-moment decisions I’ve ever made.