We hadn’t planned on actually getting a puppy. We were just window shopping at the animal shelter. But when we went to put Buster – the cutest little fuzz ball I’d ever seen – back in his cage, he reached his paw out toward us and motioned for us to come back. My wife crumbled. “There is NO WAY we’re leaving that baby here!” she exclaimed. And so, the first of our several adoptions took place …that day.
Buster was the best puppy I ever had. He was well mannered and smart. He never cried and he house trained in about two days. He was perfect.
One day I was walking him down the street to drop some bills in the mailbox at the end of the road, where we lived. It was a busy street and I always held the leash tightly. But as I opened the box to drop the envelopes in, the leash loosened in my hand just long enough for Buster to lunge away and chase something out in the street. It was literally in a flash. Just as he did …he was instantly run over by a car going too fast.
The man behind the wheel didn’t know what he’d done. But he’d run over Buster’s hind quarters, basically like a speed bump. I saw the whole thing happen. And it was horrible to watch.
The driver unbelievably just shrugged it off and kept going, as if nothing was wrong. And he left my perfect puppy yelping and squirming in the middle of the street. I raced out to scoop him up. And as I reached down, he clamped down on my finger so violently he almost severed it. But I kept trying. I knew I had to get him out of the road. Finally, I was able to lift him and walk him to the animal hospital that was mercifully two buildings away.
The entire time we walked he was biting at me and yelping and basically out of his mind.
When I entered the hospital they rushed over to help us. Apparently I was bleeding pretty badly. I didn’t even realize it. The vet on call said the pup was in so much pain he was just lashing out at whatever was close. And he could see by the ashen look on my face I was kinda in shock as well.
They cleaned my wounds and sent me home. They sedated and ran tests on Buster. And they said if he could go to the bathroom by the end of the day, he was probably, miraculously going to be okay.
As it turned out …Buster WAS okay. The vet off-handedly quipped that there might have been some damage to his hips but it probably wouldn’t even show up for ten to fifteen years. That sounded pretty good to me. You always think ten to fifteen years is going to be long enough.
I’ve always remembered how rabid and angry sweet little Buster looked and acted that day. It wasn’t really him. It was just the pain he was in. He loved me – he love EVERYBODY – and would never want to hurt anyone. But I was there and I was touching some traumatized nerves in his fluffy little body. He couldn’t control his response. And so I got bit a few times. But I knew he was just acting out of instinct.
These days, we all seem to be lashing out at each other so much. And I understand it. Politics and religion are intimate pieces of our lives. We are directly affected by such things. And so we have these exposed nerves that are constantly being touched as we scroll through our “feed” or read our “wall.”
And with all those nerves exposed, social media has become a place for us to do battle instead of a place to congregate and learn or have fun or share life. No side of any argument ever wins. We reinforce what we believe or we throw bombs at the other side.
But I think we’re all just puppies, writhing in the road. We’re acting out of instinct. When someone lashes out at me, I try and remember Buster and how much pain he was in that day. At the root of all the anger and vitriol and sarcasm and ALL CAPS and exclamation points and profanity, there’s a wounded puppy in there somewhere …just biting what’s in front of them.
After fourteen years, Buster’s hips did finally give way to crippling arthritis. Time caught up to him. After the kids came along, he pretty much lived with me in the studio, on the ground floor. And by the end of his life he could barely walk, much less get up steps.
On the night before we had to put him to sleep, I took him out one last time …around 1 in the morning. He tried his best to go to the bathroom. But his hips kept giving out and I had to hold him up. Finally he just laid down. As I scooped him up to carry him inside, he almost snapped at me …like he had done all those years ago. But he caught himself and licked my hand instead.
I was hurting him. I knew it. But this time I think he knew I was trying to help him. We were old friends, and we’d been through a lot together. Millions of thrown balls …bags and bags of treats and chew toys …hours and hours of ear rubs on the couch.
I don’t know if dogs remember those things. But his eyes seemed to say, “Thanks, pal. I know you love me.”
And now Buster isn’t here anymore. But I keep a picture of him in my office. And the bites aren’t the things I remember. It’s all the other stuff …the really, really good stuff. The fun stuff. The sweet stuff.
Maybe we can all grow old together, friends. Maybe one day we’ll stop biting and snapping at each other. Maybe, when we work through our own pain, we won’t be so quick to inflict it on others.
Because as long as you’re focussed on the bites, you forget how cool dogs …and friends …are. And how much you miss them when they’re gone.