Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Memories of Buddy

Buddy was my first dog. He was a good friend and companion as I was growing up and through high school. As I went off to college, internships, and grad school, I would see him less often. But every time I came home he would greet me with excitement, a wagging tail and a warm tongue. As an addendum to my last entry, I thought I’d include some of my memories of Buddy throughout his life. Maybe it will help me to remember the details when I'm old and grey if I put the memories down in writing.

We trained him to go on a newspaper, and then outside. During his first few weeks, he slept close to me and would sometimes wake me up in the mornings by licking my face. As a puppy he had sharp little teeth, and he loved to play any game where he tugged on one end of a towel or toy, and you tugged on the other. He seemed to have a terrier’s desire to pull on things.

As he grew up, we tried to teach Buddy to “sit pretty” on command. He soon learned to use this trick to his own advantage, and he would come up to your chair while you were eating at the table and “sit pretty” without being asked. His begging earned him table scraps once in a while, especially from guests for whom his ploy had not been overused.

He also loved to play with a tennis or racquetball, though he never subscribed to the conventional sport of fetch. I’d throw the ball, and he’d go get it all right, but he had much more fun running away with the ball then bringing it back to me. He loved to be chased. He also became a pretty good catcher, and would reliably catch the tennis ball after one bounce on the carpet of hard floor. At one time, he could “juggle” several balls. I would bounce one ball and he’d catch it, then I’d bounce the next ball and he’d drop the first ball and catch the second without missing a beat.

Buddy loved to explore the neighborhood. He would get excited if he heard the word “walk” or was shown his leash. We didn’t take him for walks as much as we probably should have, and every time we’d open the front door, if we weren’t watching, Buddy would dash to escape. He’d spend his freedom sniffing and marking his territory around our front yard, and would sometimes even venture as far as a couple of blocks in our suburban neighborhood. Even on those occasions when we didn’t even know he was out, however, he would eventually return home, and a few times we were surprised to find him waiting outside the front door when we thought he had been inside the house.

At night, when I would feed Buddy his dinner, he would always come into my room a few minutes after he’d finished eating and spend a minute or two relaxing on my legs while I sat on the floor and did my homework. It always seemed to me that he was thanking me for dinner.

He was not mischievous by nature, but he did have moments where he’d get himself into trouble. At one of my birthday parties, we came into the kitchen after opening presents in the living room to find Buddy eating my ice cream pie from Baskin Robbins on the kitchen table. We stared at him in amazement, worried that the chocolate crust and frosting would prove toxic to him. As we approached, he saw us and began eating faster, trying to make the most of what little cake eating time he had left. I don’t recall him having any problems after eating the chocolate.

Buddy did not like to swim, and could barely dog paddle. We put him in the pool a few times to make sure he could get out if he ever fell in, but he couldn’t do much more than stay afloat. He did enjoy taking rides with me when I was in an inner tube, though. He liked to stand on the inner tube and float around the pool.

It’s always fun to see how your pets interact with each other. When we got Buddy, we also had our 10+ year-old dog Vida, Jack the rabbit, 2 year-old Wishes the cat and an aquarium of small fish. To Vida, I’m sure Buddy was little more than a young whipper-snapper nuisance. His only interactions with Jack were probably a bit distressing for the rabbit, as Buddy looked at him with interest from outside the cage. I do remember one occasion when we had let Jack out to roam the yard, and we accidentally allowed Buddy to get out the back door before we closed it. Buddy chased Jack around the yard for a minute or so, despite our shouts for him to stop. His teeth were getting pretty close to Jack’s puffball tail when I threw a ball at Buddy to get him to stop. It was one of those light, bouncy balls you get out of a huge bin at the supermarket, and Buddy saw it and stopped in his tracks to avoid getting hit as it whizzed between him and the rabbit. Buddy having stopped, Jack was still spooked and continued running until he smacked head-on into my ankle. Ouch.

I guess Buddy interacted the most with Wishes, as their lifespans overlapped for thirteen years. (Wishes died of a malignant tumor in June of 2003. She was 15.) Now, Wishes had a very distinctive personality of her own. One of her parents was feral, and she maintained a wild element of unpredictability her whole life. IE: you could pet her, but only in a spot and for a duration she deemed fit. She would inform you of these specifications by sinking her claws and teeth into your hand or leg if you did not abide by her rules. On the other hand, Buddy was always very friendly. This resulted in him getting swatted in the face by Wishes on several occasions. There were also times when I’d be looking out in the back yard and saw Buddy playfully chasing Wishes from right to left across my field of view. A few seconds later and Buddy would be running, in earnest fear, from Wishes who was now chasing him from left to right. The funny thing was, at ~ 3 times Wishes’ weight, Buddy probably could have pushed her around if he wanted to, but his personality did not lend to aggressive behavior. The exception to this involved food. When it came to scavenging, Wishes could not compete with Buddy. Buddy could swallow tablescraps in mid-air, while Wishes would always wait till they landed and then sniff them cautiously before nibbling on them. . . leaving ample time for Buddy to snatch them away from her. If Wishes ever got too close to Buddy’s food dish while he was eating, you would see the rare spectacle of a snap and snarl from the dog, though it was always meant as a warning.

Of course, I think Buddy’s favorite leisure time activity was being scratched. His lower stomach, the part of his back just above his tail, the small of his back, his underarms, and the muscular area of his neck, just above his chest were all prime areas. Find the right spot, and you’d know it by his stiffening muscles and his gyrating back legs.

Good old pup.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Farewell, Old Friend.

There aren’t usually obituaries published for dogs, but I need some catharsis so here it goes.

Buddy was a lhasa apso and toy poodle mutt born in May of 1990. As fortune would have it, this was near the end of the school year on the year of my tenth birthday. Mom and Dad had told me I would get a puppy for my birthday that year, and that we should get it at the beginning of the summer so that we’d have time to train and look after it without school getting in the way for me or for Mom. After looking at a few pet shops and shelters for a puppy, we followed up on an ad in the newspaper and headed to a private residence where there was a litter of puppies for sale at $75 each. Each of the puppies had distinctive markings and different colors. Some were brown or black all over, others were black with white tummies. I chose a black one with brown eyebrows, a white tummy, white paws and a white tip at the end of his tail. He was 6 weeks old when we took him home.

Buddy died last Wednesday, March 1st, 2005, at about 11:50 am at the El Cajon Valley Veterinary Hospital. After about 5 days of problems with his digestive system, Mom and I decided that we had to let him go, much as we wanted to keep him around. He has been losing weight for over a year, and he was no longer able to eat or drink anything without throwing it back up shortly after. He had gone into advanced renal failure, and his liver was shutting down as well. This caused him to start throwing up every couple of hours on Saturday, and before too long he was dehydrated. I spent all day with him on Monday, and he seemed exhausted. He was so weak from dehydration and malnutrition that he could only walk several steps at a time before stopping to stand and rest for a few seconds. Anything he tried to eat or drink would be thrown up an hour or two later, despite anti-nausea medicine we were giving him, and eventually he stopped even trying to eat or drink.

In addition to the problems with his digestive system, he had congestive heart failure. We were trying to re-hydrate him at the vet from Monday through Wednesday, hoping he could get back to a point where he would eat and drink on his own, but the vets had to decrease the flow rate on his IV, since putting too much fluid into his system could aggrevate his weak heart and give him a heart attack. After laboring over the decision of whether or not to continue the therapy, Mom and I made him a meal that he would normally find delicious: finely cut pieces of chicken breast soaked in broth. He was not interested in that or anything else we offered him. That was that. We didn’t want him to starve to death, and sustaining him with nutrition intravenously would be traumatic and uncomfortable for him. At this point his kidneys had stopped filtering the toxins out of his blood stream, and his body was forcing him to throw up, even when he had nothing but bile in his stomach. There were just too many strikes against us. It was time to let him go.

I asked to stay with Buddy when he was given the injection that would end his life. I just wanted to make sure that he could at least perceive someone he knew during his last few seconds. I didn’t want himto be alone in an unfamiliar place and with unfamiliar people. As the vet prepared to inject the overdose of anesthesia that would euthanize Buddy, I looked into his eyes, held his head close, and told him over and over that he was a good dog. Buddy has been practically deaf for over a year, but maybe he could at least sense the vibrations from my loud affirmations of “Good dog. . . . Good boy!”, and feel my embrace. Dr. Paulsen squeezed the syringe, and perhaps it stung a little bit as it went in, as Buddy whimpered faintly. I held him a little more tightly. After a few seconds, his muscles relaxed and his breathing slowed. He fell limp, though his eyes stayed open. I had kept my face in his field of view the whole time, trying to smile and continuing to tell him he was a good dog. He died looking into my eyes.

It’s funny the way we become attached to our pets. Common sense might tell you that the loss of a pet should not be comparable to the loss of a human relative or friend. But anyone with a dog will tell you that they quickly become a part of your family, and that you often care for and interact with them as if they were your relative or friend. Buddy was a good friend, and a member of my family. He gave his companionship and affection willingly, and asked only to be cared for in return. The fact that his lifespan is naturally shorter than my own is what separates him from me the most, and little else. It was heartrending to seem him go, but I take comfort in the fact that he won’t be suffering any longer, and that we tried just about every humane way of keeping him both alive and comfortable. His life was not long by human standards, but I guess that, from his point of view, it was longer than he could remember. It was all of time.

Buddy was 15 years and 10 months old. He was a good dog, and I will never forget him.

Farewell, old friend.