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Buster: 2000-2010

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Quote of the Day: “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”

- Josh Billings

Bad news. Bad day.

My dog died today. People with dogs know how crushing that is. People without dogs may see it as cliché. Just think of it as one level down from losing a child.

Buster was part of this family. An integral part who was included in DAILY interactions.

The story of this day is hard to tell so I will just try to do it chronologically.

My brother came over and brought Sam, his black lab who is a little older than Buster. Without a family, Sam is Chris’s child and understands what it means to have a family whose members include a dog.

Buster had a good night last night but it’s sad that “a good night” is defined at this point as uneventful.

For the last few weeks, we have had to help him get up on the bed and he moves rather slowly. We knew the end was near and Friday night’s seizures were stark reminders that we needed to make a decision very soon.

Buster had two seizures today when Chris was here. The first, over by his doggy door, started when we heard him thump to the ground and start convulsing. I ran over to comfort him the best I could and was saddened to see that he lost control of his bladder. I had always said that when that goes, we would not make him suffer.

What was worse was looking up and seeing the look in my brother’s eyes. He watched the entire episode in horror, unable to say anything. I know he loved Buster like a nephew and also suspected he was considering the obvious: this might be Sam some day.

The worst part was the grinding. His teeth chattered as he convulsed and then that degraded into a grinding sound that I will hear for the rest of my days.

The second seizure was even more unfortunate than the first. Chris was getting ready to leave and we were standing near the garage door, saying goodbye to Chris and Sam. Suddenly, Buster paused, laid down, and started to seize.

Not only did poor Chris have to see this scene again, he was kind of obligated to stand there and watch it happen. I mean, he couldn’t just walk out while Buster was convulsing and everyone was crowded around him.

“See ya, I’m outta here.”

So he had to watch the entire grim scene.

The mood around the house was sullen and we hung around the house, keeping Buster nearby. It was unspoken but we all knew that the end was near.

The practical side of me hoped everything would calm down and if we could make it through the weekend, we could see how he was doing next week when vet hospitals were open during business hours.

But then in the late afternoon, Buster seized up again. The episodes were getting closer and closer, gaining in strength and violence.

As I held him, he convulsed for a very long time and once again lost control of his bladder. And then the worst of all happened.

After the chattering came the grinding. Then after the grinding, as I held him, I heard a small moan escape Buster. It was very small but it was there.

If you own a dog, you know their capacity to endure pain. I always said that if he is suffering, I would make it stop. But I was always afraid that since dogs do not react to general pain as we do and they cannot convey their state completely like humans can, that Buster could be suffering without me knowing.

So when I heard him moan, I knew it must be bad.

My heart shattered.

I knew what I had to do.

I gathered the family and told them what that was. We all discussed it and agreed that in a couple of hours, we would take him to the vet. We found a 24-hour vet hospital that would do what needed to be done so we spent the next hour in the backyard, playing with Buster, taking pictures, and telling him how much we loved him.

I called my brother and my mother to tell them what was going on.

I wanted to use Truckasaurus. My 1992 extended cab truck had brought both of my kids home from the hospital after they were born.

It had brought Buster back from the pound when I got him in Monterey California in 2001.

Buster and I had spent many a trip together in Truckasaurus and I thought it only fitting that it should serve this final purpose for Buster.

It had brought him home and now I was going to use it to TAKE him home.

Buster was up for a ride, of course. We had to help him into the back and on the way to the vet, I kept looking in the rearview mirror and seeing his dopy head staring at me. Just like always.

I was silent during the ride. I know, as the father of the family, I should have said something but my strength lasted only as far as to not start crying. Silence the best I could do.

We got to the hospital and parked in the empty lot. Around the parking lot, there were green patches of grass and we let Buster run around, sniff the grass, and pee on the bushes.

There was no really good option here. I mean, should he be decrepit and unable to run around or should he be tail-wagging, happy, and energetic?

The former was heartbreaking to see the noble beast in such a state. The latter felt like we were bringing a perfectly healthy dog to his untimely demise.

In the end, it didn’t matter. We were not in control so why dwell on it?

For the record, he was tail-wagging, happy, and energetic. He was, for an achingly short period of time, once again the puppy we remember.

Finally, it is time and we take him into the clinic. He is curious, sniffing around like he always does, unaware he has seen his last sunset, his last sunrise, his last sniff of grass.

We are put in a room and told that when we are ready, to push a button and the vet would come in.

We have to say goodbye.

How do you say goodbye to a family member who has been a daily joy for 9 years?

There are no words. There is no amount of hugs. There are no adequate reassurances.

We are all crying unashamedly.

Buster does not know what the fuss is about. He is content to be the center of attention and senses deep, emotional heartache in all of us. He absorbs the kisses. The hugs. The assurances.

We call in the vet and he comes in with the demeanor of a funeral home director. He bends down and pets Buster behind the ears as he explains to us in a soft whisper how this is going to work.

He asks us if we are ready.

I cannot think of a situation that would warrant a stronger “NO!”

But it is time.

It’s Buster’s time.

The vet injects Buster with a pink fluid as I hold Buster’s face in my hands, looking him straight in the eyes. I want the last sight this wonderful dog ever sees to be the love in my eyes I have for him.

I see his pupils widen and then his head is suddenly heavy.

And just like that, my dog is gone.

The vet waits while the sniffling sounds of 4 heartbroken people fill the small room. He puts the stethoscope to Buster’s chest and after a moment, he tells us what we already know.

Buster is gone.

He stands and tells us to push the button when we are ready. We can take as long as we need to. He leaves.

We are left with Buster, or what is left of him. Before I know what I am doing, I reach down to cradle him and pick him up. Carrie looks at me with confusion, wondering what I am doing. I wanted to hold him one more time.

As I pick him up, he is heavy. He is dead weight and I am confused on why he moves so differently now that he is not alive.

His head lolls to the side and his tongue hangs out. Without a thought, I reach up and gently put it back in his mouth.

I cradle him like I would a baby. He is heavy.

Everyone crowds around and we are embraced in a family hug, all of us crying.

Carrie asks me to tell him he is not an idiot. It was a long-standing joke that I would call him this playfully, mostly to get a reaction out of her and the kids.

Carrie wanted me to set the record straight.

I knew that he never understood the English word “idiot” and like I said, it was done to get reactions out of the family. In my sorrow and pain, logic took a back seat and I was momentarily horrified to think that he actually heard and understood me calling him that and worse, actually thinking I meant it.

So I told him he was not an idiot and kissed him, telling him how very smart I thought he was.

Anyone outside our family might have been amused and confused at this little exchange but to us, it meant so much to all of us. I was coming clean with Buster and letting him know that I did not, in fact, think he was an idiot.

I finally set him down on the blanket and called in the nurse who came in and wrapped Buster up. I noticed she did so with his head poking out, treating him like something alive rather than a slab of meat.

We exited the room, took a right, and she and Buster took a left. We all looked back before she walked through the door to the back and we saw Buster’s face, framed in a blanket, looking serene.

It was the last vision I ever saw of Buster. Despite my heartbreak, I had to give a little smile. He looked content as can be.

We got in Truckasaurus and to my surprise, we started telling Buster-stories all the way home. We laughed at the good memories.

There would be plenty of time later to let all the other emotions out of the cage but for now, we celebrated our beloved Buster.

Walking into the house, it was silent. Empty.

No Buster running from wherever he was when he heard us come home. No little bark when we came through the door as he sometimes would if he didn’t realize it was us.

It was just silent.

Free Advice for Today: “Never say anything uncomplimentary about another person’s dog.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

2 Comments - Join in the conversation below

  1. [...] it’s been awhile since Buster has passed but it still stings. The quietness of the house when we come home. The expected foot hazard when we [...]

    Pingback by How Did I Get Here? » Blog Archive » Buster, Version 2.0: Mr. Pickles? — July 31, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

  2. [...] We have a new dog. Buster died and I can prove this because I have his ashes in my living room. Hey, calm down, they are in a [...]

    Pingback by How Did I Get Here? » Blog Archive » I’m Baaaaaaack!!!!!!! (again) — August 24, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

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