The reports from New Jersey had been encouragingly effusive. Everybody loved Homer. Nobody could believe how well-trained he was. Max was in heaven; Homer walked him to the school bus and was waiting for him when he got home. Homer lay next to Sharon all day as she worked in her home office; he dozed on the couch next to Hank while they watched basketball games. He availed himself of a number of sleeping options—sometimes with Hank and Sharon, sometimes with Max, once in a while with Eva. Max and his friends tossed Frisbees and balls for Homer in the yard, and he was the sensation of Max's soccer team.
When Paula pulled up at Christmas with Homer in the back seat, both Orson and Rose pounced happily on him, and he and I had a joyous reunion. Life quickly grew complex for him, of course. Orson went after his bones, and Rose mercilessly taunted him to play. Within a few hours, he looked beleaguered and wary again.
Over the next few days, though, things sorted themselves out. Rose was more interested in the sheep, Homer was happy to tear through the woods after chipmunks, and Orson generally ignored him. In the early morning, Homer crept up onto our bed as he always had, to bestow a series of quick licks and enjoy a cuddle before retreating—under Orson's glare—onto the dog bed on the floor.
On the last day of his visit, I took him for what I imagined might be his last adventure with sheep, no small event in the life of a border collie. I had no doubt now that he was a happier dog; that I'd made the right decision. When I opened the gate, Homer tore into the pasture, racing for the ewes. When I called for him to stop, he slowed down. He'd lost a step or two in his cushy suburban lifestyle, and the ewes kept their distance. By the time he caught up with them, he was winded. I came up next to him, put him in a lie-down, and sat scratching his ears while the sheep crunched peacefully on the hillside.
Homer licked my hand and stared at the sheep. It was probably, I thought, the last time we'd spend together like this, for both our sakes. I was grateful for it. Maybe he was, too. At the end of the week, he drove off with Paula, his head propped on the rear window ledge of her car. He was looking back at me.
I'll always miss Homer's affectionate heart. But while I regret much about Homer, I don't regret sending him off to Max and Eva and Sharon and Hank. Things didn't work out as I'd planned, but at least I didn't condemn him to the peripheries of love. Because he couldn't speak, I spoke for him. What I said was: I can't give you what you need, but I can find you somebody who will. In this, I kept faith with him.