I didn’t want the darn dog. Michele brought him home one day after our cat died. I told her this would be nothing but trouble. “Remember how you cried for a week after the cat died,” I said. “You’ll cry for a month after the dog dies. What’s his name?”
“Buddy,” she said. “He needed a home. He was abandoned in a divorce.”
Walk into the Humane Society and call out the name “Buddy” and half the dogs are likely to respond. I later learned that “Buddy” is a common name given to dogs when no one wants them or even cares to give them a name. We “inherited” him from a family with children (why people abandon their dogs this way I’ll never know).
He was an odd-looking dog, sheepish by nature, quivering and shaking. He seemed to know that I wasn’t impressed with his appearance. I googled the breed. Turned out he was a Mountain Feist, a combination of Southern Hound and Jack Russell (I’m told it was a breed popularized by Abraham Lincoln). Kinda a pure breed but not really; expensive though for a half-breed. The pups can cost upwards of $1,000 each. They are known to be excellent squirrel hunters without all the hyper-ness of the Jack Russell. Some are even said to climb trees.
Man’s best friend
As I walked Buddy he would dart after squirrels but he wasn’t much of a hunter. One day I discovered that he had a fear of guns; even the click of a trigger made him bark angrily (he would get all mean like in the movie Iron Giant just at the sound of a click). As the saying goes, “that dog don’t hunt.” That was okay with Michele. She’s a pacifist by nature. I saw it more as a sign of his eccentricities and wondered if he was abandoned for this reason.
Buddy had many such peculiarities. He loved nothing more than to lay in the driveway under the sun. The neighbors laughed how he would lay peacably under a blanket under the sun, barely flinching at passersby. No matter the temperature, Buddy just wanted to lay in the sun.
Years passed. During the fall, when I traveled north to Green Bay on football reporting assignments I would spend many days away from Buddy and I found myself actually beginning to miss him. He always greeted me with great joy no matter my time away. Dogs truly are a man’s best friend, always and forever. There are few pleasures greater in life than a quiet walk with a loyal dog on an summer’s eve.
Buddy had a great vocabulary. He knew a number of words including “car,” “walk,” “eggs,” “bacon,” and, his favorite, “chicken.” He even knew the words “garage sale.” He was often my traveling companion as I drove around Waukesha dumpster diving for rare books and other oddities now cluttering my basement.
Late in his life, as happens with nearly all dogs, he began to develop cancerous tumors. Still, the disease would take a couple of years to kill him. Even near the end, even on the last day of his life—at the ripe old age of 19— we walked the neighborhood. He loved life like a human. “Michele, you treat him too well. He may never die,” I said.
A time to die
It’s rare for a breed such as this to reach the age that he did. He was approaching the age of 20 when at last we decided it was time to send him to the great beyond. Michele would not allow him to die at a clinic; he so hated visits to the doctor (don’t we all). She wanted him to die at home but it got to the point that we had to reach a decision on the matter. And quickly as the seizures were becoming more frequent and he was beginning to relieve himself all over the house. (Not that we couldn’t live with him relieving himself all over the house but it seemed to have a noticeable effect on his sense of dignity. Yes, even a dog seems to share that sense with humans, too.)
Much to my surprise, during a simple google search, I found a veterinarian service that would come to our home and put our dog “to sleep” on a day of our choosing. We contacted Pet Loss At Home and were surprised to find that they could arrive Saturday, just a day or two after we called (they literally show up in hours depending on the urgency of the situation).
I scripted Buddy’s “death day” as follows: First, I took him for a ride in the country, traversing the hills of Waukesha county. He stuck his head out the window from the front passenger seat, a treat for any dog. Then after completing our usual route, we hit the drive through at McDonald’s where I gave him the choice of a McDouble or McChicken. He barked when I said “McChicken” and so it was to be his last meal.
Being stoic in temperament, I thought I would make it through his “euthanasia” without tears but my trip around the county and trip to McDonald’s did me in as it allowed me to think about what a great dog he had been all these years. Odd, yes, but more loyal and more understanding than the very best of friends.
A dignified end
We didn’t know what to think when a woman with Pet Loss at Home pulled up our driveway. Turns out she was very personable, professional and understanding. She explained the procedure with the right degree of intelligence and empathy. A long-time veterinarian who happened upon this business idea at the dawning of the internet, she had a great bedside manner as we shared our last moments with Buddy. She was clearly an animal lover; that’s something that just can’t be faked.
Buddy seemed to know the jig was up so to speak. He tried to scurry away as we talked in the living room. Animals have such keen senses. They seem to get the big stuff even when they can’t understand the little things in language and nuance. The first shot took away the pain; time for a final hug. I cried much more than I imagined for a dog I didn’t want in the first place. The second shot, and moments later, he went limp in my arms. “Bye bye Buddy,” I thought, “will I ever see you again?”
As an added touch, she made a clay mold from his paw. We put it on the fireplace. She wrapped him in his favorite blanket (a blanket given to me from a New York Giants fans after the Giants defeated the Packers in the NFC title game – Favre’s last game) and placed him in the back of her vehicle. Composing myself, I asked her a number of questions about her business. I found it fascinating though I couldn’t imagine putting down the beloved pets of children and adults two to four times per day. Still, I agreed with her in noting that it’s the right thing to do.
A couple of weeks later, against my wishes, I arrived home to find another dog similar to Buddy in breed but younger and female. “Oh no,” I said, “now what’s her name?”
“Tia Marie,” said Michele. I didn’t protest.