Dogs, Heaven & Heartache
This is a tribute, a pool of memories and a heavy heartache.
It's the one year anniversary of the passing of both of my dogs. We never would have expected to lose them within a month of one another. For all of those who know me, my family and friends, you also know this story too well yet it is a story I relive, day in, day out and as a writer, I write about what I live.
I had two dogs and they were the loves of my life. They were my children.
Buddy was 13 going on 14 yrs of age. We adopted him from a shelter when he was 4 months old. He was a Flat Coat Retriever, actually a sought after and very expensive breed. The people who gave him up were living in a small apartment, leaving him there for 10 hours each day unattended and he consistently barked and destroyed things while they were absent (big surprise).
He was a wild puppy. He barked all the time. He definitely mistaken me for a fellow canine and wanted to play with me and throw me around. He destroyed my bike helmet, speaker stands, spoon couch, coffee table, photo album (the only thing I couldn't replace - black and whites of my Grandmother and family)yet nothing belonging to my husband.
He ate a challah (cooling off in the kitchen before Shabbos. He drank wine (that my late father-in-law spilled all over the floor). He emptied the knife drawer without enduring a single cut. He use to escape from the groomer and be waiting for us outside - ditto for daycare and he thought it was really funny when we brought him to dog runs and he refused to come to us when it was time to leave. That would go on for sometimes over an hour until we were able to build a "posse" of other dog owners - whose dogs did return to them.
We brought him everywhere and on all of our vacations. We never left him in the hotel room or tent. We never placed him in a kennel and he even came to my friends wedding in Toronto (shout out to Mitch Lerner).
He ran on the beach in Maine and climbed to the Notch in Vermont. He stayed beside me in bed when I was sick and watched over me. He waited for me to return home from work every day so we could go on our walk or run. He hung out with my Dad when he was sick and watched over him.
And 6 years ago we decided to adopt another dog so Buddy could have a little brother. His name was Buster. He was a Golden Retriever/Lab Mix or you could say a "backyard dog" truly. His mother (a golden mix belonging to a friend of my husband) escaped from their backyard on the very day she was supposed to go and get fixed. She ran all the way to the house of a single ladies man - a large Golden mix in the neighbourhood and well they did the nasty. She then returned home pregnant and a few months later her family was expecting a baby of their own and caring for her 6 puppies.
We were invited to visit the litter when they were 4 weeks old. They all looked pretty much the same except for Buster who had an extra long blaze from the top of his head to his nose. I let them know that he was my choice and they asked that we return in 2 weeks (at 6 weeks of age for him should have really been 8 weeks before he left his mom but they couldn't manage any longer and we did not want to take any chances).
Buster was the most innocent, sweet, lovable dog I have ever had. He seemed to identify me as his actual mother. I guess it all started when we picked him up to take him home and he was shivering so I put him in my fleece next to my heart and zipped it up so all you could see was his heading poking out. He followed me every where and he studied my body language and facial expressions and voice tone to the point where I didn't have to move or say anything in order for him to know what I was going to do next.
He waited at the top of the stairs for me to come home at the end of the day. I loved him so much that leaving to work actually caused me to have pain in my gut because I wasn't going to be with him. When I would return home, he would jump up on me and knock me into the wall and then run away so that I could chase him. This was a daily ritual. He never grew tired of it nor did I.
He was always beside me whether I was sleeping or watching TV or reading on the couch. He had one rule - I had to scratch his belly while he layed upside down beside me and if I stopped, he lifted his head and gave me a dirty look (eyes to the side - head tilted).
He and Buddy were brothers and best friends. He followed Buddy's lead and looked to him for advice.
One night, a year ago, Buddy suffered a massive stroke. He collapsed to the floor, his head was stuck in a tilted position, his eyes were flickering and he became paralyzed. By the time we brought him to the Vet he was barely coherent and knowing there was no reversal only a worse situation to come, we let him go. It was one of the most awful experiences of my life. It happens so quickly. It's humane and it's with dignity but once you see that needle and that IV plunge itself in - your final goodbye is too quick for such a good friend and true love.
When we returned home, Buster greeted us at the truck and waited for the back door to open so that he could run circles around the garage with Buddy. We were still crying and I really couldn't explain anything to poor Buster. His brother was gone and within a few days, I found him staring out the front window, slouched on the couch, hoping that Buddy would come running up the walk.
We were in so much pain but we also recognized the incredibly charmed life that Buddy had led and all that we had learned from his friendship and dedication. So we decided to adopt another dog to serve as a new friend and brother to Buster.
Next up was Gainey - a beautiful boy - German Shepard - Husky - who knows what else? Mix - Gainey is an incredibly intelligent, calm dog who speaks often(howls) but otherwise is Mr. Cool, calm and collective. Him and Buster hit it off although Buster never quite let him all the way in I think as a sign of loyalty to Buddy.
Things were getting a bit better and we were healing and then the worst possible thing happened - Buster at almost 5 years of age became very sick, very rapidly. He stopped eating but he had always been a fussy eater and not a big one at that so at first we just decided to give him some rice and other dog food to keep his interest. Nothing seemed to work and then he started to show signs of being ill that I won't get into in this post. Two weeks later he was diagnosed with Cancer. At that point he had been spending days at the Vet where they were hydrating him and treating him for nausea so they could hopefully get some food into him but nothing was working and he was dwindling away.
You know when you look back at something in time and you want to slap yourself for what you did or didn't do and you think of how trivial every day life can be in comparison to life and death situations? Well at the time Buster was spending his days at the vet (and nights at home during which my husband stayed up every two hours to flush Buster's IV - the only way we could keep him at home with us at night) I had just started a new freelance contract in communications for a hospital. I had tons of work and as a freelancer, once you get a contract, you have to milk it for all its worth because you don't know when your next one will come. I left during the day a few times to visit Buster at the vet but had I known the outcome, I would have given up that contract and spent every day all day with him.
When I did take off a few hours during the day, mostly at lunch time, it killed me seeing him all hooked up and in a cage. I kissed his head and his blaze and ran my fingers through his soft hair over his ears and I told him how much I loved him and what a good boy he was and then I returned to work.
A few days later I don't know why but I suddenly felt like I should take the afternoon off and go be with Buster. My husband had the same inclination even though we did not discuss this and were quite surprised to see one another at the vet. When we arrived, Buster was being treated for muscle spasms that had started a few hours earlier - a reaction to medication - and so they gave him relaxants and one of the technicians was holding him in her arms. When we walked into the room, he slowly made his way over to me and collapsed in my lap. I wrapped my body around him and held him as closely as I could as if to guard him and keep him safe so that the grim reaper wouldn't come and take him.
Just then our Vet came in and the results from further tests were conclusive that he had terminal Cancer that had spread to all of his organs and it was a matter of days or less. We were given the option to take him home and let him pass from starvation or to let him go right then and there at the vet with dignity and without further suffering. I couldn't believe I was saying goodbye to my other boy, my special boy at only 4 years of age. I cry as I write this and let me tell you, my husband and I were balling our eyes out in disbelief. I wished for him to have a second chance, to be spared and knowing that was impossible, I wished for my entire being to become instantly numb to cut off the pain I was feeling.
We did what was best for Buster. I placed the side of my face by his ear so he could hear me saying "I love you Buster - I wish I could save you but I can't so go be with Buddy". My husband and I reached our arms and bodies over him and kissed his face and his blaze and within seconds he was gone. He just layed there like he was asleep, his beautiful little face and his powder, blond coat and his long white eyelashes.
I wanted to go with him. It was that bad. I felt like someone had come along and stabbed me in the heart and grabbed Buster and ran away with him to a place I would never find.
We cremated Buster as we had Buddy. My two beautiful boys who were just running around wrestling and eating each other's faces a month prior - at summer's end - were suddenly taken from us at Fall's beginning.
Often, I come home and expect to find Buster waiting for me on the top of the stairs. It's the one image that sticks in my mind most - him just sitting there anticipating my entrance. Buster was the first being that I would see when I woke up each morning and the last I would see before going to bed. I miss him every day and I look at his picture by my bedside every night before I go to sleep.
Sometimes he comes to me in my dreams. Buddy is with him as well. It's always the same dream. I am walking on a country road and there is a light fog in the distance. I hear the sound of paws pounding on the pavement. I look ahead and around a bend, Buster and Buddy come running toward me and when we meet, I lean down and hold them in my arms and I kiss them and laugh and I tell them how much I've missed them and they say "Oh come on Mom - let's just go run around and have some fun - life is too short and we can't stay with you for long"
Dogs live short lives or maybe humans live lives that are too long. I don't know which is better but I do know that dogs - my dogs - are and were gifts from God. They were sent to remind me that I am able to give love without asking for anything in return and to care for someone just because I love them and that is all I want to do .
Dogs also teach us that we can be loved wholly for who we are and not for what we look like or how much money we make or what we have of material possessions in this world. They love us for our souls and they are souls in many ways.
Losing someone you love is losing a part of yourself and a part of your life. There is nothing you can do in those final moments other than hold them and pray that they leave this world for a better place.
Other than that, all I can do is dream about a winding road in the country, covered partially in fog until I reach a bend and Buddy and Buster come running toward me just wanting a kiss and to play. So simple, so brief and so it goes on and on.
Buster - when I close my eyes I see you - you will remain in my dreams and in my soul forever.
If you've lost a dog, feel free to comment and note his/her name.