On a rainy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we bid farewell to Duke, our 17-year-old chocolate lab. The whole neighborhood cried. He was a sweet and stubborn old man who looked as though he should have a harmonica in his tattered paw while he sat on the front porch singing the blues. That was about 11 years ago. The neighbors still reminisce about the retired hunting dog who visited their homes and pets whenever he felt like it.
My daughter Nicole and I got him from the dog pound when he was 6 or 7 years old. We thought we could spend a couple of quality years with him. I think he was so grateful that he hung around much longer than expected. We knew his history. He belonged to a guy down the road who spent thousands of dollars on training for that bird-hunting dog. Duke was great at it in his prime. But the guy started working a couple hours away in the Bay Area and came home weekends to feed the dog he named after John Wayne. We kept his name.
When we put Duke down, we thought we might never get another dog. It was tough to let him go, but devastating to see him struggle to walk and even breathe.
Not long after, Nicole said, “Mama, this house just isn’t a home without a dog.”
We went to the animal shelter. It was packed with pitiful looking pooches. They all needed homes. We didn’t see one that we felt would fit our home.
Otis ran the animal shelter and we knew him pretty well. “I’ll watch for some new arrivals that might be good matches for you guys,” he said. With our chins on our chests, we sulked outside dogless.
That’s when we saw Buck with his tail between his legs. The man walking the German Shepherd/lab/rott mix had tears streaming down his cheeks.
I found this guy in my yard about six months ago, Larry explained. He named the emaciated dog Buckaroo. But Larry and his wife had two 10-year-old labs that didn’t appreciate the newcomer. Buck was getting beat up.
Nicole got down on one knee, in the mud, and looked Buck in the eyes. “Do you want to come home with us?” He put his nose to her face.
Otis suggested we cut out the middle-man and see if he was meant to be our family member.
We never took him back to the shelter. We hardly took him anywhere. He loved the house and the yard. He hated to leave, even to go to a dog park. It took nearly a year before he didn’t stand with his tail between his legs. He did like walking to the park with us. It was close to home. He didn’t fetch or keep away strangers like Duke had. He did love to snuggle, sleep and eat. Nicole took him to the vet when he stopped eating. The cause appeared to be an inoperable mass. It was time to say goodbye to our sweet Buckaroo.
I asked Nicole if she was ready. “He had a rough start in life; I don’t want him to have a rough ending, too,” she said.
Last weekend we took Buck to the drive-through window of a fast food restaurant and bought him burgers and dessert. He looked like he was smiling as he wolfed them down. The same two people who gave Buck a life worth living also saw him off.
As my friend Kathia wrote: “He might be only part of your life, for him, you are his everything, the only person in his whole life.”