On August 28, 2011 my dog Buffett died.
My dog. What wonderful words.
I am convinced some beings are meant to know one another.
Buffett and I were.
Shortly before Neal finished graduate school I wanted a puppy. Afflicted with responsibility, we waited until we moved, he began his new career and we could better afford the commitment. I spent that in-between time researching dog breeds and when we were ready to adopt I knew for sure I wanted a female, Border Collie mix.
I visited the shelter.
There were so many cute puppies and dogs, all just tugged at my heart, but they were not mine.
Then one September Thursday afternoon I called a local vet who advertised adoptions in their yellow pages ad.
“Do you have any puppies available for adoption, possibly even a female, Border Collie mix?”
“Oh my gosh,” the receptionist responded. “You aren’t going to believe this. The day before yesterday one of our vet techs found, abandoned in the woods near her house, a six to seven week old, female, Border Collie-Spaniel mix!”
We arranged for me to come in the next day to meet her. I already knew she was mine, and of course she was. I saw her, fell immediately in love and made plans for her to come home with me on Monday. She needed to remain with the vet to finish her treatments for the infestations from her time in the woods. I could barely contain myself the entire weekend. I was getting a puppy.
The day Buffett came home. September 22, 1997
That was the beginning of our story.
Now this is the end.
Buffett was diagnosed with Lymphoma and it was a short time between the diagnosis and when the illness overcame her.
We knew it was the end on a Saturday and Neal wanted us to spend the day at our place on the lake. She loved the water and lying in a particular spot on the bed where, in our small cottage she had a view of the whole downstairs and the water. We wanted to give her a great last day.
The day passed with Buffett on the bed and Neal and I outside on the master bedroom deck. The gods smiled down on us with an unusually mild August day. We enjoyed sunshine, low humidity and the most magnificent breeze coming off the water. We drank margaritas, an appropriate choice to toast our beloved dog named after Jimmy Buffett, and the buzz, I will admit, helped mask the pain.
We could see Buffett through the open French doors and we would often go in and sit with her and try to get her to drink some water. She had drawn inward and was mostly non-responsive and had given up eating. I think letting her know we were there was more for us.
When evening came we went to bed but barely slept. Our minds were on Buffett and her growing restlessness and by 4:00 a.m. Sunday morning we knew she wanted to be outside. Our lake property though is extremely sloped and almost all deck and stairs. There was no safe grassy spot for her to lie.
So we got up, dressed and Neal carried her to the car and placed her in the front passenger seat. That’s where she always sat, and so for her final car trip it was absolutely right for my puppy to be next to me as I drove her home.
For the next 35 minutes I watched her in that seat, so very aware I would never see her there again. She was weak and although she was but a foot from me she was very far away. She was peaceful though, more relaxed than she had been earlier, and I wondered if she was comforted by somehow knowing she was going home.
We got back to town around 5 a.m. Relieved, we got out of the car and Neal and I carried her together to the back of the yard and placed her under a tree. It was dark and I sat with her until the sun began its climb into the sky. Then I heard the words of Connie, the tech at our vet’s office, who just days before told me…
“They will hold on for us.”
It was time for me to say goodbye. My tears flowed along with my words as I thanked her for all the love and wonderfulness she brought into my world. I wanted so much for Buffett to understand the depth of my gratitude to her. How do you do that? What I said seemed inadequate expressions. When you know you won’t ever get the chance again, you want to go on and on as if saying it so many times will some how quench the unquenchable thirst. But I had to stop trying, I knew I couldn’t stay.
If Connie was right I did not want to prolong, not for one selfish moment, what she had come there to do, what was inevitable. So I leaned over and kissed my puppy on the top of her head and as my hand, which had been stroking her soft fur lingered on her back, I told her one last time how much I loved her and that I was leaving.
I got up, turned, but could not move.
Frozen and conflicted, I stood there still wanting to be near her.
And in those still moments, my thoughts took me back to March 2010 when Buffett tore her 2nd ACL two weeks after tearing the first. Both hind legs were bandaged to her hip leaving her unable to walk. Before bed one night, when it was time to take her out, I stood in the family room looking out the windows at the rain and realized…
“Love is carrying your 45 pound dog out in the rain so she can go to the bathroom.”
In the progression of life and love, I came to understand, as I stood there motionless that Sunday morning, love is also walking away so she could die.
With that thought I did.
And my tears grew in direct proportion to the distance I moved from her. When I got inside I looked out those same windows and watched my dog in her final hours.
The photo of Buffett that sits on my desk
Shortly after I came inside she got up and moved to the far corner of the yard and nestled herself between the azalea and privacy fence. Her last steps communicated to me her instinctive need to be away and alone and it was then I saw the elegance in her death.
In the days since she had gone inward, since she stopped eating and drinking, she showed me she seemed to know exactly what was happening, that she knew what she needed to do and she did so with complete calmness. She was successfully making her way through the most natural of processes.
It was about 8:40 a.m. when I lied down on the couch to close my eyes. I fell asleep and suddenly awoke at 9:00. Neal was looking out the window at Buffett and about to head out the back door.
“What’s happened?” I asked.
He said Buffett had just convulsed and was going to get a closer look to check if she was breathing. I joined him. I couldn’t help but notice in the 20 minutes I finally let go enough to sleep, Buffett too let go.
We stood on the edge of the deck but couldn’t tell if her chest was moving. She had been taking such shallow breathes it was impossible to determine from so far away so we went into the yard, slowly walking towards her.
“She’s not breathing.” I said.
He agreed. When we got to her we knew. She was gone. My puppy was gone.
I dropped down beside her and once again my hand rested on her still warm back. I was comforted to be touching her but also aware she was no longer there, just her physical body remained. The delightful energy that made her Buffett was already gone. I cried. And it was the first time in our 22 years of marriage I saw Neal cry.
Where does energy go?
It was her eyes. That’s what I remember most. I didn’t need to take her pulse to confirm she was gone. All I had to do was look at her still-open eyes to know she wasn’t there.
I sat and looked at my brown-eyed girl.
I looked and looked and looked. My tear soaked eyes looked hard at her eyes, wanting to absorb her, to study and remember every detail of my true-hearted companion. And as I looked I was struck by the idea that energy is a force we ordinarily think we cannot see, but actually we can. My sweet dog’s eyes taught me energy is visible, because I could see its absence. Eyes that once sparkled with love of naps, chasing squirrels, licking empty yogurt cups and hopefully me, were now vacant.
When I think of Buffett, and I do every day, I think of her delightful energy and am so very glad she graced my life for 14 years.
NOTE: It was with hesitation I returned to the lake the following Friday. Buffett’s death was so recent, her absence so strong and the thought of the lake house made me miss her all the more. When I arrived I found the place just as we left it, the signs of our quick departure that Sunday morning quite evident. I had come to clean up but once there, all I wanted to do was sit on Buffett’s spot on the bed. After a good cry, I went downstairs and onto the porch. As I sat on the chaise and looked out at the water, from out of nowhere, appeared a dog I had never seen before, or since. She was a Spaniel and looked just like Buffett, only she was caramel and cream-colored. The dog hopped up onto the chaise and sat beside me. Stunned, I reached for my phone and took her picture. After I had a permanent record of this canine apparition, my hand reached out and almost melted in her familiar soft fur and as I looked into her brown eyes I smiled a smile that was big and deep and completely thirst-quenching. I thanked her for coming to visit me. Then, as quickly as she appeared, she left.
My lake pup visitor.