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Roy Borges learned that sometimes it takes a stranger to mend a family.

My brother, who lived in another state, came to visit me one summer day.

We had not talked to each other in years—ever since Mom died. We disagreed about who should get the house, the dog, and almost everything. Ultimately, we had to get an arbitrator to divide Mom's property.

Mom's dog was taken to the local pound When I found out, I tried to get him back, but someone had already adopted him. That was the last straw. My brother and I stopped speaking to each other. When I turned 50, I decided to break the silence and invited my brother to come celebrate my birthday with me and soak up some sunshine. I wanted to mend the relationship and become a family again. After all, he was the only brother I had, and I couldn't let a dog that I'd never seen come between us.

I held the door open for him he brought in his suitcases. His furry brown dog came right in behind him. I took the bags upstairs to the spare bedroom. When I came back to the front room I found my brother playing with the dog. The dog jumped up and down on my favorite chair, wagging his tail and barking excitedly. They looked like they were having fun.

Then the dog came running over to me. I bent down and shook his paw. I had heard my brother call the dog "Buddy," so I said, "Thank you, Buddy."

The dog, wagging his tail, went back to my brother for a handshake.

During dinner, the conversation was tense. Buddy sat in the corner, watching us eat and licking his chops every time I took a bite. He looked hungry. I felt sorry for him and held a piece of meat in my hand under the table. He snarfed it in two bites.

After we finished eating, my brother went upstairs to unpack. I called Buddy into the kitchen and gave him the leftovers. Maybe I can get to my brother through his dog, I thought.

Meanwhile, Buddy made himself at home. I didn't say anything when he sat on the sofa, and I even took him out when he scratched on the front door.

We took Buddy along to the beach the next day. He turned out to be the hit of that party. When I threw a soda can I found in the sand into the ocean, Buddy dove in after it like a lifeguard on a rescue mission. He bolted over the waves, as if propelled on jet skis, determined to get the can.

A crowd gathered around to watch his performance. It was a sight to behold. When he reached the can, he grabbed it in his mouth and made a quick U-turn back to shore. However, he dropped the can in front of my brother instead of me. After shaking the water off, he sat and barked until my brother picked up the can and threw it back into the ocean. Off he went again, to the crowd's accolades. When he brought it back, he dropped it in front of me. This rotation continued until he finally got tired and lay down beside us, as my brother and I talked.

The ice had been broken.

Before we knew it, we were talking like old times. We had a lot of catching up to do. Buddy sat there, watching and listening.

I didn't see the dog again after my brother left. When he arrived back home, he called to thank me. "And thank Buddy for me too," he said.

"What do you mean?" I asked. "Didn't you take him with you?"

"Why would I take your dog with me?"

"He's not my dog. I thought he was your dog. Didn't you call him 'Buddy'?"

"I call all dogs 'Buddy' when I don't know their names," he said.

I shook my head in disbelief. That dog was a stray! It didn't belong to either of us! But I thanked God for "Buddy," who turned out to be the catalyst that made us a family once again.


by Roy Borges
From the April 2007 Signs