Brutus joined our household when I was but a bun in the oven. For as far back as I could remember, the two of us were inseparable. He was my brother, my bodyguard, my best friend.
On Sabbath, while my parents slept in, Brutus and I would go out on adventures. I was young and unsupervised, but in a small, rural community where everyone knew each other by name, there was little to fear.
That was, except Miss Shake's dogs. She had raised them to be vicious and they were never chained or kept inside the yard. While they rarely roamed far from her property, they became a nuisance to those of us who went by it.
And I, usually, had to go past Miss Shake's yard to go on these adventures. She was just two houses away from ours, so Brutus and I were well-practiced on how to get by unscathed.
He would trot along confidently by my side while the dogs snarled. When they approached, he would growl and bare his teeth and I would pick up rocks. I never had to throw the rocks. The combination alone usually sent them running.
Thankfully, it wasn't Sabbath when the Fateful day arrived that this would no longer keep the monsters at bay. It was a Sunday afternoon, so my parents were only a loud scream away. My pent-up energy had finally begun to drive them nuts, so they sent me out to play.
Brutus was beside himself with joy when I emerged from the house. He always seemed to know when it was adventure time. As we approached Miss Shake's house, I picked up the biggest rock I could find and Brutus took his defensive stance.
The dogs stayed at a safe distance but barked and snarled. Looking back, I think I was far too brave for a little girl. I couldn't have been more than five or six years old and these vicious dogs did not scare me at all. Not with my hero by my side.
After we passed Miss Shake's house, we were all clear to roam free in the rest of the neighborhood. But, eventually, hunger prompted me to return. As we passed Miss Shake's house again, Brutus and I prepped for our usual routines.
I once again picked up the biggest rock I could find and Brutus guarded me on the left. But, something changed. For some reason, the dogs continued to advance.
Like I said, I was far too brave for a little girl. I did not run. Instead, I yelled at them to shoo. Meanwhile, Brutus turned so that his rump was against me and he was directly facing the dogs.
When one sprang after Brutus, I couldn't believe my eyes. In all my life, this had never happened. I remembered the rock in my hand and threw it. It smacked one good and hard. When he came at me, Brutus grabbed him.
It was all happening so fast that I didn't see how I could intervene. If I threw another rock, I risked hitting my own dog. In the five seconds it took me to deliberate, I heard Brutus's yelp of pain.
I took off running to the house screaming for my help. My parents came running and took off ahead of me to see what was happening. They were faster than I was, but as I caught up with them, Mom turned back and grabbed me.
I wanted to see my dog, but she pulled me back into the house. The truth? Miss Shake's vicious monsters had left a mangled mess of my four-legged sibling, but surprisingly, he had not died.
Perhaps worse, after my biological father managed to get the dogs away from him, he had run off into the bushes. For days, we tried to catch him. All while fretting that he would die from the severity of the wounds he had suffered.
Finally, one afternoon, my biological father got a hold of him. He tied Brutus to keep him still and proceeded to clean the wounds. At the mere sight, I felt my stomach turn. Despite my best intentions to be by Brutus's side, I had to leave.
It took hours, but eventually, Brutus's wounds were cleaned and stitched. He smelled like death and I felt certain, it would take him. But, miraculously, Brutus made a 100% recovery. The only tell-tale sign of his injuries was a jagged line running the full length of his healed belly.
I'm not sure what became of Miss Shake's dogs after the incident. But, I do remember a time when Brutus and I could roam freely without her demon spawns yapping at our heels.
I was eight years old when my parents announced that we were moving across the island. I was beside myself with excitement. I loved my neighborhood, but even then, the mere thought of new places excited me.
We packed slowly, over the course of several months. I talked incessantly about the adventures Brutus and I would have in Portland. My mother was incredibly silent in these moments, but I thought nothing of it.
One evening, my older cousins showed up unexpectedly to fetch me. They lived about 10 minutes away and I was frequently tagging along in their otherwise boys-only company. Somehow, they never minded.
When I returned, I called for Brutus but he never came. Mom said nothing while I set his bowl outside. I waited by our glass screen doors, but there was still no answer.
As the days turned into weeks, Mom invented one story after another to explain away Brutus's absence. "He must have known we were leaving," she told me one evening. "It's very hard to travel with a dog, so he must have gone away to make it easier for us."
I looked at Mom as though she had lost her mind. "Brutus allowed dogs to rip him wide open to save me and you think he left to make it easy for us. You think he would leave me?"
This was the breaking point for my mom. She started to cry and then she took me to the backyard and pointed. "He's dead," she confessed. "We buried him here."
The words hit me like a bullet to the chest. Sure, Brutus was getting a little old at roughly nine years old. But, he was no feeble old dog. He was still young and spritely and healthy.
I dropped to my knees and started to dig with my bare hands. "Where is he?" I screamed at my mom. "Where is he?"
Mom couldn't remember exactly where they had buried him -- or maybe she sensed it was better for me not to know.
It was years later before I learned that my biological father had shot our dog. A dog my uncle or my grandma would have gladly taken. I was a teenager before I learned what else everyone seemed to know all along.
My biological father had a penchant for snuffing the life out of our furry and feathered friends. Our dogs, my guinea pigs, his birds, one landlord's beloved cat.
It wasn't long before Mom and I were also on his hit list.