Sunday, October 24, 2010


My sweet beautiful puppy died today. I say puppy, but he was actually over 14 years old. He was diagnosed with bone cancer back in September, and the vet said he might have as much as a year. Unfortunately, we weren't that lucky. I've known for a week or so that I was going to have to let him go, but it wasn't a decision I wanted to make. I procastinated, but finally called a local vet and set up an appointment. She was going to come to the house tomorrow. Last night, it was raining, and Buster and I took a long walk in the cool night air. We came home, I rubbed him dry with a couple of towels, and his coat was so soft and clean. He had a dinner of half a pound of raw hamburger, and we went upstairs to bed. He slept by my bed all night.

I woke up this morning, and he wasn't there. I got up to go downstairs, thinking he needed to go outside and go potty. When I got downstairs, there was blood all over the floor. Buster was bleeding from his mouth. I grabbed a paper towel and tried to wipe his mouth. I took time to put on a pot of coffee, and then went to get the mop. It was very quickly evident that this wasn't going to stop, and the end had come. After calling my son to alert him, I dressed, covered the back seat of the car with blankets, and put on Buster's collar and leash for the last time. He gave me no fuss getting into the car. After picking up my son, we drove to the nearest 24 hour emergency vet. Buster walked in, I handed him over to a tech, and he walked down the hall. As he walked away, he looked back over his shoulder at me, and I reassured him that I'd be right there. He turned and went willingly.

A few minutes later, my son and I were in the exam room when the tech brought him back, with a catheter in his leg. We spread his blanket on the floor, and I sat on it, and cradled him in my arms, with his head resting on my chest. He sat there quietly, no struggling or anxiety. The vet injected something in the catheter, and he almost immediately went limp. I held him for a minute or two, and then my son and I wrapped him in his blanket and carried him back out to the car.

We drove to my son's house and took Buster out of the car and laid him in the back of an old pickup truck. My son went to talk to his father in law about where to dig the grave, and I stood there patting the blanket bundle. I unwrapped his head, and stood there rubbing my fingers in the thick ruff around his neck. He was still warm, incredibly. I tucked his favorite stuffed squirrel between his front legs, then wrapped him back up.

My son and I walked up into the orchard and selected a spot for him. I went inside to visit with my grandkids and daughter in law while the two men dug the grave. The soil was wet and heavy with clay, but eventually the hole was deep enough, and my son laid Buster to rest, curled up as if asleep.

I adopted Buster when he was an 8 week old puppy. He had been born in a shed in a field, and had some kind of black, sticky substance coating his flanks and head. Bathing didn't remove it, so I spent his first night at home carefully cutting the tar from his hair with a pair of embroidery scissors. He never fussed or tried to get away.

As a puppy, he would play with my son, and run in circles chasing a towel or sock until he was so exhausted he would collapse into sleep in the wink of an eye. He loved to chase a red laser pointer, and never did figure out it wasn't alive.

Buster traveled with me when I moved to Las Vegas, and was my constant companion. The night my father died, I cried into Buster's fur for hours, and he licked my face over and over again, with a curiously human look of sympathy in his eyes.

When we moved into Mom's house after Dad was gone, I thought he'd be thrilled to have a huge yard to run around in. Instead, he took every chance he could to escape. The tall hedge that bordered the propery never deterred him. He could climb four feet of chicken wire, wiggle through four feet of hedge, drop three feet to the neighbor's yard, and be halfway down the street the minute my back was turned. Sometimes, he escaped when I was right there watching him, but too far away to get to him and catch him before he got out. Eventually, we were forced to put him on a 30 foot tie-out during the day.

At night he would come in the house, trot down the hall to my room, and hop up on the bed as if it were his, not mine.

We moved out of the house with the big yard after Mom died, and into a rental trailer with no yard. Tem months later, we moved again, into a house with a tiny yard and a big garage. We got to know every dog in the neighborhood on our morning and evening walks.

Over the years, he lost his hearing, and no longer barked at the mailman or fireworks. Cold weather made his legs ache, especially the right leg, with the steel pin, souvenir of a run-in with a car when he was 14 months old. He developed stomach problems, and I began to cook his food for him, instead of buying canned.

His last months were hard. He loved the new diet of fresh meat, pasta, pumpkin and eggs. But he was getting unsteady on his feet, and every once in a while when eating, he would yelp, and run out of the room. But he never complained. When he could no longer jump onto the bed to sleep with me, he started sleeping right beside the bed, so close I could reach down and rub his head if I wanted. On our walks, instead of pulling me down the sidewalk, he walked sedately beside me, stopping often to turn his head and locate me again since the tumor in his face had blinded him in one eye.

I'll never forget how calm he was at the end, and how trusting he was, letting me hold him and whisper "I love you, sweet dog" even as he died.

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