First… The best perspective…
A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast…
– Proverbs 12:10
Today there is an empty and silent spot in our home. Where until recently there had been life and vitality, now there is but a memory.
My wife Dee always wanted a Basset Hound – ever since she was a child. Sometimes she would tell me how much she wanted one, but it never seemed like the right time. It was always the busyness of life or it was other priorities. For many years our lifestyle simply did not allow for owning a dog.
One day as I sat in my office working on some project, Dee brought her laptop and said, “Awww Jay (her nickname for me) – look – a Basset at the Humane Society and he needs a home. The photo she showed me was a handsome tan and white dog with sad brown eyes. She continued talking about how this dog needed a home and asked if we could go see him. The implication of course was that we would adopt him and bring him home.
My words were the same as always… “Now hon, you know we really can’t… it doesn’t work for us… think of…” And on and on… But quietly, in my mind, I was having very different thoughts.
I had recently come off of a very stressful time of employment that had resulted in job loss. The several months leading up to my departure had been serious enough that my health had been affected. I had just returned to CEF as a newly appointed local director and our lives had started to stabilize. In addition, Brandon was in college, so we were at a point where we could consider adding a pet to the family.
Dee acknowledged my words, nodded her head, and left the room. But I was plotting…
The next morning, she left the house at her usual time to get to her job in the business office at a Christian school. As soon as she was down the road and out of sight, I quickly jumped in my car and drove to the Humane Society. I knew that this particular dog was unlikely to last long, so I had to get there early. Plus, I wanted to make sure to be home so Dee could be surprised.
When I arrived, I spoke with the attendant. She gave me directions down a hall and to a particular pen where the Basset Hound was located. She said that she had another matter to attend to and she would join me momentarily. I went down the hall and there he was.
His head was drooping and he looked sad, forlorn, and lonely… clearly this poor guy was in a serious state of depression. In the most friendly voice I could muster, I softly called his name – “Bubba.” He was standing, but he slowly looked away. I soon found out that he had been there for six weeks.
I waited for the attendant who came and asked if I would like to have some time with him in the courtyard. Of course, I readily agreed. As I watched him walk around the courtyard, interacting with the young woman, I knew this was the right decision. We had not had a dog in more than eighteen years, but there was just something that made Bubba seem perfect. He was six years old, well-trained and had a good background.
The papers that accompanied his file stated that he had been given to the Humane Society only because his prior family had a large and noisy family that included children, other dogs, cats, and a bird. Bubba simply didn’t enjoy the commotion and he could become irritable. These issues would not be concerns in our home. My guess was that Bubba would thrive with us. I quickly said yes that I would take him, and the paperwork was processed. I wrote a check, and left with my new friend. I made it home ahead of Brandon who had been at morning classes. When he walked in the door and saw Bubba, his reaction was one of shock. “You didn’t. Wow – I can’t believe it!” He said. The three of us had another hour or so until Dee would arrive home. I couldn’t wait! Finally I saw the car pull in and Dee walked to the door, entered, and then her eyes caught Bubba. She let out a little scream – a mixture of surprise and joy and of course her full attention became riveted on this new addition to our family.
The next six years went by in a blur as far as Bubba is concerned. The daily routine of feeding, going outside, a bit of play, and long naps. But also – at least during good weather – his daily walk. Oh those walks! How he looked forward to this time each evening after dinner. Almost every day he would come to me, since I was the one who ultimately said that magical word. He would present himself, sit down facing me, and give a quiet woof which was his way of asking, “Master, can we go tonight?”
Bubba was such a wonderful dog around other people, whether they were little children, or adults of any age. He truly endeared himself to everyone. It would be impossible to recount every instance of walking Bubba, when my attention would be drawn to a car slowing down so folks could get a closer look. Many, many times the occupants of the car would smile as they drove by slowly to get a closer look. On one occasion, a woman and her young daughter pulled over, opened their window and asked if they could come pet him. We had a great conversation and Bubba warmly engaged with these complete strangers, happily wagging his tail the entire time. A couple of years ago, a state trooper stopped across the road from where Bubba had stopped to sniff at the surroundings. I thought perhaps the trooper wanted to ask me a question or two about something going on in the neighborhood. No… He got out of his car just to see Bubba close-up. Once again, we had plenty of friendly interaction as Bubba received attention from a complete stranger who just happened to see him while on his walk.
He loved being out in the back yard. He would find a comfortable spot, lie down, and just enjoy being outdoors. He would look around at whatever seemed interesting for the moment, completely relaxed, and at peace with his world. I loved watching him in these moments as he seemed to present the perfect picture of contentment and serenity.
Another of his unique qualities was the way he would slowly and quietly ‘sneak’ underneath bushes or weeds while outside, or underneath tablecloths or curtains if he was inside. He would allow the bush or tablecloth to come in contact the top of his head and along his back as he very slowly moved forward as if he were expecting a rabbit to jump out. His muscles would tense up and he would be on full alert for whatever might be hidden, waiting to be discovered. He never found anything while sneaking, but he was patient and never quit trying. Then he would finish and begin his normal trot along the road – or go lay down if he was inside.
Bubba was quiet – hardly ever barked. When he did bark, the tone was deep, rich, and almost melodious. I tried to encourage him to bark more often and I never complained when he did, but he spoke more with his eyes, his ears, and his tail – along with the soft woof. One of his unique qualities was his ability to listen. Dee would often talk to him – about most anything. It never mattered to him what the topic was. He would cock his ears forward, tilt his head slightly, and stare at Dee’s face as she talked to him. And he would maintain this attention for several minutes. It was as if he not only heard the words, but that he intensely wanted to understand.
Sometimes Dee would fall asleep on the couch for a while before retiring to bed. On occasion, Bubba would get up from his own bed, walk over to the sofa, and sit down in front of her. He would then just quietly gaze at Dee for the longest time. I would observe this from my chair and wonder what he was thinking. My best guess is that he was quietly expressing his love and admiration.
Dee and I talked a number of times about how Bubba could have been a therapy dog. I have seen a few of these special dogs as they interacted with people and Bubba had the perfect qualities that would have allowed him to serve in this way.
Bubba never needed to be disciplined. Oh, he had his occasional accident on the floor and even if we tried to express our disapproval, he would just look up at us with his big dark eyes, wag his tail, and seem to say, “You’re really not mad at me, are you?” And we would have to admit – no, we aren’t mad at all. It was impossible to be upset with this special member of our family.
His last days came upon us so suddenly that we hardly had time to absorb the fact that he was sick. The last week of his life was almost always overcast, rainy, damp, and of course the amount of daylight was becoming shorter each day. He was now past thirteen years of age and we had noticed for a while that rain bothered him. It seemed to cause distress, almost a type of terror, which we thought was the onset of dementia. Dee and I talked a little about how we would care for him under those circumstances, something that we dreaded, but we were completely committed to providing everything to ensure the best quality of life for our beloved Bubba.
We noticed that he was losing weight. His appetite seemed normal other than skipping a meal occasionally, but he still enjoyed several pieces of bite-sized meat after dinner, something we had given him each evening since his arrival. We would also give him a piece of carrot or apple during the day. But then came his last few days.
I don’t know – maybe he knew his time was short. He wanted to spend time on my lap his next to last couple of nights. Each of these two nights he would come to me and place his front paws on my chair and boost himself up to me. With a wagging tail he seemed to ask if he could get up on my lap. I was happy to fulfill this request, glad that he wanted some closeness. Each of these two evenings he would lay across my lap for more than three hours. He had been shaking a bit and he seemed to have a type of night terror – panting, wide eyed, but still his gentle self.
His last full day with us was a struggle. It was Friday, October 7 and finally about 3:45 in the afternoon I told Dee we needed to call the vet. The signs of serious illness struck suddenly but hard. It was very clear that he was shutting down. Unfortunately, the vet was not able to see us until the next day at 11:00 AM. I wasn’t sure Bubba would make it through the night, so we decided to simply be with him in case he passed. I let Brandon know and he and Megan came over. Bubba was clearly weak and stayed in bed. However, when Brandon said it was time for them to go, Bubba raised his head, stood up, and walked the few feet to stand in front of Brandon to give and receive a final good-bye.
After Brandon and Megan left, Bubba laid down in the middle of the living room floor. Throughout this decline, he never seemed to be in pain or even uncomfortable. Certainly he was weak and listless, though I know he was very much aware of us being there with him. That night Dee slept on the couch and I slept on the floor right next to him. Neither of us slept well, waking up often and checking to see if he was breathing. We dreaded the day to come…
Morning came and it seemed that his condition was the same. When it was time to leave the house, I carefully picked him up and carried him outside. With tears in my eyes I told Dee I wanted him to touch the grass one more time. I set him down and after a moment he was so weak that he just laid down where he had been standing. It was time to go, so I gently lifted him again and placed him in the car.
The veterinarian – Dr. Andrea – came in to examine Bubba. I had been holding him on my lap, so it was I who placed him on the examining table. After Dee and I described the symptoms and she looked him over, she said he exhibited signs of Addison’s Disease but blood work and testing would be required. If her tentative prognosis was correct, then it was treatable, but she also stated that he could have cancer. We agreed to the series of tests, but we had to leave Bubba there for the weekend.
I felt torn about this. He seemed so near to death that we wanted to be with him at the end, but Dee and I agreed that if there was a chance for life that we should leave him there for treatment. The doctor said she would call us if there was any change, so we departed feeling encouraged, even if it was ever so slight.
Early evening I received the call from Dr. Andrea. The moment I heard her voice I knew what she was about to say. Bubba had quietly and peacefully passed in the late afternoon hours. The grief that Dee and I felt in those next moments is unimaginable. We will never completely get over the loss.
How is it that these wonderful and very special creatures can become so intertwined with our hearts, our emotions, and indeed our very lives? Bubba was a special gift from God and he gave us so much, while asking very little in return. Truly he was unique and we enjoyed a deep bond with him that was so close that it is difficult to adequately or accurately describe.
The best I can say is that Dee and I loved Bubba and he returned that love many times over. He enriched our lives with his presence and he gave many joyful memories that will last us a lifetime!
© Jeffery J. Michaels / Plain English Publications 2016
(Quotations allowed with attribution to this blog)