You always know this day will come. As my 12-year-old nephew reminded me recently, you sort of sign up for it from the get-go. Wise words, kid. Wise words.
It's wretched, and sad, and something I thought I was somewhat prepared to handle even before we got a diagnosis confirming his time with us would be short. But I was a fool. It was much, much harder than I ever expected.
I remember the first day I saw Buster...I was standing in the kitchen on the second story of our two-flat. The husband and I had been married over a year and were well settled into our domestic routine. Our next-door neighbors had just let their dogs out and as usual, I would stare out the kitchen window to watch their cute pups frolic through their yard. This time, though, a new pup had joined the group. A small white and brown-spotted dog scampered through the yard, running around the bigger dog. I immediately called my hubby at work, excited to tell him about it because I'm a total dog person. Always have been. I love everything there is about dogs. I'd have a farm with nothing but dogs and be completely happy cleaning up poop. And no, I cannot watch the ASPCA commercials without crying. It's not that I'm even an emotional person, but when it comes to dogs and that stupid Sarah Mclachlan song, it takes literally milliseconds for me to turn into a puddle of weepiness.
Despite that we had barely spoken to our neighbors since they had moved in, that night we stood out in our yard waiting for them to "release the hounds" so to speak. I recall even setting up chairs, which, was so unlike us. We were indoor humans. Not too big on biking, walking, or spending too much time on a patio somewhere...mostly because we're lazy and, well...bugs.
Our neighbor told us their new addition was a foster dog. He volunteered with Chicago Canine Rescue and "Buster" was found wandering the streets of Chicago. Being a Pit mix, this poor little guy was at risk. Not many places adopt pits. Had 8-week old Buster not been picked up by the rescue group, he would have probably found his way into a dog fighting ring or he would have been euthanized by animal control. Our neighbor offered to foster Buster until a forever home could be found.
And then they passed Buster over the fence to us.
He was twenty pounds and cuddly as all heck. He snuggled right into me, and had the most adorable golden brown eyes and a white/pink nose that most Pits have as puppies. I've never been a baby person, but this fur-baby felt right in my arms.
Eventually, we passed him back and I retreated in the house to do laundry, not thinking much about it.
"We should talk about this." My hubby stated.
"Talk about what?" I asked, folding a shirt.
"Maybe adopting Buster?"
Instantly, something inside my heart twirled like a goddamn ballerina. Next thing I knew I was jumping up and down like a four year old. "We're getting a puppy! We're getting a puppy!"
There was really no "talk" about it. The decision was immediately made. I ran up two flights of stairs and wrote our neighbors a quick letter stating we would like to adopt Buster. I sealed it, ran down the stairs, across the lawn to their house, up their stairs, and stuffed the letter in their mailbox.
The very next day, we waited in the back yard for the neighbors once again. We gave them our contact info, picked up paperwork at one of the rescue events, and the adoption process began.
Fast forward through ten wonderful years with the best dog ever...and by best, I mean, Buster acclimated to our lifestyle almost immediately. A lazy, indoor dog that likes to watch TV and lounge around in bed all day? It's like he had our DNA. He never ruined a couch, ate a shoe, peed on a rug (the hubby may have, but not Buster), and over the years had a sensitive tummy we treated every few years with our vet but never an accident in the house because of it. He was always a gentle creature with a gentle heart filled with love for his humans and had a huge amount of patience when it came to his "sister" Stella, the poodle who came into our lives four years ago, who is a tenth of his size but barked at him, bit his ears, and herded him like she was his equal.
Still, we knew "something" wasn't quite right earlier this summer, when the medicine we regularly gave Buster for his tummy issues didn't correct the problem. We were asked to go to a specialist for an ultrasound and potentially endoscopy. The vet examined him and told us Buster's heart sounded odd. His diagnosis was consistent with congestive heart failure. His distended abdomen meant fluid was potentially leaking into his belly. They drained the fluid but told us to find a cardiologist--no small feat when there's only three in our area and they are all booked out for 6 weeks. Buster needed attention immediately. I was frantic to get him in to see someone. I was ready to beg, borrow and steal. Luckily, we got him in with a cardiologist up north, but, an ultrasound concluded Buster was living on borrowed time.
Buster had a rare form of an aggressive cancer. There were multiple tumors inside the sac around his heart. Fluid was building and, while they could drain the fluid again, there was no cure. All we could do was make him comfortable and, as she put it, "spoil the shit out of him."
My hubby and I were devastated by this news. Buster was our child, our four-legged baby. I knew he wouldn't be with us forever but the vet said he might last six days, maybe six weeks, but not six months. We spent the rest of that day in a haze. Unable to believe what the vet told us. He was only ten! We thought we had more time!
That night as I held him in my arms in bed, I could not stop crying. I was an emotional wreck and suddenly, every sad song on the radio seemed aimed at us. My favorite iHeart radio station played "You Light Up My Life" by Debby Boone (a song my mom loved when my sister was born, a song that always brings me to tears as it is) and all I could think was you've got to be f*cking kidding me!
Within a day or two, we started making a bucket list for Buster which included a trip to the beach, a roll in the mud, and several BBQ's with the family where he ate whatever he wanted. My nephew, who grew up alongside Buster, spent most weekends with us.
We did indeed spoil him...until it became apparent the time had come to make the decision we dreaded. It would be the hardest thing I'd ever do--and I've buried a parent!
That morning, a month ago today, we spent his last moments with him, on the floor at the vet, as they gave him a sedative. All I could think was how unfair it was to lose him. We stayed with him for a long time after he was "gone." Walking out of the vet, leaving him behind tore at me.
That day and the days since, the outpouring of emotion and condolences from people has been overwhelming. People closest to me were with us that entire weekend, while friends and acquaintances, some who I haven't spoken to in years, reached out. Some said they were so sad or even cried that day when they heard the news and these are people who never even met Buster.
Buster was so loved by so many people. That's one special pup.
It's been a month since we said goodbye to Buster and my heart still aches with grief and loss. I still have moments where I find myself looking for him and then realize he's gone. I go to bed at night and my feet have too much room at the end of the bed and I say to my husband or to myself "I miss my boy." Eventually, we will rescue another pup but no one will ever take Buster's place. The thing that keeps us going is knowing he was given the best life, better than most humans get, and that he filled out life with such joy. For that we will be fur-ever grateful.
XOXO Buster, we will miss you until our last breath is taken.
The pictures below are best watched while listening to the song Photograph by Ed Sheeran...it was the "ear-worm" my sister told me to watch out for the day we said goodbye.