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 like your weight was unsupported as you climbed upstairs and that you could easily fall off either side. When I brought Buddy home as a foster, it was pretty clear he’d never been on stairs before. He followed me all over the ground floor but if I walked up to the second level, he’d stand at the first step and just look at me. He had no intention of putting a paw on the steps.
What I should have done is have a friend bring their stair-savvy dog over and let Buddy learn by example, but I didn’t think of that. Instead, I decided, fine, he’s going to live his life on the ground floor. I put his bed by the fireplace. I put his food in the kitchen. Done. Dog parenting is easy, I thought. What I didn’t anticipate was how much he hated being out of my sight. After just a couple nights sleeping downstairs, he became so attached to me that when I went upstairs, he was determined to follow.
The first time was cartoonish. One paw. Then the other. Then all four feet crowded on the bottom step. Turn around, think about going back down, then around again, and up, slowwwwwly. Head low as he looked between the steps into the void. Tail between his legs. But he made it up to the landing on the second level. He was fine lying on the floor in my office until it was time to go back down. Down was much harder than up. Almost as soon as he started, his legs flew akimbo, sending him tumbling and scrambling down a half-flight where he landed belly-up near a shelf full of books. I had to hold him by the collar and guide him in slow motion the rest of the way down to the first floor.
I remember thinking I was fostering the world’s clumsiest dog. Back down on terra firma, he lapped up a bunch of water — his go-to self-soothing move — and tried to recover his dignity. I’d hoped he had learned his lesson and would be staying downstairs from then on, but later that day I had to run upstairs again, and Buddy couldn’t help but follow me. This time he did a little better on the way up. On the way back down, he was tentative, putting one paw on the step below before committing himself entirely, but he didn’t fall this time. Maybe he wasn’t so klutzy after all. And that night, he followed me all the way up to the third level to my room and slept at the foot of the bed. Sometime in the night, his brain must have put everything together for him, because in the morning, he followed me down the stairs at a run like he’d been doing it all his life.
Walt Whitman wrote, “I am large; I contain multitudes.” Nobody is only one thing. We all have our contradictions and our shadows. Dogs included. Buddy had a dark side I didn’t see until after my dad died a few weeks later in September of 2006. Blindsided by his passing, my brother and I had to reckon not only with the grief and surprise of losing our father but also with the reality that we were now in charge of the company he started and had run for the last fifteen years. Peter and I had to press pause on our careers while we got a grasp of the business and how to keep it going. And that meant I had to drive to Santa Clarita every day where UVDI was headquartered.
Buddy and I were still getting to know each other. He still wasn’t comfortable in my house. He had run away a couple times when I opened the front door too wide, and it took a lot of time and luck to find him and bring him back. Now I would have to leave him home alone while I drove to work forty miles away. I didn’t know what to do. Julia suggested I crate him during the day so he would feel secure in his little cave while I was away. That seemed reasonable. I bought a plastic travel crate and filled it with a bed liner and some old T-shirts that had my scent on them. The next morning I put him in the crate and said goodbye. I would be home in four hours. He seemed to understand.
He did not understand. When I got home, he wasn’t in the crate. In fact, there was no crate. It had been torn to shreds. The T-shirts were obliterated. The plastic water bowl was completely gnarled and destroyed. The front door frame had been chewed and splintered. It looked like someone had taken an axe to the front of my home. And in the center of it all was Buddy, out of his mind with anxiety, panting and jumping up against me. He wasn’t able to calm down until I took him upstairs to my bed and sang him lullabies.
This was a disaster. I called Julia and told her what happened. We agreed he had massive separation anxiety. I told her I didn’t think I could foster Buddy after all. My life had changed drastically and this wasn’t going to work out. She understood, but the soonest she could find someone else to foster him was two or three days. What was I supposed to do? I needed to be at the office every day that week. She suggested a stronger crate, something metal and heavy duty that would hold him until she found someone else to take him.
I felt terrible on the drive over to Petco, but the truth was plain: there was a craziness to Buddy I hadn’t seen before, and this was not going to work for either of us. I found the heaviest duty metal crate in the store and brought it home. In the morning, he wanted no part of it, and he fought me hard to keep from going inside. I realized if I made a wrong move he might bite me. That’s how intense things became and how stressful it was for him. I finally managed to get him inside, but I had to use more force than I would have liked, and now there was some bad energy between us. Nevertheless, the crate was well stocked with water and treats, and the blanket I threw over the top made it dark and cozy inside. I got dressed and left for the office.
I came home to a virtual repeat of the day before. The crate — the heavy duty steel crate — was destroyed, its bars on one side bent open outward as if by a tiny circus strongman. Buddy had pulled some of the blanket through the top of the crate and chewed holes in it. He had pooped and peed all over the floor. A nightmare. I couldn’t believe that when left alone this little dog had the fury and strength of a wolf, and when I called Julia she couldn’t believe it either. But my next door neighbor could. An actor from New Zealand with a gift for understatement, he let me know that my dog “had been causing a bit of a ruckus for most of the day.” Buddy’s barking and howling managed to cut through the two feet of concrete and cinderblock that separated our lofts.
The rest of the day, Buddy was great, the best companion you could ask for. It was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde if Mr. Hyde was a dog with black spots on his nose and white socks on his feet. I had no idea what Dr. Jekyll looked like, but I had a feeling it wasn’t pretty. What could I do? I couldn’t leave him alone. Julia had nobody to take him. We were holding several crucial meetings the next day and I had to be in the office.
That night it occurred to me: I could take Buddy to work. I was one of the company’s owners, wasn’t I? As long as he didn’t disrupt things or make a mess, why not bring Buddy along? So the next day, I put him in the car and we drove to the office. My brother was surprised but supportive. Buddy pretty much sat at my feet the entire time while I worked. He went into meetings with me. He wandered the halls a bit and met the people who worked with us. It was the easiest thing, and soon it was time to go home. That night I called Julia and told her I’d figured out how to deal with Buddy until she could place him with someone else.
“Did you get a stronger cage?” she asked.
“No, I just took him with me. He was great. He followed me wherever I went.”
“Oh nice,” she said. “All you have to do is make sure he never leaves your side and he’ll be fine.”
A few days later I called her again. “There’s no way in hell I’m giving you this dog back. You know that, right?” She knew that. She brought over an adoption contract the next day.
It might sound hyperbolic to say, but after that Buddy never let me out of his sight. If I got up from my desk to use the bathroom, he’d follow me down the hall. If I made myself lunch, he’d follow me to the kitchen. If I shifted my weight in my chair or stood up to stretch my arms, he’d lift up his head and look for a sign I might be on the move. For thirteen years, he spent every day and night within a ten foot circle of wherever I happened to be.
So he followed me wherever I went. Whenever I made my way up to my bedroom, he’d be right behind me, clambering up three flights of stairs, and when I lay on my bed, he’d jump up too. But no matter how much I coaxed him, he’d stay down at the bottom of the bed, next to my knees, staring at me and panting. I could tell he wanted to be up higher where I could give him rubs, but something in his brain prevented him from getting closer. I’d slap the bed and say “Come on!” and sometimes he’d scoot a few inches closer, but he was stuck in his own programming.
One day I took hold of his front legs and pulled him all the way up to my chest. He did not like to be pulled; he nipped at me and squealed. But I was gentle and quick, and this became our routine: once he was up by me, he slid in tight between my chest and my arm. The slope of his face from his nose to his lips aligned perfectly with the angle where my chest met my underarm, while his flat muzzle, white with black spots so uncharacteristic of a Border Collie, ran along the length of my arm to my elbow. We fit like cogs. Within a minute or so, he’d make one of those heaving sighs that babies make right before they fall asleep, and it was like all his anxiety rushed out of him. I have spent more time with my face inches from his, kissing his nose, whispering, studying the complexity of his whiskers and his ears, than I have with all my children and partners combined. When I would finally take my hand away, he’d lift his head and give me a look like he was coming out of a trance. Then he’d reposition himself at the bottom of the bed facing the door where he could keep an eye on me and the world all night.
One day, a woman stopped us while we were walking on Abbot Kinney in Venice. She was British, a tourist visiting from Yorkshire, and she had a moment of disbelief, she said, from seeing a Sprolly in California. I stared at her, waiting for more information, but none came.
“What’s a Sprolly?”
“Your dog! I had one when I was a girl. I didn’t think they had them over here. They’re a combination of a Springer Spaniel and a Border Collie.”
A Sprolly… Huh. She went on to tell me that it’s a popular breed in the U.K. because mixing with the Spaniel takes the crazy out of the Border Collie, making the breed more manageable and social. Sprollies lose their herding instinct. They don’t have the crazy piercing eyes that Border Collies use to hypnotize sheep, and they don’t chase and nip after every dog running in the park. It was true that Buddy had none of that herding dog mania which I loved to watch in other dogs but was glad I’d never had to deal with. “Look them up,” she said. “You’ll see what I’m talking about.”
At home I did a quick search, and I was convinced. There he was in photo after photo: black and white dogs that looked for all the world like Border Collies except for their faces, which were square and friendly, and their eyes, which were the soulful and unmistakable eyes of the Spaniel. And those spots. I had always suspected Buddy was part Dalmatian because of the black spots on his white muzzle. But here they were, Sprollies, all with spots.
This made Buddy’s origin story more of a mystery. The breed was popular in the UK but in 2010, I couldn’t find anybody breeding or even talking about them in the US. Was he from the UK? That seemed unlikely. I decided that he was simply an accidental Sprolly, perhaps the Ur-Sprolly in California. Of course, since he was neutered at the shelter, his dynasty had ended before it began.
Omega is the last letter in the Greek alphabet. I used to say Buddy was an omega dog because he was the complete opposite of an alpha. In any encounter with another dog, Buddy was the first to bend the knee. He was a sniffer, not a fighter. And he loved other dogs that we met on the street or at the park. He wasn’t very good at playing — he didn’t like to chase or be chased — but he loved meeting dogs and sniffing and making friends. He was that dog who rolls on his back and lets all the other dogs enjoy an olfactory belly feast. He liked people, but he loved dogs.
Unless he was home. Then he meant business, and business was protecting the homeland. He tolerated no trespasser. He gave mercy to no dog who crossed his eye line. The loft had an outer gate with an opaque plastic screen across the perforated metal door. The first destructive thing Buddy did once I had adopted him was chew a hole in the plastic so he could see out the gate and bark at passersby. “Bark” is a misnomer. He’d wait until an unsuspecting human or dog was directly in front of the gate, and then he would detonate a ferocious battery of artillery-grade howls that would make me jump out of my skin. It made the mail carrier swear. It made passing dogs go berserk. I tried reprimanding him, but it soon became clear he took my shouting his name and telling him to stop as a thank-you for his service. This went on daily for thirteen years.
But if we ever met those dogs or people out on the street, he’d be all lamb-nibbles and pony-prances.
A couple years after Buddy came along, my mom spent some time in the hospital. When she got out, Peter and I thought she might recover better if she got out of town. We took her to Montecito and put her up at the San Ysidro Ranch Inn, a place so nice that calling it a luxury resort is almost an insult. She loved it, of course, and had a high time communing with the woods and the gardens. My brother and I decided to go up one night and have dinner with her and our Uncle Bob and Aunt Marlene, who live in the area, so we booked a room to share. Happy to learn they welcomed dogs, I brought Buddy with me. He too had a high time in the gardens, sniffing and peeing his way through the lavender and wildflowers. That evening, I locked him in the room, and we walked to the restaurant. How much damage could one dog do in ninety minutes? About $1400.00 worth, it turns out. In a move that was becoming his signature, he gnawed the French door and its frame. He chewed the oak bedpost. He peed on the rug and floor.
He really didn’t like being alone.
There was a gay bar on Abbot Kinney called Roosterfish, and Buddy never got more compliments than when we walked past The Fish late at night when the sidewalk outside was crowded with people taking a smoke break. The one I heard most was “I love your dog! He’s the perfect size!” I’d say thanks and Buddy would tolerate some pets and scritches, but on our way back I’d always wonder, “Perfect for what?”
Buddy liked the idea of the dog park more than he liked the reality of it. He didn’t care for chasing other dogs, he didn’t like to run around in chaotic pack sprints, and he didn’t play fetch, so the shine wore off pretty quickly. But what he loved about the park, what made him go bananas in the back of the car long before we even pulled into the parking lot, was the drama of the first ten minutes. This was his Kabuki; the wood chips and water fountain were his stage.
The performance began before I opened the gate. The dogs inside the park would see us coming and crowd the entrance until I let Buddy in. He would stutter-step a few yards into the park, the consummate new kid on the block, and stand stock still, tail in the air, while the other dogs sniffed him out. Invariably there would be at least one aggressive dog who wanted to mount him. This was the mark for Buddy’s singular con. Buddy would kick dust with his hind legs, a sure sign he was nervous, and pretend not to notice the heavy paw on his rump. In fact, he’d turn his backside all the way around, practically daring the mark to climb and try to mount him. When the aggressive dog invariably made his move, Buddy would quickly spin sideways faster than his opponent’s paws could make contact with his back, and the other dog, bewildered, would land on the ground. Then Buddy sprang into action, jumping up with both front legs on the mark’s spine, where he’d pose like Krypto with his chest puffed out, victorious every time.
Buddy was picky. At first I fed him the kibble I’d fed my other dogs, but he wasn’t exactly fired up about it. He treated it more like a decorative bowl of stones in a gallery than as actual food to eat. Okay, no problem, I thought. I’d give him the kind of food he was likely fed as a pup. I tried some grocery store kibble with no better result: he’d watch me pour the food into his bowl, but when I’d set it down, he would back slowly out of the kitchen like he had walked in on a crime. Then I tried wet food, brand after brand. Sometimes he’d eat one kind long enough for me to think I’d struck gold and buy a case or two before he lost interest.
When my Basset Hound Ginger was diagnosed with lymphoma, the vet had me cook chicken breasts and rice for her, so as a last resort, I started doing the same for Buddy. Turns out, he liked baked chicken. A lot. Roasted chicken too. And salmon. And rice and sweet potatoes. More than once one of my sons would come home and ask what smelled so good before they realized the pan of golden brown chicken breasts I was pulling from the oven were for the dog.
My house in Santa Monica has the kind of big enclosed yard where most dogs would love to race around and fetch tennis balls, but Buddy wasn’t most dogs. He didn’t wear grooves into the grass running around in circles. He was more about lying in the middle of the grass and soaking up the sun. His idea of a game was sniffing out the ferns and hedges for the tell-tale scents of rodents and opossums. He might pretend to be excited to see me holding a tennis ball, but he would become bored almost as soon as I threw it. There was one sport, though, he loved to play: squirreling. The sound of a squirrel skittering across the rooftop or munching on the birds-of-paradise in the back would send him racing out to the yard where he’d jump up and down and bark maniacally until all intruders had fled. The chatter of squirrels on a telephone wire in the alley behind the house would roust him from an afternoon nap and send him sprinting to the back gate with barks turned up to eleven. On a walk, he could spot the twitch of a tail fifty yards away, and then instantly there’d be a black blur, the leash torn from my hand and whipping behind him from side to side, as he flew down the block. He’d have to dig his claws into the sidewalk so as not to collide with whatever tree the squirrel had leapt into, and then he would stand there panting, his tongue hanging out of his mouth, waiting for me to grab his leash and tell him what a good boy he was. Which I did. Because he was.
I bought a bicycle when I was forty-nine and began riding my way out of the hole of bad health I had dug for myself in the preceding years. Prior to this, Buddy and I had almost always gone out the gate together, either on our walks or to grab something to eat on Abbot Kinney. Now he had to stay behind as I went off for my daily ride, and he’d stare forlornly at me through the window he had made for himself in the gate. One day I decided to see if he’d like to run beside me as I rode. He was confused at first, unsure what was happening as I climbed on the bike, uncertain where he should stand, but as soon as I started pedaling, it all made sense. He loved it. We began to ride a little every day. He never wanted to go far, but he wanted to go fast. I’d look down and see this gorgeous black machine pumping through the wind: ears back, legs stretching across the asphalt, his coat gleaming, a loll of pink tongue.
It’s a hell of a thing, seeing a dog grow up, live his life, and get old before your eyes. This is obvious, but the reason they say one year is seven years for a dog is that a dog lives about one-seventh as long as a person; yet within that short time, they go through everything we go through in our much longer lives. In 2006, Buddy was learning how to walk up and down steps like a baby. In 2012, he was running beside me and blasting after squirrels. In 2016, he started to go gray around the face, and he developed a chronic inflammation in his lymph system, the first sign that he was aging. In 2018 he lost his hearing and his hips became stiff and arthritic. Our long walks pared down to strolls around the block. My once-crazy dog who ripped French doors off hinges and jumped over seven-foot-high gates now needed help getting up onto the couch.
For centuries, dogs have adapted to us, but we haven’t yet adapted to dogs. We grow with them at the same rate we grow with each other. By the time our appreciation and understanding of them deepens and matures, they are getting old. The love of dogs is astonishing, but it’s the velocity of dogs we can never prepare for.
For some people, we say their time had come. For others, we say they were taken too soon. For some, we say they lost their lives, we say their lives were taken from them, and this can be hard for us to say. For others we say they lived full lives, we say they died of natural causes, and these are sad but not as upsetting. People pass away, people expire, people die. No matter how we say it, each person’s death is a simple sentence, a subject and a verb. But with dogs, it’s not so simple. A few dogs die naturally, but for the most part it falls upon us to shepherd them to the end. We are inserted into the grammar. With dogs, we say “I put him down,” we say “We put her to sleep.” We step in for nature and take over, making the call to end their lives as a humane and respectful last act, and this creates a lot of emotional energy during the very last hours of the relationship.
On Thursday, September 4th, I called Dr. Peter Erling, a veterinarian who specializes in home euthanasia. The days and weeks leading up to that call were hard. Buddy had been deaf for more than a year. His hips were arthritic. By April when I had knee replacement surgery, he was having a hard time getting up and down the three steps from the drive to the porch. He couldn’t jump up on the sofa anymore for his afternoon naps. He still loved to take a walk every morning and every afternoon, but where his walks used to be measured in miles, by early summer, a walk around the block took half an hour. The rest of the day he’d spend sitting uncomfortably on the floor, panting.
In June, Kim came out to see me, and one afternoon while she was here we noticed Buddy was missing from his regular places. I thought he had wandered off down the street, something he used to do often. He always loved to slip out the front door and sniff along the sidewalk in front of the house, but we knew, realistically, those days were behind him, so we looked everywhere for him at home. Eventually we found him out back in a part of the yard he normally never used. He was breathing heavily, and he seemed immobile and in pain. Kim and I sat with Buddy and tried to get a sense of where he was at. Kim was especially sweet, petting him and talking to him, trying to give him a little comfort. Then we had to run some errands, and when we came back he still hadn’t moved from the same spot. He didn’t move his head when he saw us. This was the first time that I felt the end was near, and I was flooded with the kind of anxiety that makes everything slow down and grow very vivid. The way I handle situations like that is I become very calm and clear-thinking. It’s an odd but useful survival mechanism. I’m very good in a crisis, but I end up having to uncover and sort out my emotions for weeks and months after the fact. That’s in part why I’m writing this now. I called Julia, and she gave me the names of two vets, but neither could come out that day. I made an appointment with one of them for the following day, dreading how the next hours would feel as I reconciled myself with what had to be done. But an hour or so later, Buddy suddenly got up, shook himself off, and went back inside the house. Whatever was ailing him had passed, and he was back to normal for the rest of the day. I canceled the vet, but, looking back, this was when I began preparing myself for what was inevitable if not immediate. But that didn’t mean I was able to deal with it.
Over the summer, Buddy declined pretty quickly. He began peeing in the house because he couldn’t make it outside in time. Some mornings, he couldn’t stand up without me grabbing his hips and giving him a lift. In late July I went to New York with Oskar to see Kim and Noah, and when I took him to boarding, I had to lift him into the car. When I came back, it was August and I could see that things were only going to get worse. I told myself I’d do it in a couple days, that there was no rush. But in truth I was having a hard time finding clarity or moving forward. In fact I’m having a hard time writing this particular part of the story. I find myself writing a sentence, then checking email or reading something online. My resistance right now mirrors how I was feeling all throughout the summer: doing whatever I could to avoid the end. I was looking for a Rubicon to cross that would afford me clarity: now is the time. But that Rubicon never materialized.
Buddy still loved his morning and afternoon walks, but if he stood in one place too long, his hind legs collapsed. I could tell he hated when I had to stand over him and hoist him to his feet. He wore an expression of shame and anxiety that made me feel awful for him. He was also losing control of his bowels and making messes inside the house. I bathed him in the backyard often, but within a few hours he’d be covered in fleas. It was as though his body didn’t have the strength to protect itself anymore. Yet I kept telling myself it wasn’t time.
I had decided to meet Kim in Santa Fe for a long weekend in the middle of August. In my heart I knew I should make this decision about Buddy before I left, but I couldn’t do it. So one last time, I lifted him into the car and took him to the boarding kennel. When he was younger, he would leap into my old Porsche and launch himself into the rear seat, which I kept folded down for him. It gave him a raised perch from where he could see in every direction and feel the wind in his face. But now he trembled in the passenger seat, his head leaning hard against my right hand even when I had to shift gears.
I returned home from New Mexico in the last week of August, and Buddy was really happy to see me when I picked him up. I tried to get back into a normal daily groove: wake up, clean up his messes, walk in the morning, work while he spent a long day of napping, walk in the afternoon, then chicken dinner and bedtime. But I found myself building up resentment about having to clean up after him all the time, and I felt guilty about that. He soiled an antique rug and I had to have it sent out for an expensive cleaning, and I was angry and guilty about that too. I didn’t want my last memories of Buddy to be full of resentment.
He wasn’t happy either. Just moving around was so much of a struggle that he stopped seeking out our affection. In fact, he’d walk past us or around us if we tried to get his attention. Oskar and I both made a point of sitting down beside him and rubbing his belly and his ears, and I would still lie down with him and put my arm around him — like we had done all those years on my bed — and rub his ears and his back. One afternoon I sang to him like I used to sing to him long ago. Even though he was deaf, I knew he understood and could feel my voice in my chest. I sang “Daisy.” I sang “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad.” I sang these songs to him because they’re the songs I sang to my sons when they were babies and it made them happy. And it made Buddy happy to hear me sing to him too.
I called my friend Catherine. She had lost her dog Huck a couple years earlier, and I knew she went through much of what I was going through now. I was looking for her to tell me how I’d know for sure it was time. She said that while there was no way to know when it was the right time, looking back, she felt like she should have done it six months earlier, that Huck’s last six months weren’t his best. She felt it would have been kinder to Huck to have made up her mind earlier.
I made up my mind on September 2nd, a Tuesday, and the way I made up my mind was to tell Eufemia. Eufemia has cleaned my house for years and she had known Buddy since he was young. When she came over that morning, I told her I was going to put Buddy to sleep, a phrase I don’t like but used in the moment to convey the news as gently as possible. She’s very sensitive, but I was still surprised by how much the news affected her. She began to cry, and she knelt down to him and said “Buddy, Buddy, we love you so much.” I tried to console her by reminding her he had lived a very long life and had been lucky to have us all as his family, though I don’t know how convincing I was to either of us.
I called Dr. Erling and scheduled him for the 4th. I called Julia and asked her if she could be there, and then I told my kids. None of them was surprised: Oskar knew firsthand it was time, and Hunter and Noah had been listening to me talk about Buddy’s ailments for more than a year — but they offered their support. I made up my mind, I told people, and I set the wheels in motion. And I felt a small kind of calm.
On Thursday morning, I cooked Buddy a giant breakfast of chicken and fish, which he ate with his usual vigor, I took him for a walk around the block, and then he slept the rest of the morning. I made a point to lie down with him on the floor in the front room like we used to. His poor legs were so stiff. His coat was dry. His face was gray and his eyes were milky. I sang to him and rubbed his ears and scratched his back and his belly. I had been doing that since he was a young, gorgeous boy, and now he was a tired, sweet old man.
Julia came by. She had brought Buddy into my life, and it meant the world that she would be with me and Oskar on Buddy’s last day. We took one last walk around the block with Buddy, and when we got back Oskar was pulling into the driveway and Dr. Erling was getting out of his car. It was time.
From there, things happened quickly. I won’t detail the procedure, but I’ll say that everything went very smoothly. Julia sat with Buddy and reminisced about some of the craziness of the early days. Then Buddy moved outside onto the porch in the sunshine. Oskar and I sat down with him and gave him treats while we rubbed his ears and said goodbye. The vet was respectful and gentle. And just like that, within a couple minutes, Buddy was gone.
The vet wrapped his body in a blanket and put him in the back of his car to take to his crematorium. After he left, Julia and Oskar and I sat at the table and joked about how Buddy’s spirit probably jumped straight out of his body and squeezed its way into mine, finally letting him get his wish of being with me all the time. It felt good to laugh after such a long, painful summer. And who am I to say it’s not true? If Buddy did manage to find his way into me, I wouldn’t mind having him around. Not at all.
Now it’s October, more than a month since I helped my old friend die. His leash and collar are still rolled up on the wall in front of the house.