Rest in Peace, old friend

Buddy, a rescue dog who had stumbled into my life in 2007, passed away sometime in the afternoon on July 10th, 2012.   One warm, spring day he wandered through the front doors of a mattress store that I managed after I’d propped the doors open to give the store some fresh air.  I didn’t even see him on his first visit – my partner shooed him away when he first wandered into the place.  I just heard my co-worker grumble, “Hey, get outta here…..”.  I asked him who he was talking to and he said that “some dog” had come in the open doors.  An hour or later, as I was tying a mattress to the roof of a car, I felt something bumping around the backside of my pants. Turning around I got caught my first glimpse of the character that I, eventually, named “Buddy”. At that first meeting I didn’t know whether to be scared or offer a friendly head scratch – he was terribly skinny, but he was still a pretty imposing specimen.

I talked to him a bit, trying to sense his intentions, and he just wagged his tail as if to say, “Great to meet you…”. So I scratched his head and told him he seemed like a “good boy”. In fact, Buddy was a wonderful boy – and that was the beginning of a great friendship.

Mangie and Starving

The old man looked like he hadn’t eaten right for a long, long time. You could see his ribs and there were patches of fur missing. I suspected he might have mange. He was wearing a choke collar and I guessed that he was one more victim of the economic downturn; there was a desperation in his eyes and I sensed that he’d probably been dropped near our store in the suburbs (at the corner of Maple Rd. and VanSlyke Road), from the City of Flint.   He’d probably gotten too expensive to keep, for someone. That first day, I recalled that the refrigerator at the store had some dangerously old Kentucky Fried Chicken pushed to the back of one of it’s shelves.   While it wasn’t any good for human consumption it was custom-made for a large, hungry dog fiesta!  I went inside and grabbed the box, trying to keep Buddy from following me inside without much success. We walked outside, again, and we walked to the side of our building. I said something like, “Okay pal, it’s your lucky day” and Buddy made fast work of the KFC.

I already had a couple of small dogs and the idea that I might somehow keep Buddy was something which never crossed my mind. I’m fairly poor, I live in a crappy part of the inner city, and it just wasn’t an option. After Buddy had eaten I closed the front doors of the store and can’t recall, now, whether I saw much of him the rest of that day. I usually sat in an office that obstructed my view of the store front. But when it came time to close the store and I walked outside to put some things in my truck, I looked down to find Buddy following me and wagging his tail. When I went back into the store to fetch a few last things, before locking up, Buddy slipped inside. I told him that he had to leave, and coaxed him outside.  Sitting at my desk, doing a couple of final chores, I heard the most mournful wail I have ever heard in my life.   I walked to the front of the store to see this enormous dog sitting up in front of the locked front doors, crying to come in and get a bit of shelter.  I’m an animal lover and the guy’s obvious desperation was absolutely heartbreaking. And, gosh – he was such a sweet old fella….

 

I couldn’t take it. The warehouse was huge, and, fairly dirty anyway.   There were two bathrooms in the back, one of which was never used.   At the very least,  I thought,  I could put him in the unused bathroom overnight and let him get some decent rest. So, I let him in and locked him in the bathroom. I told him that I’d see him in the morning and figured, by morning, I could develop a plan to find the big old guy a home.

A Close Call – and some divine intervention

When I came in the next day, Buddy heard me unlock the front doors and I could hear him fussing. I walked to the back and opened the bathroom door. In a frenzy to get out of the bathroom, overnight, he’d completely stripped the bathroom door of it’s molding! Since I still hadn’t formulated a real plan to find Buddy a home, I quickly grabbed some of the nylon twine we used to tie mattresses to cars and made him a crappy leash. We went out the back door, which opened to a field, and Buddy and I went for our first walk. He seemed thrilled to have a pal and to get a little attention. Afterwards, I tied his makeshift leash to a tree behind the store where he merrily barked at the birds and just seemed happy as a lark. I, on the other hand, was going to have some explaining to do regarding the damage to the bathroom.

I absolutely couldn’t take him home. And keeping him in the warehouse didn’t seem very feasible. The owner, who lived one hundred miles away and who rarely visited the store let me do just about anything that struck my fancy – but this seemed a bit out of the question.

So, after some considerable thought, I leaned down and did my best to explain to Buddy why I thought it was best if I cut his leash and he moved on to greener pastures. I was really conflicted, but it seemed I had very little choice. So, sitting behing the store, I grabbed a pair of scissors and set him free once more.

Our store sat on a heavily traveled corner, with lots of high-speed traffic on both streets. The moment I cut Buddy’s leash he saw something across the street, on the lawn of a Lutheran Church, that tickled his fancy. He went shooting across the street like a bullet – darting right in front of a pick-up truck. Miraculously, the driver braked and swerved and very narrowly avoided killing Buddy.

Across the street, totally unaware that he’d just come incredibly close to meeting his maker, Buddy was blithely rolling around in the grass of the Lutheran Church. I looked at him, and saw his joy – and I knew that “setting him free” was tantamount to a death sentence. I’ve had dogs that seemed to have a innate sense about the dangers of roadways and vehicles. Buddy, obviously, did not have that gift. I ran across the street, scolded him a bit, and grabbed him by his choke collar. We walked back across the street, to the safety of the field and the trees, and I reattached his leash.

Life at the Warehouse – not so bad for Buddy and I

Thinking that I would eventually formulate a plan for his relocation I decided that the skinny old guy could probably sleep in the warehouse for a few nights. Quite unimaginatively, at some point, I gave him the name “Buddy”. In retrospect, I would say this: never give a stray, starving dog a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken and do not give him a name. I promise: he will be your dog.

Since I knew what he couldn’t bear being locked in the bathroom I actually bought Buddy his own, twin mattress and left it in the plastic bag. I placed it right near the back door, far out of site of any customers. I bought him a proper chain. At some point I told the owner that I had a dog and, basically, he was alright with the arrangement.

Buddy loved being at the store. Granted, he was alone when I went home at night, but since I worked seven days a week, we spent most of our lives together. Almost every morning we would go for a run around the four-unit strip plaza that was like our home. On those walks – or runs – Buddy virtually pulled me along. His strength was incredible. I didn’t have much money but Buddy eventually went to the veterinarian where he was diagnosed as having sarcoptic mange. After a few treatments (a series of shots) he kicked the mange. The vet estimated that he was between four and six years old. Over time, he started to gain weight. Buddy was completely unmanageable in the cab of my small, Dodge Dakota but I finally got him to a pet grooming parlor (one time) for a professional bath and haircut. That drive was a harrowing experience in which I had to pull to the side of the road numerous times. Afterwards, I bathed Buddy myself.

Buddy: a gentle, people-loving giant

I’d had Buddy for awhile when I noticed a large indentation on the left side of his scalp. Clearly, he’d either been beaten severely or struck by a car. Whatever had happened, he seemed no worse for the wear and bore no malice towards anyone. When customers did notice Buddy (he’d occasionally bark) most wanted to meet the old man. And Buddy was thrilled when people came to the back of the store to give him a scratch or a pat on the head.

I’ll never forget the day that I was showing a female customer a mattress, in the front of the store, when she suddenly couldn’t find her young daughter. We walked around a partition and saw her eight or nine-year old daughter laying on the floor in the back of the store, her arms crossed like a mummy. Buddy was licking her from head to toe – and they were both loving the moment……

In fact, I had a couple of people who offered to take Buddy and give him a good home. Unfortunately, I’m distrustful of people where pets are concerned. If something didn’t work out, I feared he’d be walking down some lonely road once more. I feared that someone would not be vigilant and, left to run, he’d be struck by a car. I loved the old guy, and, I wanted to keep him safe.

I frequently left the back door open so that Buddy could walk outside, behind the store. Next door to our unit was a pool hall in which smoking was banned and the regulars frequently went out back to have a smoke. As a consequence, the pool hall regulars got to know Buddy and he was a pretty popular character with most of them. The pool hall owner was an exception. He didn’t like the fact that Buddy was in the store and frequently griped about it to the landlord. Buddy’s infrequent barking, according to the owner, was disruptive to his business. His regular patrons, on the other hand, simply told me that he didn’t like dogs.

Buddy gets evicted

So Buddy gained weight, kicked his mange, and we became great pals. And he seemed to love the life we shared at the mattress warehouse. But after three years of listening to his tenant gripe, the landlord came in one day and laid down the law: Buddy had to go.

So, with considerable anxiety I decided to bring Buddy to my small house in the city. Buddy would have to stay downstairs since we had three small dogs upstairs. Even without the three little guys on the main floor our cluttered house – only seven hundred square foot in size – was really too small to accommodate such a big old moose.

After another harrowing ride in my Dodge Dakota, I got Buddy to the house. I put his mattress at the base of a short stairwell in the basement and bought him a longer chain. I left the back door open so that he could walk up the stairs and out, ten or fifteen feet, into the back yard. Our back yard is actually fenced, but the fencing wasn’t sufficient to keep Buddy in the back yard. We have an enormous tree in the back yard which is dying. Limbs would periodically fall and Buddy, on more than once occasion, used them as a step-ladder to climb over the fence. And he found other ways to get out, as well. Letting him run free was simple too dangerous.

Of course, when I was out in the back yard and could keep an eye on him I would let him run. But the last few years were very tough, for me, and I really feel as though I didn’t make as much time for Buddy as he required. It’s a tired, worn-out old line but, “I did the best I could….”. Buddy got lots of great treats (yes, I gave him “people food”) and I tried to give him what I could.

A Favorite Memory – and a cycle is complete
A few months ago Buddy’s chain became twisted and bent, and, he got loose in the neighborhood. The neighbors alerted me to the situation and I saw him down the block, and, gave chase. My wife watched from the porch as I hustled to corral the goofy old guy before he was hit by a car, or, encountered a mean dog. From a distance I could see that he was carrying something fairly large in his mouth – he’d apparently found a treasure in someone’s trash. When I finally caught up with him and saw what he’d found, it was like some sort of cycle was complete: it was an extremely large, empty box of KFC chicken – and he refused to let go of the thing…. As my wife watched from the porch, laughing, Buddy literally pranced home (while I held onto his collar) all the while gripping that box with what seemed an incredible sense of triumph and satisfaction. I looked at an old dog, that day, and saw the happy-go-lucky puppy that still dwelt within his soul.

Illness, and, tough choices

In April Buddy’s back was getting a bit red, from fleas, so I took him into the back yard for a bath. While I bathed him I noticed a small, golf ball-sized lump on his neck. Not only was I without a job (the mattress store had gone out of business) but I’d been paid cash for years – so I wasn’t getting unemployment. While I’d made certain Buddy ate, I was eating almost nothing but bologna sandwiches and was in no position to take him to a vet. I hoped, and prayed, that it was nothing. In fact, it didn’t get any larger for quite some time. Then, in mid-June, the small mass started becoming larger and larger.

I had a lot of different thoughts. I thought about selling something, and, taking him to a vet to be “put to sleep”. But I’d had a beloved cocker spaniel who had been euthanized at the vet’s office, a few years earlier, and it always bothered me that he wasn’t buried at home. It’s odd, I guess, but I couldn’t see Buddy being away from home – he’d been taken away from home enough. And, yet, I didn’t want him to suffer. The whole situation was confusing, and, pretty horrible.

But Buddy continued to eat and drink, and, walk outside to enjoy the sunshine….until almost the very end. As a guy who never had any kids and who loves animals, the whole thing was heart wrenching. I watched as he lost weight, knowing that the inevitable was upon us. My wife asked me what I was going to do when he died. I told her that I’d probably put him in the back of my truck and lay him in a field somewhere. But, it was a thought which I could not bear. Buddy and I had found each other, somehow. All he ever wanted was some love, and, to be “home”. I could not let him suffer the final indignity of being dropped off, and left alone, in one more strange place. Buddy was not a dog without a home, or without love. He had a home, and, we were best friends. He was going to stay right here with “Dad” – period. I decided that I would make his final resting place, appropriately, at home.

Sensing the end was near, on a very hot afternoon (and with a bad back), I went out into the back yard and dug Buddy a proper grave (in some rock hard clay). Two days later, On July 10th, I checked on him at about 1:00 PM. His breathing wasn’t normal and I knew that his suffering was almost over. When I went back upstairs I prayed to God, in sincerity, “Please, God, end his suffering….”. I’d never done that before – and God listened. I went back downstairs at about 6:00 PM and he had passed away.

I slipped that damned choke chain from around his neck and pulled it over his head. I carried him to the spot I’d prepared and laid him down, and, covered him up. For some reason, I said “The Lord’s Prayer”. I didn’t cry, then. I sat down and wrote this, and, well….I cried. It used to bother me that I wasn’t a tough guy – I’m fine with it, in my old age.

I don’t know if what I did was right, but it was – as I’ve said – the best I could do. And God knows – and Buddy knows – how much I loved that sweet old man. Rest in peace, my friend – we’ll meet again.

“And When I Die” – Blood Sweat and Tears

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In a place where there’s plenty of food (I hope they have KFC), plenty of room to run, no mean people, no choke chains…….and lots of love. I love you, Buddy.