I would never name a dog Buddy. It plays against all my instincts. It’s too friendly — like an open-palm wave or a toothy smile — and it’s too soft on the tongue; there’s no music in it. I would have to play it for laughs every time I said it, like Pauly Shore, or like a trucker from Smokey and the Bandit. So when my friend Julia called and asked if I would foster a rescue dog named Buddy for a couple weeks until she could place him in a permanent home, my first thought was, “What a dumb name. Poor dog.”
But I told her yes. It had been six months since my Basset Hound passed away, and I was at a strange place in my life. I was separated from my wife, I was out of rehab and newly sober, and I was living far from temptations (and friends) in a new part of town. I wasn’t sure of anything. My days felt tentative. I couldn’t know it at the time, but I was about to begin a very difficult five year stretch of my life. In a few weeks, I would lose my father, after which I would spiral into a depression, gain a lot of weight, and suffer some ailments that would almost cost me a leg. For now all I knew was I wasn’t ready to get another dog, but I wasn’t against having a guest for a week or two.
When Julia brought him over, I met them on the corner in front of my loft. He was really striking, with his shiny black coat and his white feet with spots and his bushy tail and his big brown eyes. I wondered who would give away such a beautiful animal. Julia said he was a Border Collie mix and probably around two or two and a half years old. She said he had been in the South Los Angeles animal shelter and that it was obvious he had been abused because he was really skittish and tried to run away any chance he got. He seemed like a handful, but I remember feeling so pleased to have his company. Despite being disoriented and nervous on a strange corner in Venice with Julia and me, he was gentle. When, by way of introduction, I put out the back of my hand for him to sniff, he took a soft step forward and moved his nose to my hand, his eyes looking up toward but not directly at me. I tousled the top of his head and rubbed an ear. Buddy was a good dog, and his name fit perfectly.
My place in Venice was a three-story loft with cinderblock walls and plywood ceilings. It had floating wooden stairs with no risers and black iron rails. The visual effect was disorienting at first: it looked…