I’ve been neglecting the blog lately and neglecting quite a lot of other things too. I don’t want to blog about sad things all the time, but unfortunately these past few months have been full of a lot of sadness for me.
In the early morning hours of Monday, April 12th, our most beloved boy, Buster, passed away. He was 16 years old, an incredible age for him to reach considering that he was a 90-pound Doberman/Rottweiler mix.
There were so many things about Buster that were incredible to us — despite his very common name, he was anything but a common dog. He was a big dog, a mix of two breeds with scary reputations. But wherever he went he made friends — both canine and human. He was never in a real fight in his life, and while he always stood ready to protect his yard and his house, he also loved to climb up on the sofa and lie with his head in my lap.
His very favorite thing was to go fishing with the Big Guy. Buster took his fishing very seriously. Folsom Lake was his lake; he was completely at home on the bass boat; and his hysterical yapping let everyone know that the fish were biting. As soon as a fish appeared at the end of the line, Buster would launch himself into the water and try to retrieve it. He knew the Big Guy would reel it in, but he wasn’t taking any chances!
I’ll never forget the day we brought him home. He was just a little squirt — probably the runt of the litter. I’m not sure, though, because we never saw the other pups. He was the only one left, but there he was, scampering about the house after his big Rottweiler dad, chasing after a tennis ball. His dad took time out to give us a friendly greeting, as did his mother, a beautiful red Dobermann. When it was time for us to leave, Buster climbed happily into my lap and never looked back.
At our house, we had been smelling something unpleasant — probably a dead rodent — for about a week but couldn’t pinpoint the source. When we got our new puppy home, his little legs were so short I had to lift him from the step into the front door. But once inside, he got right down to business with his nose . . . and he led us straight to the dead mouse under the Big Guy’s easy chair.
That first night, Buster slept in complete contentment on our sofa, right on top of the Big Guy’s head. The next day we took him out to Folsom Lake to fish off the shore. Buster walked the whole way by himself, and it must have been at least a mile to the fishing spot and then back to the car.
We decided to name our pup after James “Buster” Douglas, the heavyweight boxer. In my journal in February ’94 I wrote about our little munchkin dog with the huge feet. We were watching the Westminster Dog Show, and Buster had his nose on the TV screen, trying to get the dogs.
A few nights before that we heard coyotes from somewhere nearby; the neighborhood dogs were going crazy, and Buster got very excited. I was already hoping that I could teach him to howl; I had found a record in our 1974 World Book Encyclopedia Science Annual called “The Music of the Canids” and had been playing the wolf chorus over and over for Buster.
Believe it or not, it worked — Buster learned to howl, and a few years later he taught his daughter, Pinkie. Whenever the dogs heard sirens, all three of them would race outside, Buster and Pinkie to howl, and Gabby (who tried to howl a few times and then gave up) to wag her tail and bark in support.
At the end of March 1995 a friend of ours told us about a stray dog hanging around where he worked. She was a pit bull, and she seemed friendly; he was worried what might happen to her and he knew that we loved pitties. The Big Guy and I decided to go have a look at her — but I insisted we bring Buster along. If Buster didn’t like her, that would be that.
Buster loved her. I’m sure he felt that we’d brought her home just for him. At the time we had no intentions at all of raising puppies; in fact, for some reason the possibility never even occurred to us (stupid, I know). But on July 5th, 1995, Gabby had her litter of ten healthy, beautiful pups (her last litter, because we spayed her as soon as possible afterward). Since we couldn’t possibly keep all ten of them, we settled on just one — Pinkie.
Buster helped with the pups as much as possible, but I’m sure he and Gabby were both relieved when the nine went to their new homes. After that, it was the just the three of them, our little dog family. They’re all gone now, but they have left us with so many amazing memories. I’m sure one day they’ll feel like happy memories again.
In May 2001 we found out that Buster needed surgery. It was sort of a shock, since he had never been sick a day in his life, but now he had a big fatty tumor, non-malignant, growing inside his abdominal cavity. We had a lot of faith in his vet, Dr. Faulkner, at American River Animal Hospital, and Buster trusted her too.
After the surgery we found out she had removed a 16-pound mass from his abdomen. It was the biggest lipoma she had ever seen. Buster recovered (after one little mishap when he managed to prematurely remove his own stitches, leading to another surgery to repair the damage), and through the process he formed a special bond with Dr. Faulkner and made a lasting impression on the rest of the veterinary staff.
In my journal in June 2001 I wrote: “Buster makes new friends everywhere he goes. Everyone at both vets’ offices made a point of saying what a special dog he was, very sweet and cooperative. Our new local vet, Dr. Faulkner, phoned a few days after his second surgery [performed by a different doctor] to see how he was doing. She said he was “just a perfect angel.” I’ll never forget those sweet words.
Unfortunately, that lipoma ended up growing back, and so Buster had another surgery a few years later to remove it. After that, even though we knew it would come back again, we made the decision to skip any further procedures because of his advancing age. We all figured that before the lipoma managed to grow to a bothersome size Buster would already have passed away from old age. But Buster had other ideas; he intended to outlive that lipoma. And so it kept on growing.
For now, all I can say is that it’s heartbreaking to lose your three best friends in the world, one in September, the next in December, and the last in April. It was the thing we had dreaded and feared for so long, and now it’s happened. The house seems so utterly empty without them. It almost seems like all of them had been with us for half our lives, like there could be nothing after them.
The morning after we lost him, I wrote in my journal: “Buster was the best dog ever. He was the smartest, most intuitive, most precious, loving, tough, cuddly, faithful, handsome dog ever. Nothing will ever be the same without him.”
November 1993 – April 2010