The moment of impact – The lights came from nowhere and then hit. Shards of light mixed with rain flew from his eyes, scattering outwards, moments of his lifetime and theirs. Tears, laughter, sadness, bliss, all at once shimmering upwards like a mirror shattering and then…nothing.
Many years ago during a prosecco fuelled, side splittingly amusing night out with friends we fell upon a conversation about dogs and the unarguable benefits of dog ownership. At this stage I was in the positive throes of ‘The Buster Years’ and was deeply besotted with what we had lovingly titled our first born; a full of life, constantly getting me into trouble Boxer puppy called Mister Buster.
My friend and I who shared similar views, took on the task of convincing her then boyfriend (now loving husband), who was not an admirer of the canine population, that a dog is both a welcome and almost vital addition to any household. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he hated dogs, as this is akin to saying you hate babies and at this stage in their relationship, may have proved to be an irreversible faux pas.
Unconvinced and clearly not succumbing to our passion filled rants, there was little else I could do but deliver the money shot.
‘Well,’ I smugly said, my face twitching with the excitement of my impending victory, ‘you can’t argue with the fact that there is a long history of close relations, loyalty and companionship with humans that has resulted in the common place phrase; Man’s Best Friend!’ (Ok so this is a far cry from the actual delivery of my message but the message was in there none the less.)
Cooler than a dip in the Irish Sea in December he retorted…
‘Man is man’s best friend.’
Wasn’t expecting that.
Pause of confusion.
For various reasons including the fact that he is infinitely more intelligent than me (proven at state examination level), massively taller than me and I was starting to get what could have become an irreversible case of repetitive neck strain, has hands that are slightly larger than normal and at any minute could have clapped his hand over my mouth to shut me up, thus blocking all my airways while simultaneously blocking my line of vision and I may have needed to pee…
But it is conversation that has often made me giggle over the years while considering my own adoration of the canine population and…
an argument that I would now like to revisit.
Show me any person who is always happy to see you.
Show me any person that will always unconditionally love and provide you with comfort.
Show me a better running buddy, one who always wants to go and will never ring in sick.
Show me a person who instinctively knows when you are sick or are having a hard time and who will just sit beside you; a silent devoted companion.
Show me any person that just plain loves to be alive.
Show me any person, who waits all day at the door for you to come home and is never annoyed with you for being late, only grateful that you showed up.
Show me a person who will never judge you for your culinary skills and would happily eat your undercooked chicken.
Show me a person who farts openly and unashamedly and puts their tuna breathe in your face with more confidence than Madonna.
Show me any person…seriously I could do this all day.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who says they prefer the company of dogs to people, there is nothing like people (the right ones mind you), except when everyone is annoying me and I can chat away to Wilbur instead (Buster’s successor). And though he never responds, he looks at me as if he understands and for me it is enough. Although I often wonder will he someday turn to me and say…
‘Jesus Christ, would you ever shut the f*** up!’
I grew up with dogs, West Highand Terriers, fabulous little precarious things, but it wasn’t until Buster tumbled into my chaotic life in my mid-twenties that I learnt the real value of the canine friend. I can safely say after encountering many, many dogs over the years, that all dogs are not created equal, some have an extra sprinkling of special and Buster was one of these.
‘The Buster Years’ were the most remarkable years of my life, ones that I’ll remember with fondness forever more and although Buster himself was only one small part of these times, he will remain in my heart until the day I die. While I navigated every curve in the road, every hardship, every challenge, he was my calm even though he was absolutely NUTS!
He destroyed the house, consumed more valuables than is healthy and consistently ran off on me. I remember one day in particular in the early days of motherhood; having a ‘good day’ and managing to get dressed, I decided to take my infant daughter and Buster for a walk in the park. I packed us all into the car and off we went and enjoyed a fabulous jaunt, her in the buggy and him off the lead, bounding up to people for a play, me lifting my hand every so often and mouthing, ‘sorry’ to the passers-by, as he attempted to include them in his fun.
Fun over we headed back to the car, where we embarked on another ‘game’ that lasted well over an hour, the rules were simple.
I would try to catch him – he would run away.
I would try to catch him, he would lie down, I would slowly creep over pretending to look at a tree – he would ran away.
I would pretend to get into the car, he would come over, I would try to catch him – he would run away.
I would get into the car, drive off, he would run after me, I would stop the car, get out. I would try to catch him – he would run away.
I would sit in the boot of the car, pretend to be eating something. He would come over. I would try to catch him – he would run away.
I would run really fast towards him, pretending that I had a ball. I would try to catch him – he would run away.
After an hour of entertainment and at a total loss as to how I was going the get the little fecker into the car. I was forced to call my ICE. I’m not sure you’ve met him yet, but I would like to introduce you to The Brothership. The Brothership is the poor unfortunate brother to Sister 1, Sister 2 and Sister 3. Like the A-Team he was forced into a life he did not choose. The Brothership is the fixer of his sister’s various issues and that day he was about to be invited as player three in this futile game.
After taking my call (idiot) and me using the fact that the baby was crying as my hook, he arrived, hero like in his jeep, arm out the window, cool as ICE. He pulled up, jumped out nonchalantly, reached his one tanned arm down indifferently, grabbed Buster by the collar, gave me ‘that look’ and said…
Yes…Buster was Buster. But he was mine and I loved him and like I said, he was my calm. If you call calm being dragged along at high speeds to reach the beach, where I would release the lead and watch him sprint like he’d robbed a bank. If you call calm, having more arguments with assholes who just didn’t understand him. But with the challenges came joy and the addition of Buster meant many things from security at home, a valid reason to talk to myself and a presence in the lonely days of young motherhood.
For whatever grief he gave me, he gave me back love in spadefuls.
It is 14 years ago today that he was delivered onto my door step in a basket. He was the best and most cherished gift that I have ever received and one that was taken away a little before his time on a December night, four years ago. Although I did know in my heart that his time was approaching. As is always the case with hindsight, I suppose I took him for granted in the latter years. I suppose with the business of three kids and work and life that Buster took a backseat. Maybe he was ok with this? After all in the months before he died he had become more insular, a little withdrawn and would often head into another room alone for some peace. And even though I kept the gate closed, he had discovered a secret escape route and had started to wander a little. (This was revealed after he had habitually started to trot across the road to take a dump in our friend’s garden. I’ll never forgot the laughs when they caught him and said for weeks they had been picking up what had appeared to be a different poo from their own dog’s, the consistency was just off!!!)
The night in question was dark and wet, as is always the case in these matters and I was busy making a substandard chicken dipper meal for the kids as I was heading out with the girls that night. It was an evening more rushed than usual. The kids had been collected from their various activities and I drove in the gate, rushed into the house and set about the stages to get me back out the door as fast as I could and into the pub – drink in hand. I let Buster out, put dinner on the table, made sure everyone was ok rushed down to my room ready to shower and the phone rang.
And my heart stopped beating.
‘Do you own a boxer?’
‘I’m so sorry. There’s been an accident. Can you come down?’
‘Buster…oh my god is he ok?’
‘I’m really sorry. He was in a bad way. We did all we could. He didn’t make it.’
Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.
On autopilot I rang The SO. He was over the other side of the city so I called in the troops who quickly arrived – my dad, my mum, sister 1 and sister 2 all came. They knew what this would mean. Dad and I made the two minute journey to the vet and with a body akin to someone having removed all my bones, I was brought into the room where my Buster, my puppy, my heart, lay on a steel table with a blanket over him. His eyes were no longer his own and as I collapsed on top of him, with tears as big as raindrops falling onto his still body, a little piece of me was lost forever.
The Buster Years were no more.
The aftermath of Buster dying was sadder than ‘Marley and Me’ with a burial akin to a state funeral. I know to some people who are not dog lovers, or to those who have suffered real loss that this may seem ridiculous and I would never compare the loss of an animal to the loss of a friend or a family member. But it was my first taste of loss. My first taste of the hollow feeling that enters your heart. The numbness that takes over your limbs, the oxygen that doesn’t quite reach your lungs. It is at first a physical pain, which quickly changes to an emotional pain that quickly moves to a confused state, an angry state, a questioning state. I am lucky to say that perhaps Buster dying was so far the greatest loss in my own life. I know there will be more ahead and I dread it as I know that the next time I face it, it will come to me with a force that I’m not sure I will be able to manage.
After Buster died. It took me a long time to stop picturing his final moments. If I had closed the gate, if I hadn’t been in a fuss, if I had paid more attention, if… I replayed it over and over in my head. I pictured the rain, the dark night, the lights, the car, the driver that had left him there; too busy, too rushed to care and the other kind man that had stopped and gently put him in his car to rush him to the vet, the pain
… the moment of impact.
A few weeks later, when life had resumed and I had received as much sympathy as I was going to for a canine bereavement; I went for a run and the strangest thing happened. I thought I saw him, I felt him with me and call me crazy but I knew he had come to say goodbye. Immediately afterwards, I came home, sat down and wrote this which I hope sums it up.
The Final Race
This morning on my run
I thought I saw your face,
You ran in the fields beside me
Keeping at my pace
You bounded up ahead
Stood proud upon the hill,
The sun shone down upon you
Like a golden river spill
As I reached the end
Where the road bends to the right,
You quickly flew ahead
Disappearing out of sight
But there you were again
That so familiar face,
Running right beside me
In a last amazing race
Then all at once you stopped
Turned to look around,
Something called to you
Some hypnotic sound
I paused there to watch
As you turned and ran away,
I tried to call you back
Urge you here to stay
Thank you for your visit
I had longed to see your face
If only for a minute
For this last amazing race
I hope he knows he’s lucky
To have a dog like you,
May he keep you safe forever
And love you as I do.
We swore we would never get another dog. Too much hassle, too much pain; until a very beautiful lady one day innocently mentioned to me that the stables near us had a litter of puppies.
‘What breed?’ I enquired.
Ah balls. Here we go again.
So like everything else in my life I plunged straight back in, feet first, led by my heart, thinking I would never love another dog as much as Buster, in the same way you think you’ll never love a second child as much, but you do. You just do. Same but different. And the Wilbur years ticked into action.
So now to the person who told me that Man is man’s best friend.
Nah, I’m not buying it. I see a dog in your future. I see you with your giant hand placed on the head of something equally intelligent. While the Boxer suits me very well, I see you with a Retriever. A terribly faithful one who appreciates your even temperament. I bet your dog is super well behaved and although you are the reluctant dog owner and have tried to resist the playful affection, this dog with super powers will see right through you. He will break you.
And someday when he passes onto what they refer to as the ‘rainbow bridge’, you won’t wail like i did, but you probably won’t get another dog, as let’s face it, no dog could ever replace the one that finally became…
Man’s best friend.
To DQ, I see you your argument and I raise you this memoir!
To everyone else with a dog and especially to the more reluctant dog owner…
what you put into them you will get back, just like people!