A Dog’s Best Friend

Damon Runyon

The red cocker spaniel Nubbin, the one with the psychosis that I told you about, had to have her tonsils out and Doc Jones did the job quite neatly, with a lady assistant listening to Nubby’s heart through a stethoscope and warning the doctor now and then to quit pushing the anaesthetic cone tighter.

“Her heart won’t stand it,” the lady would say.

Well, the tonsillectomy was quite successful, but on top of everything else Nubbin developed uremic poisoning.

She is a very sick little dog. She is getting thinner and weaker right before my eyes because her stomach will not retain nourishment. But she is a game little thing and still tries to move around as usual and to pretend great savageness toward the other dogs when they approach as she is guarding the lady’s slipper or raincoat.

I keep Nubby with me as much as possible. You see, I too have been very ill and I know how lonesome one can get in illness, especially if in good health they enjoyed companionships, and though this is just a little old dog I remember how she has always loved the company of human beings, the sound of human conversation, and how responsive she has always been to a word or even a look.

I also remember she did not sidle away when I was ill, in the manner of many human beings from whom I thought I had the right to expect at least an inquiry. Their desertion made me a little sour for a time, which is strange enough in view of the fact no one knows better than I that all humanity is composed of 80 per cent jerks.

I should have known what would happen because I have seen it happen to others a thousand times before, not only in illness but in other bad luck. I suppose it is the old story of rats deserting the sinking ship, only the real rodents are generally better guessers than the human rats, as the latter often go tearing away from a ship that manages to stay afloat and then they have to sneak back and ingratiate themselves into a berth again.

But I can not blame them. They are only obeying instinct. They are only following what is said to be the first law of human nature—self-preservation. Little Nubbin would not understand this, being a dog, because her instinct when I was ill was not that I could no longer do her any good, that someone else might, but that I was still her friend and she was still mine. I reckon dogs are just dopes while human beings are real smart.

I will always remember a question from Bill Lengel, the magazine editor, who called on me one day during my convalescence, and when I kept replying “no” to his inquiries whether I had seen this and that fellow, asked:

“Damon, what becomes of a man’s friends when he gets sick?”

I could not answer that one. It reminded me of a somewhat similar question asked by the once great theatrical producer, Charles Dillingham, at a time when he was broke and commencing to be forgotten along the big street, of which he was once one of the most glamorous and successful figures. He was sitting on a stool at a drugstore lunch counter when a gabby guy who knew who he was took the stool beside him and began babbling.

“I wonder what’s become of so-and-so?” he finally wondered, naming a Broadwayfarer who had sunk into obscurity.

“I don’t know,” said Dillingham, adding thoughtfully, “I wonder what’s become of Dillingham?”

A few years ago a killing in New Jersey gave “Roaring Sam” Rosoff, the great subway builder, considerable newspaper notoriety, though it was never established that he had the slightest connection with the affair. I found Sam one summer day all alone on the veranda of his house in Saratoga Springs, and in no spirit of bitterness he told me of the way some of his supposedly closest friends took flight from him, including one man he had made a millionaire.

“I needed money to close some contracts, but all I saw of them was the back of their necks,” said Sam musingly. “Oh, I was a little discouraged for a few minutes. Then a fellow I did not consider a particularly intimate friend put up $3,000,000 cash for me and restored my confidence in humanity. His name was Charley Schwab.”