What A Difference A Year Makes…Or Not

Posted: September 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

Like any good New Yorker, September 11th is a very important anniversary. It was the day our world changed ten years ago. I hate to even rehash it, because so many have done so and in such more eloquence of phrase than I ever could. So I won’t bother.

But 9/11 for me will always have a far greater significance, and that significance is strictly personal. It was the day, in 2010, that I learned I’d have to have my son euthanized.

Let me start by explaining, for those who don’t know, that by my son I mean Buddyboo. My Rat Terrier. Buddy, aka Buddyboo, aka Buddyroo, aka Poochiepoo, aka His Highness Prince Buddy the Duke of Dogdom. I know people who’ve lost actual children who sprung from the fruit of their loins, and there is nothing to say to them by way of consolation.

But I don’t think losing your first dog is any easier.

I suppose his adoption was inevitable. My then-husband and I had started hitting our first rough patch, which ultimately led to our initial separation. So this one day in 2003, October 4th to be precise, out of a clear blue sky he said to me, “Let’s go to North Shore and see about adopting a dog.” Now, I had hoped that would have happened eventually. For the holidays in ’02, he asked me what I wanted as a Hanukkah present, and I said, quite without hesitation, “A puppy.” He replied, equally without hesitation, “No dogs. I’ll go to the ends of the earth with you, but no dogs.” So I said, “OK, then take me to Disney World.” And I want to first say something about Disney World. I not only love it there, but I would live there if I could. So he took me to Disney World in January of ’03, and we had the most incredible week anyone could imagine. Even if his crumb-bum of a sister had to crap all over my vacation by saying after we got back, “You spent a whole week there and all you did was go to the PARKS? You DID it wrong!” Screw her. I had a ball.

OK, so…October 4th of ’03, we got in the car and drove to Port Washington to go to the North Shore Animal League. And on the drive there, he kept saying to me, “We have to make sure it’s a small dog. I know you, you’re gonna fall in love with the first Labrador puppy we see, and we can’t have one. They grow too big for our apartment.” And of course like any good dog person, I would have loved a Lab. But our place really was too small for one. So we got there, we parked the car, we walked in, and the clerk (a lovely gal named Dina) said to us, “Do we know what we’re looking for today?” In unison we said, “A small dog. The smallest you’ve got.” She smiled and said, “Well, let me take you to see Yoda. He was named that because of his ears.” All I could think was, “I am NOT having a dog named Yoda. I am NOT a Star Wars geek and that name is out of the question.”

In any case, she took us to see Yoda in his little cage in the corner. He was this adorable Rat Terrier, just shy of three years old, skinny and weighed about fourteen pounds, was nervous and shaking like a leaf. He looked at us, we looked at him, Gary and I looked at each other, we looked back at him, and that was it. He was ours. Dina asked if we might like to have a little visit with him out of his cage, which we did. So she put a little leash on him, we went over to the sitting area, and he took to Gary right away. Me, not so much; he sniffed me and seemed singularly unimpressed. Gary was already very much the proud papa, picking him up and snuggling with him. And kept calling him Buddy. “How ya doin’, Buddy? You OK, Buddy? You don’t have to be scared of us, Buddy. We’re Mommy and Daddy, Buddy. We love you, Buddy. We love you already, Buddy.” Then he handed him to me and I tried doing the same thing, but Yoda wasn’t having any of it. Dina came back over and asked what we thought, and Gary said, “I love him. He’s ours. Now. Quick, before I change my mind.” So she put him back in his cage for the moment while she went off to do the paperwork, and I really wasn’t sure about this being my dog. But she had us sit in the waiting area, and before we even sat down I said to Gary, “What are we gonna name him? I’m not having a dog named Yoda.” Dina said, “Oh, that decision is for the car ride home. Don’t discuss it now.” Once she was gone, I said, “He seemed to like when you called him Buddy. I’d love to call him Chaucer, but he’s such a little Buddyboo.” Gary said, “Then he’s Buddyboo. Or Buddy. Or whatever you want. I’m getting him for you.” So he became Buddyboo. Buddyboo. MY dog. They brought him out to us and presented him like he was a queen’s crown (little did he know), gave us a leash, and I sat with him while Gary went across the street to the pet store (and not only bought food and two bowls but an avalanche of toys like I never even saw on my birthday when I was a kid), we walked him (and he REALLY had to go), and we got in the car with him on my lap. Which made him very nervous because he had no idea where he was going and kept scratching at the window, but he settled in soon enough. I had Gary put on a Three Dog Night CD, which was no pun intended about getting a dog, and I chair-danced with him a little to the tune of “Play Something Sweet.” Which relaxed him enough, I guess, because he finally started to kiss me with his tongue and then put his little head on my neck and his little paws on my shoulders. I just hugged him and then I knew he was mine. First we stopped at Gary’s parents’ place in Jericho, where Buddy delighted me by taking an enormous pee on one of their living-room chairs and then made a big doody under the piano while my former MIL screamed, but she still wasted no time in throwing him a half a pound of smoked turkey she just happened to have in the fridge, for his immediate comfort. Then he became her best friend, if not mine yet. We drove home to Forest Hills, and once he finished sniffing his way around and realizing that this was home, he climbed up on the day bed in the den and slept for fourteen hours. He was home. He was mine. And I loved him with all my heart.

The first thing we realized was that he had kennel cough, which wasn’t uncommon for animals who’ve been at North Shore. But this was BAD. He was keeping us up all night with the coughing and the wheezing. We drove back to North Shore with him the next day and they gave us some pills for him, and also suggested that it wouldn’t hurt him to have a few doses of Baby Robitussin. Now, those of you who are reading this and know me also know that I am NOT, under any circumstances, about to force open a dog’s mouth and make him take a pill or a syrup syringe. So I ran to the store and bought some sliced roast beef from the deli counter; I’d wrap the pill in it and then hand-feed it to him. And I’d dip the syringe in a little bit of grape-flavored sugar a few hours later so that I could get it down his throat and make him think it was a treat. Which he loved, and was quickly becoming my best friend. At the beginning, though, he really loved Gary much more than me; I guess I was the beta-male at that point. Then, a few days into this, Gary got it into his head that the dog might be deaf, because other than coughing and wheezing he honestly wasn’t making a sound or responding to stimuli. So Gary took a big spaghetti pot out of the cubby and threw it on the floor. Buddyboo acted like the world was about to end and ran for me, jumping into my lap and crying on my shoulder. What we didn’t know was that as a baby he’d been used for hunting and had major shell-shock, but more on that later. In any case, he definitely wasn’t deaf. Then, later that day, I took him out for a walk and it was the first time he ever saw a squirrel (at least around me) and he went INSANE. I have never in my life see a dog go so pathologically crazy. He was barking so at the poor squirrel, which made him cough and wheeze harder, and I had to remind myself that this was a Rat Terrier, and they were inclined inherently to go after any quick-moving small animal like a squirrel. Then he saw another dog and went completely nuts. I finally got him upstairs and said, “Well, he’s definitely not deaf and he definitely responds to stimuli, but this baby is CRAZY!” At which point Gary called North Shore and it also turned out that he’d been used as a puppy for dog-fighting, which not only meant he wasn’t socialized properly but that his instinct was to go after every dog he met. It turned out that Rat Terriers also have to be very carefully socialized from puppyhood, which he wasn’t. It ALSO turned out that Rat Terriers are size-blind, meaning that everything they see appears to be their size. If he came up against a Great Dane or a Mastiff, he was absolutely certain that he was the same size they were. He could have taken them in a fight with one paw tied behind his back anyway, but I digress. Obviously I had my doubts about him. But by that point I’d fallen completely in love.

I was basically unemployed other than freelance projects, so Gary was very much the breadwinner and continued going to his job every day as a Senior Court Reporter at Bronx County Supreme. As a result, for the first couple of months of Buddy’s life we settled into a routine, whereby I would wake at about ten, scramble three eggs, of which he’d have one and I’d have two. Then I’d work at the computer for a little while (I was designing websites at the time), get dressed, leash him, and we’d walk over to my mother’s place and spend the day. He adored my mother, and he loved the walk over; it was like we were walking through a gilded forest to a glen in the woods where his Grandma was the queen of all she surveyed. And they adored each other. He later bit her a few times, which was terrible, but always knew when he’d done something wrong. He even bit me once, and I still have a little scar on my face because of it, but he REALLY knew he’d done something wrong. (For some reason, he never bit Gary). The day I knew he really loved me back was about a month after he started living with us; I was at my computer in the den designing a website for a client after we had breakfast when he suddenly came in, stood in the doorway for a minute looking at me, then walked over and lay down and put his little head on my foot. THAT was the moment when my heart melted. I said, “Oh, look! I have a visitor!” and we horsed around on the daybed for about an hour before I took him to my mom’s.

The other thing about Buddyboo was that he was definitely a male dog. He played like a boy, he barked like a boy, he wrestled like a boy, he ate like a boy, he was a boy. Gary and I used to joke that he was the butchest one in the house.

Then, in January of ’04, Gary broke up with me in the midst of a nervous breakdown, which is a whole other story unto itself, and it was the first of two divorces from him, which is REALLY a whole other story unto itself. Doggie and me had to hit the road, and because of my situation, I packed up and went home to mother, with my son in tow. He was confused for the first few days, but seemed very happy after a fashion, and our apartment is so much bigger than Gary’s that he had a lot more room to run around and spread himself out. And he really was a very good boy, he didn’t destroy furniture or anything.

The first time I had to board him at the vet was REALLY traumatic for both of us. We had a wonderful vet here in Queens, Dr. Robert Raider at the Maspeth Animal Hospital on Grand Avenue (and for those of you in Queens who are reading this, I couldn’t recommend him more highly; I have never in my life seen a better bedside manner with animals. And his nurse Donna is totally cool; I’d literally make her one of my bridesmaids). I wasn’t worried about him not being treated well, I just hated for him to think that I was never coming back or that he was returned to the shelter system. But I had to fly to Mississippi for some personal business for a few days, and it had to be done. He cried, I cried, even Donna the nurse cried. But I had to run to LaGuardia and catch a plane. That Friday morning when I returned, I took a cab to Maspeth and went in to reclaim him; Donna went into the back kennel to get him for me, and I heard the little clip-clop of his paws. Then I heard him stop, sniff the air, and he said (I mean, he literally said) “Wheeeeeeee!!!!” and came running around the corner through the office and right into my arms. We all cried again, and I loved him more than ever. And I think he felt the same.

His birthdays were always fun, too. November 4th. Mom and I both really love McDonald’s, although we don’t eat it often, partly for economy and partly for cholesterol. But every year on that day, I’d go get her a Big Mac meal and me a Filet O’Fish meal or a Chicken Club meal, and a regular burger for him. We’d have ours, then I’d cut up his burger (bun, pickle and all) on a paper plate and he’d chow down while we sang “Happy Birthday” to him. The end result was a lot of ketchup-flavored kisses, as you can imagine. I wish I had pictures.

And there was the night I almost lost him altogether. Our lobby was blocked off for some reason, and I took him out for his late walk at 2 AM but I had to take him through the service entrance in the basement. I walked him back, and I always let him go ahead of me, but because he didn’t know the service entrance, he waited for me to go first. In that exact second, the door to the service entrance started to close and he somehow got himself off his leash and took off running towards Queens Boulevard. I ran after him, but that only made him run faster. And it was 2 AM, and this is a residential neighborhood, so I didn’t want to scream his name (my neighbors would have thought someone was being killed). So I stood there just clapping my hands at him, crying my eyes out, hoping he’d come back to me or, if he didn’t, that he wouldn’t be hit by a car. He came to the edge of the corner, stopped, then ran back to me and jumped into my arms. And, in a move I’ve only ever seen executed by mothers of pre-schoolers who break loose from them and run out into the street when traffic is coming, first I held him and continued to cry, and then clopped him in the head. Then continued to cry again all the way upstairs until we were in the apartment.

August 31st, 2010 was a milestone of a day; it was my first night on the radio on WPAT. The next day, mom went to the hospital for what would be eight months out of our home; the first ten days were at the hospital itself, and then a stay at Dry Harbor until April of this year. And for the first few days, Buddy couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t here or why I’d sent her away. He was very depressed about it, and spent a lot of time clinging to me. But this too would pass, or so I hoped. On September 10th, I transferred her to the nursing home, and when I got home, Buddy was absolutely not himself. Where an energetic puppy had existed just hours before was now an old man. Something was very, very wrong; he was walking slower than he ever had, he wouldn’t eat or drink, he wouldn’t go, and he spent the whole day sleeping at my feet while I was at the computer in my room. And he screamed if I put his leash on him. Thinking it might be a twenty-four hour bug, I decided to give it a day. The next day, September 11th, he not only wouldn’t let me put his leash on him and all he did was lay under the piano. When I knew he was REALLY sick was the fact that he wouldn’t clean himself, and he was a fastidious little boy, always. I finally borrowed forty bucks from my downstairs neighbor, called a cab, and got him to the ER at Animal Medical Center after trying to clean him up with a soapy washcloth and trying not to hurt him in the process.

Well, they informed me that what he had was degenerative disease in a spinal disc, which had manifested itself in a rapid onset. I wasn’t completely surprised; I knew when Gary and I adopted him that he had a bad joint in his left hip and that it might manifest itself in the form of a spinal difficulty one day. What I wasn’t prepared for was that he would have gotten so old in a few hours or be in such terrible pain. The choices they gave me were twofold; I could either pay eighteen thousand dollars for an unguaranteed surgery (I barely ever have eighteen bucks to rub together, let alone eighteen thousand, so surgery was a laughable notion especially if it came with no guarantee) or I could…well, you know what I could.

So I could, and I did, because I just couldn’t bear the thought of him being in such pain. It kills me to this day that I made the decision, but he would have had no quality of life. And he was young; he would have been ten last November. But it was over and I knew it. And he knew it.

On that very last night, exactly a year ago tonight, I picked him up very gently so that I wouldn’t hurt his back, and put him in bed with me so we could have one last sleep together. On his pillow, like always. I climbed into bed at about 1 AM, which is early for me. And he literally purred like a kitten once I was there. And then, at about 5 AM, somehow he found the strength to get up on his little elbows and sidle his way over to me. He put his face on the pillow next to mine and fell back asleep with his nose against my forehead. And I’m extremely ticklish, so his whiskers were irritating the hell out of me, but I didn’t dare move for fear of breaking the spell. We slept like that until about noon, and then that was that. It was the day and it was all about to be over.

Maspeth and Raider’s office were closed that day because of the Jewish High Holy Day, so I had to take him to Boulevard Pet Hospital to have it done. And they had the nerve to tell me they’d only do it if I’d be present in the room. I said, “Absolutely not. I am not going to stand there and watch my son’s soul leave his body. This is my baby and I WILL NOT watch my baby die. I don’t give a rat’s ass what your policy is, I am NOT DOING THAT. You goddamn well let me have twenty minutes alone with him to say goodbye, and then I am OUT of here. End of story.” Well, I guess I must have sounded rather resolute, because they said, “All right, but this isn’t our way of doing things,” but they gave me twenty minutes.

I leaned down and started softly saying into his ear, “Buddyboo, you’ll always be Mommy’s angel. I hope you know that. Mommy loves you so much, and even though Daddy doesn’t love me anymore, he always loved you and always will. And Grandma wishes she could be here right now to say goodbye to you too, because she loves you so much. Aunt Barbara loves you, all our friends love you, even all the dogs and squirrels love you even though you hate them.” He picked up his head and licked my eye, and then I started crying so hard that I had to leave. I watched them wheel him into a back lab, I waved goodbye, and that was it. I had him cremated and scattered over Field of Dreams on Long Island, because I wanted him to finally be at peace with the other dogs and not bite them.

I’m not over it. I don’t know that I’ll ever be over it. That’s not to say that I don’t want another one, or that I can’t love other ones. But there will never be another Buddyboo.

And if all of this talk of the Rainbow Bridge is true, he’d better be there waiting for me when the day comes that I kick. Or he’s not getting his burger from Mickey D’s.

  1. Stephan says:

    I wasn’t planning on it today but you have me crying.

  2. StevenL says:

    Great piece, love the picture, very doggy-looking.

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