Buster: An Unforgettable Dog

I’ve been thinking of this guy a lot, lately. Maybe because I know I will be moving very soon. Then again, maybe because the love of a dog is something that remains long after they are absent?

Buster died on August 5. I cried until my chest ached from sobbing, but held it together until my son and I walked out of the Humane Society. I did not want that good boy to remember me crying and upset.

He was roughly 14-15 years old. Buster had been with us for nine years. He came schlepping over to our yard one cold, Michigan February morning. We called the neighborhood vets, the pet stores, the animal hospital, and the shelter. No one had reported a lost, homely Rottweiler mix.

He very quickly became accustomed to us and our female dog, Rosie. When he was outside, chasing Rosie (whom he never could catch – he being longer of legs but lacking her speed), he would kick up his rear legs and bark with joyful abandon. It never failed to make me laugh.

Buster was a true lover. Of sticks, squeaky balls, attention, and pizza crust. And me.

Never was there a time I was ill, be it sinus headache, influenza, or vertebral disc displacement, that he didn’t plop his large, heavy head with those soulful eyes, right onto my lap. If there was room on the sofa, he’d climb up next to me. Even if I were seated in the recliner, it did not deter him from his self-appointed cure-all of 70 lbs. worth of cuddling. I believe that’s what I miss the most – his honest, loyal, doggy love. That heart! The only part larger than that ponderous head.

My heart started cracking about four years before his passing. He could no longer climb up on the bed without help. His heel-kicking-up was neither as high, nor as exuberant. What his vet termed his “premature gray” muzzle was now white. Oh, but he still held dear those things he loved. I was so fortunate to be one of them.

The ugly and uninvited shadow of death was patiently waiting… yet becoming more difficult to totally dismiss from my mind.

There were many good days, still. He yet enjoyed playing catch, though he often missed. He seemed to have a central blind spot. This was confirmed when the vet said he had cataracts.

One day, while stroking the fur on his neck and chest, there was found to be a firm lump. Back to the vet. Buster had no problem with the vet, herself, but he never did like going into the clinic. Maybe he smelled the anxiety of the animals that had come before him? Or perhaps the smell of antiseptic and medication was unpleasantly overpowering? Whatever the cause of his distress, he refused to take even one of the variety of delicious treats offered to him while there. This was the guy who would normally cause one to fear that, while offering a doggy cookie, one may pull away only a bloody stump of the hand that offered. After the exam and aspiration, it was declared a cyst and was duly drained.

The lump increased in size, slowly. Touching it seemed to cause no discomfort. There was no oozing – not for a long time. I had been trained as a medical assistant; I had seen the vet draw off the fluid, and thought I could accomplish the same end results. It worked quite well for a couple weeks. Then, I could not seem to stay ahead of the swelling. Also, less fluid was being extracted. Soon, the crisis came. One afternoon, I was petting an insistent Buster, when I felt a sticky wetness. He was bleeding. Not heavily, but constantly. I retrieved a clean, large rag and tried compression, to no avail.

Another appointment-urgently-was made at the veterinary clinic. Poor Buster! He just did not become any fonder of the place. Another examination alerted the vet to a different diagnosis: probable tumor. She happened to have the time to excise it, with the assistance of her intern. The attending vet brought the mass to me. It was softball sized and was convoluted-appearing. She gently told me that, “It doesn’t look good, at all.”

Buster had a determined and fighting spirit, however. He would survive well over three more years.

Those final years were progressively sad. Now, he no longer chased a stick, the ball, or Rosie. He would, instead, sit on his hind end and loudly bark! Loud barking always was one of Buster’s trademarks (when playing, alerting, or ‘asking’ for something).

On his last morning, Buster ate his breakfast with the usual exuberance, after his early morning bathroom break. He had been needing assistance with the one step down from the patio door for quite some while. It was very warm, already this early, and he retreated to the room in the middle of the house. I heard him plop down onto the floor, heavily, due to his arthritic, stiff back legs. After several minutes, I needed to go into that room. Buster looked up at me with more than his usual sad-eyed look. He had vomited his breakfast. Buster rarely vomited. I spoke kindly to him, reassuring him that he was a good boy and it was just an accident. It was quickly cleaned up. I petted him some more, then turned the fan toward him. He relaxed and lay down his head. I left the room.

Only a short while afterward, I hear the sound of urinating. Coming quickly into the room, I see Buster standing. I gently start pushing him toward the patio door, thinking that it was quite soon for him to have to go outside again. I tell him he has to go outside. He takes the couple of steps to the screen door. I open it and prepare to do the usual assist, supporting his rear legs, while the front legs take that step down.

He succeeded in getting the front legs down, collapsing immediately after. I tried lifting him, but was unable. I allowed him to rest a minute. With significant help from me, he was able to hobble a few steps, again collapsing, this time in front of the garage.

I ran into the house, down the basement stairs, and woke up my son, who worked third shift. I explained that Buster had twice collapsed and I thought he was dying. I then ran back upstairs, grabbed Buster’s favorite blanket, and headed back outside. Buster lay quietly. I could hear him breathing, but his tongue didn’t look right. He seemed unable to pant. I spread the blanket in the shade of the garage overhang, then gently rolled him onto it. Normally, my maneuvering him in such a manner would induce a growling complaint or soft bark. There was no vocalization, at all.

I tried to further assess his state. I moved my hands quickly toward his eyes. He blinked. I repeated the motion and he again blinked. I knew he could see. I sat in front of him. He tried to pick up his head, but could not. I then lay down beside him, gently petting him and telling him what a good boy he was. He appeared to go to sleep, closing his eyes.

My son came outside and looked at Buster, while I explained his symptoms. After several minutes, my son went back inside. I could see a mixture of denial and grief in his eyes. Buster was his special buddy.

I was with Buster, moving the blanket to follow the shade. I lay next to him for well over two hours. He continued sleeping, but I could hear his breathing. Still, no panting. I slowly stood, being careful not to disturb him.

I returned to the house and filled Buster’s water bowl. Sitting down, I began my first cry. I thought about how to deal with this situation. My son returned upstairs and sat next to me. We discussed our options. We talked about the possibility that Buster could pull through this, after a day or two of rest. We also spoke of taking him to the local Humane Society for euthanasia. That word. It always seemed so ugly. I made the phone call and found out the times they handled that situation. I told them I had to think about it, but would call before coming in.

We went back to Buster. He now was awake and tried, again, to lift his head. This time, he managed to plop it onto my lap. I stroked his big, old head. I cupped my hands and got some water. Buster could not lap it up, so I slowly let it trickle into his mouth. If nothing else, it would wet his mouth.

My son was able to pick him up and carry him into the house. I brought the blanket and we gently laid Buster down on it, again with the fan. We both agreed that it appeared to be time to take our old, lovable lug, to the Humane Society. I called them and told them we were coming, as there had been no improvement.

My son scooped up Buster and I grabbed his blanket. We situated him on the back seat of the car. He still made no sound.

It was about a 15-minute ride to Buster’s final destination. I went in ahead while my son, again, lifted Buster, bringing him inside. He was laid next to me. I was completing the request for euthanasia. Suddenly, that same word seemed kind and merciful. Buster was awake and made very small, almost inaudible noises. I could tell that he didn’t like being there. His legs were trembling; the only movement I had seen in his legs since his collapse. I was praying the staff would hurry.

An assistant came to check over the paperwork. She explained that we could take a little time to say goodbye. She shared what would happen with the euthanasia. She told us to let her know when we were ready, before returning to the front desk. We petted and hugged Buster, telling him we loved him and what a good boy he was. We tried as hard as possible not to cry in front of him. After a couple minutes, I told the assistant we were ready.

An employee emerged from the back area. She introduced herself and gave a brief explanation of the process. She brought out a large, wheeled cart with a fleece blanket spread over it. She helped my son lift Buster onto it. We both gave him one last hug. That assistant told us that it would be very quick, once she took him back beyond the door. He would be gone within a couple minutes. We watched her disappear behind the door with our goofy, precious buddy.

I began to cry, just outside the door to the clinic. Other people were coming in, so I stifled myself. We were just miserable.

Once inside the car, I no longer held back. I had left a very special chunk of my heart in that clinic. I was temporarily shattered; broken hearted. I could not help thinking that I would no longer feel that large head in my lap. I was acutely aware of how it felt to pet that head; the way his fur felt under my hand. The sound of his very loud sniffing. Those sad-looking eyes.

Buster, however, was finally at peace. We had to give him that gift, after all that he had given to us.11059627_10207259995395825_5617952933910779921_n


~ by saginawrobin on March 2, 2016.

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