Grady the Golden Retreiver drinks from the creekOne of the many things I’ve learned is a truly good wandering companion cannot be bought. I have tried, and none have worked out. On he other hand, there have been three …

I met Dutch at a friend’s house on Adak, an island about halfway out the Aleutian Islands chain. One day, Dutch – a Yellow Lab and Irish Setter mix – wanted to go home with me. It turned out my friend was leaving the island, and Dutch could not accompany him.

The situation repeated two years later, when it was my turn to depart, but in those 24 months, Dutch and I were nearly inseparable. We wandered the tundra, and when I would go to the store he waited outside – allowing passers-by to stop and pet him, but never leaving his place by the door.

Years later, I was working at in-home computer support when one day a beautiful sable Collie came to me. Her “owners” tried to make her leave me alone, but I said she wasn’t hindering me. Mrs. Owner asked whether I would like to give the Collie a home.

“Come on, Fred,” I said, and opened the door of my Mercury Topaz. In she jumped.

We traveled nearly everywhere together, and created lots of stories, until a cancer beat her.

The first time we met Grady was at a veterinarian’s office in Hagerstown, Md. He had been taken by West Virginia officials from an owner who had left the growing pup chained outdoors long enough that his collar required surgery to remove from his neck. He padded directly to me, blinked those maple syrupy eyes at my wife – and we took him home.

That was eight years ago – a long time in dog years, though I think he sort of plays it up. He will come to a set of stairs, and take tentative steps, first one front paw, then pull it down and try the other, as though he’s trying to figure out how to climb. Or he lies by the coffee table and makes a great show of standing up when I bring his evening Milk Bones, as he tries to force me to go where he is to give it to him, rather than he come to me.

His performance pays off, of course. My other BFF makes baby sounds and excuses for why he reluctantly climbs steps. She says it is old age setting in; I tell her it is mostly a matter of “want to.”

Almost anything she eats must be good he thinks, so popcorn and Oreo cookies will magically elevate him from his spot by the coffee table. He moves close to her and aims himself at the wished-for goodies – like an old Peanuts cartoon in which Snoopy said, “I’m not begging. I just happen to be pointed in this direction.” He knows she shouldn’t be giving him such stuff. He knows she will give it to him, anyway.

And when I am preparing to head for the woods, he lies on the living room floor, patiently, quietly, until I’m actually ready to get in the car for the drive to a stream or mountain trail.

“You want to go,” I ask.

He jumps up and pushes me out of the way on his way to the car. He climbs into the Outback, behind the driver seat, then onto the rear seat. And when we arrive at a stopping place, he is suddenly standing at the door, waiting for me to free him for the business of wandering among new places of exploration and discovery.

That kind of companion cannot be bought.