Ode To Bud - The Greatest Dog On Earth
As I was rinsing dishes one evening a familiar song came on the radio. It stopped me and, out of habit, I turned to watch the response from the lab sleeping at my feet. Not a twitch. Not even an eye opening. Sadness engulfed me.
Although it had been several years since our lab, Buddy, romped around in my backyard or played hide-and-seek with the kids, reminders crop up when I least expect it. The song playing on the radio will never be heard without visions of Buddy's soulful accompaniment. The second the first notes hit his ears, whether he was passed out on his bed or sunning in the backyard, Bud came running. He'd cock his head at the speaker and throw his snout to the sky to belt out notes with no less passion than Pavarotti.
My sister found him, one of ten junkyard pups. Born tailless, he looked like a stocky, walking muscle, all chest, and stout back legs. He had what she nicknamed his ‘feather', a collection of wispy hairs where his tail should have been, which, if one watched closely, would wiggle when he was excited. My sister discovered his love for singing while they were cruising together one day. She popped in a cassette and, uninhibited as Janis Joplin, Bud busted loose out the passenger window. To see this massive walking muscle turn all emotional and vulnerable in a moment of passionate crooning was more than we could stand, and no matter how many performances, we always laughed.
When tragedy struck, my sister left him in my care while she moved overseas. She mailed me a package of souvenirs and photos and tucked in the bottom was an audiocassette she made for Buddy of her talking to him the way she used to and, of course, a recording of his favorite song. The second we popped it in, the stereo speaker was his best friend. He stood with his ears pricked, head tilting to and fro, and flaring, black nose pressed to the speaker as if my sister would burst out at any second.
After the birth of my first child, he couldn't contain his curiosity at the foreign smells and sounds in his home. Though we kept him separated from the tiny infant for fear his tense, massive body would flatten her in an instant he'd sneak a lick of my daughter's near-bald head when my back was turned leaving tell-tale signs of a slicked up spike job.
He went through flying discs of every color, size, taste and texture, but hide-and-seek with his squeaky pork-chop was his favorite. We'd put him outside, make sure he wasn't watching and hide the chop somewhere in the house. When he heard the words, " Where's the pork chop?" his nose became a chop-seeking missile. Once, when guests stopped by, we left him looking for his toy and an hour later we found him still searching.
We moved many times and Bud always treated a new yard the same way, running around, scoping out residual smells that presented a territorial threat and ‘recoating' them all. He was protective, funny and stubborn, but most of all, a great tenor. For fifteen years he'd witnessed trauma, boyfriends, cable men, screaming human babies and lots of plastic swimming pools. He cocked his head at my tears, ran from scoldings and growled at the bad guys.
In his last year as the cancer came on stronger, it was hard seeing him barely make it around the block on a slow walk. His stocky back legs were withering away and his massive muscular chest we knew was filled with tumors. His black face had more powdery white and his sparkly ‘C'mon-let's-play!' eyes failed him in his last few months. One thing he never lost though was his will to please. He hobbled around the back yard just as intent on finding that darned tennis ball with or without cataracts.
On average, about a decade is what dogs give us. I will, with any luck, reach a ripe old age and look back over my lifeline of doggy decades and be grateful, for I believe each leaves its paw print of playfulness, tenacity, patience and loyalty.
Oh Buddy, that song's ripping me apart again. I see you, can hear and feel you. I'm right back there again, the decade of my first car, my wedding, my first child and first mortgage and you are there, head cocked over the ball ready for play. Amidst loneliness, sadness, celebration or anger you lived only for the next stick throw or plate cleanup, more faithful than any human and expecting nothing in return, except maybe a really good neck scratching.
I know, though he's not into singing much, even this lump of Labrador at my feet today will leave his legacy, recognized only after his passing.