The end began on a dark, icy night in February. I came home about 10:30 to find my dear Buddy lying on the bed, his favorite spot to be sure, but he always greeted me at the door when I came home. Within a half an hour he felt cold and seemed almost comatose as I frantically called the emergency doctor. He was 45 minutes away but would come to my house in what seemed like the opposite end of the world to lift my 55 pound dog into my car and guide me to the clinic. I wasn’t sure if Buddy would live. In fact, I felt he was dying.
But he made it and several more times after that when he would just crash—down, virtually unresponsive, eyes open, not moving, cold. After much testing there was still no answer. Nothing was conclusive except that as the frequency of crashes increased, and if I caught them early, prednisone could reverse them. In between, he was normal, running free as an Australian Kelpie likes to be on our daily walks up the winding road. He would sit bright eyed pretending not to beg, ring the bell on the door when he needed to go out, curl up and drape his head over me as we slept. And he mostly met me at the door, but when he didn’t I knew why. And I’d sit by him until he came back.
After about 2 months he did slow down, and there were times when he had trouble jumping onto the bed. Buddy crashed late one night, slipped from the bed, and we placed him on his pillow at the foot of it. I didn’t think he’d make. I lay down next to him on the floor, holding his paw, and later the next afternoon he came back around again. But that week when we took walks we didn’t go as far. He would stop, turn and look at me and we’d turn back.
He had a good appetite that morning and then the call from my son came about an hour before I was to get off work. When I walked into the house Buddy was on his pillow in the kitchen, panting heavily. He wagged his long furry black tail and rolled over to his side as I pet him. My son carried him to the car and placed him in the backseat. Not far down the road he moved into his preferred ‘navigator’ position between the seats, but this time he fell into it and could not get up. My son pulled him out and placed him on the backseat with his head on my lap. He didn’t move, and as the rain drummed against the car, I spoke quietly to the eyes looking up at me three months to the day of his first crash. My dear Buddy left us before we made it to the vet. He just quietly didn’t take another breath. It was less than a half hour since I returned home. I’m sure he had waited for me. As usual, he wanted us all together.
That night there was no one to sing goodnight to Who do I love? Buddy, Buddy, No black head upon my legs. No cold nose to nuzzle. No deep brown eyes to look into. No soft, wavy fur to twist and work my fingers into, no velvety twitching ears to rub and pull gently under my fingers, no white paws to kiss and hold. No white-blazed chest to scratch and no tummy to rub. And the quiet. No rustle of paws as my Buddy dreamt of running and chasing something through his dreams; no whimpers and whines as visions of complacent rabbits entertain his sleep.
When he was returned to us in his lovely black urn, we had a sunset service for him by the rock he loved to stand on and view his world. We held him and remembered.
I remembered the first time I saw him curled up in a corner by himself, the only black dog in a litter of Golden Retrievers. A couple of months later all the Goldens were gone and there he was, big black ears and intelligent eyes lying under a birdcage at the pet shop. We took him home on trial; he charmed his way in. And we named him Buddy. I called him Budwan, Budwan O’Neil, no clue where it came from. Maybe he told me.
I remembered the frozen December night when he and I stood shivering in the garage after the fireman said Ma’m, you and your dog need to stay outside while they determined why there was smoke pouring out from the wood pellet stove. We just kept looking at each other while I quietly reassured him it would be okay because we were together. I can’t imagine having to have stood there alone. I remembered how he loved red licorice so much his eyes would get really big and the white would show. How he loved his red ‘thing’ that held the treats he had to bounce out. He’d fling it and fling it until a little piece would escape and he’d eat it delicately. I remembered how he loved our walks, and how for several years there was one turkey vulture that would fly down low over us and tease Buddy, causing him to run after the soaring creature. I remembered him charming my guests at a Halloween party dressed as a vampire with lace shirt cuffs and a black and red cape. I remembered how happy he was every day, even on the day he passed away.
I remembered how deeply he was entrenched in my heart, and how lucky I was to have had a real Buddy in my life. More than anything he taught me the beauty of being present every day. He would sleep with me all day if I was sick. He would nudge me for walks when he understood I needed them most. He brought me outside myself to the presence of living and unconditional loving through his ever giving soul. He was my best Buddy.