Dear Buckley

This morning I forgot you were gone. I expected to see you at the bottom of the stairs, spinning in circles with excitement for the day. But you were not there, at least not in physical form. It’s been seventy-six days since you left your decrepit and failing body behind.

Seventy-six days is a blink of time from when we first met thirteen years ago, yet somehow it feels longer. Grief slows the Earth’s orbit, making each moment a little more pronounced and sharper. Time cuts away a little slower and more precise than when you were here.

The first time I saw you was on a Petfinder ad for a dog in Tennessee who had lost his humans in a housefire. You weren’t smiling then but I didn’t know that. Something about you haunted me and caused me to repeatedly go back to your picture. At the time, we lived in a small apartment that didn’t allow dogs, but we were planning on moving into a house and had started investigating what sort of dogs were out there with the intention of getting one once we were settled.

A few days after I saw your picture, my brother sent me your profile and said that he had “found my dog.” I laughed until I opened the image and saw you staring back at me. It was at that moment that I knew, somehow, we would be together.

After a brief conversation with my brother, he agreed to watch you until we moved into our house, and it was decided. We were bringing you to Minnesota.

Your journey to Minnesota was not an easy one. You got into a dog fight en route and were banged up. Once in Minnesota, you promptly ran away from your foster home. I’m sure the whole ordeal must have been scary for you.

I remember the day we picked you up. Several dogs were barking, and I correctly theorized which bark belonged to you. Your foster human wasn’t home, so we had to wait just a little longer. When we finally met, you immediately leaned on me with affection. Then we took you to my brother’s house, who you immediately bonded with.

Over the next few months, I came to take you on walks and spend time with you almost daily. You ran away a lot. Once, I was walking with you, and you broke your harness, sending me barreling down a hill and into a lake. I was so mad. Then I saw you chasing after a young boy and realized that you missed your humans in Tennessee. I remember feeling sad that you had no small children to play with.

When you did come home with us, you settled right in and never complained. You liked your kennel and never had any potty accidents. I was scared to let you sleep in the bedroom because I had never had a dog before, and I didn’t think it appealed to me. But after a few months, I warmed up to the idea and let you in the bedroom.

You were always a very considerate bedmate. Moving to accommodate us, never taking up too much space. Our old house had narrow hallways, and every morning, your tail would wag so wildly with excitement that it would bang against both walls. If someone was still sleeping, this was sure to wake them up.

Many mornings, I watched in amazement at your energy and zest for life. Sometimes, your enthusiasm was not met with kindness. Once, you came across a young deer who beat you senselessly with a few quick kicks. I thought it had broken one of your ribs. Or when you faced a possum who lost their life in your battle. Then, there were the coyotes who would come to visit you from time to time. I always worried something would happen to you, but it never did. You’d run off, have your adventures in the woods, and then return with a smile.

Once our son was born, your role changed. You took the role of protector very seriously. You started fending off trains every time you heard them, which was frequent because we lived by the tracks. In hindsight, it must have worked because, in the eight years we lived there, we had zero train attacks.

Then, one night, the fire alarm went off in the middle of the night, and you broke out of your kennel, through a baby gate, and into our bedroom to ensure we were awake. You barked fearlessly and incessantly until you knew we were all safe. From that night forth, I no longer worried about being around the baby.

Your tail was always wagging, and you were always smiling. Once, you came home from the groomer and couldn’t move your tail. We rushed you to the vet’s office, thinking the groomer abused you. The opposite was true; you had sprained your tail from wagging it too much. The vet called it “Happy Tail Syndrome.”

When we moved to Lakeville, you settled in right away. You took up the role of resident patrol of all surrounding yards and really anything you could see. If someone was near, you let us know. You let us know if someone was across the street in their garage. You let us know if someone was standing in their doorway three houses down.

Occasionally, I still hear you saying hello to all who pass and letting them know that we are your humans and that you will protect us.

Your decline was gradual but did not go unnoticed. Then, one day in May, we came home from a movie, and you were unresponsive. I sobbed and held your head while we frantically called vets, trying to figure out what to do next. Our five-year-old son hugged you and told you that you had to be strong and that he loved you. Although your health was fading, we were not ready to say goodbye.

The emergency vet confirmed what we suspected: cancer. It was everywhere but primarily your lungs and brain. We thought about putting you down right then but decided to take you home and have the vet come to the house to assist you in crossing the rainbow bridge.

The following day, I came downstairs to find you spinning in circles, bursting with enthusiasm for life. You ate all your food and wanted more. You played with your sister Lucie outside and smiled. Death was near but had lost its grip on you.

Over the next month, there was much happiness and a few sad days—three or four good days, followed by a terrible day. Then we started giving you THC for dogs, which seemed to help plenty. You would barely be able to move, and I’d put some in bone broth, and you’d be jumping around and playing within a few hours.

Once, your sister Lucie finished your bone broth when you weren’t looking. She must have had what they call a “bad trip” because she spent the next six hours staring at the sky outside and the following six hours sleeping. To this day, she still won’t touch bone broth.

You spent much time with our son in the final two weeks of your life. He dressed you up in a cape, sat by your side dressed like Spiderman, and talked to you about how he was going to save the city. By the end, I think, you were hanging on just for these brief moments of play with our son. Thank you.

We know you didn’t mean to nip at our three-year-old daughter. You were confused, and she startled you. She is fine, and it didn’t even leave a mark. She still loves dogs as much as ever and knows you didn’t mean to frighten her.

The next day, you forgot how to drink water, and that’s when we knew it was time to say goodbye.

A few days later, I sobbed and held your head as you left this world. I miss you.

Last month, a dog at the pet food store demanded my attention. I tried to ignore it but couldn’t. We ended up rescuing it from a fraudulent rescue. His name is Diesel. You would have liked him. He’s part poodle like you and loves to play. Lucie is indifferent. I think she’s still grieving you, but she has a new companion to play with when she’s ready.

Thank you for everything you taught me. You were my first dog, and you taught me that there are many reasons in life to get my tail wagging, metaphorically speaking. I will always love and never forget you.

One response to “Dear Buckley”

  1. What a beautiful tribute to Buckley. I am sure it was healing for you to write down how you met him and all the great times you had together, and what he meant to you. Truly, he was such a great dog and friend, and such a protector. I hope knowing how loved he was comforts you, and that you gave him the best life. I am so sorry for your loss, Ruth and family.

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