I will never forget that look of hope.
He seemed to live with a perpetual look of hope upon his face.
Hope for a walk around the lake. Hope for the freedom to roam at Briones. Hope for a ride in the car. Hope for a swim in the bay. Hope that it was mealtime. Hope for anything that involved him and us.
He just didn’t want to get left behind.
We didn’t leave him behind when we visited the Marin Humane Society in October 1998 to see a 10-week old pup named Curtis. Instead, we fell in love with a 9-week old mixed-breed. After bringing him home that afternoon, we found out he had been exposed to the deadly parvovirus. But we soon learned little Bucky seemed to be immune to that, and seemingly everything else he would come in contact with—years later he ate a light bulb with no apparent after effects; he inhaled an inch-long thistle; skunks sprayed him directly in the mouth and eyes; he ate (likely) pounds of a wide variety of animal feces (deer, cow, turkey, etc.).
He was all dog: big, healthy, strong, athletic. He was kind to all other dogs and people, young and old.
He was known as Bucky, Buck, Buckmeister, The B-Man, B-B, B-Boy, Mister B, the Big Fella, and just B.
And he had a certain smell.
Phyllis and I loved his smell. We crate-trained him as a pup, so in his first few weeks, we would take him out in the middle of the night to have him learn to do his habits. We’d practically fight over who’d get to take him out back just to get the opportunity to bury our face in his fur to smell that wonderful smell! And that smell was somehow still there to the end. I’ve never known a dog that retained his puppy smell throughout his life.
Bucky surprisingly was resigned to play second-fiddle for nearly his entire life. In his puppy-training class he finished second in his obedience test to some other pup that wasn’t quite as clumsy. And in all but the last two months of his life he played a subservient role to his “brother” Jesse who exerted a dominance over him even though Buck had him by 35 pounds. You see, when Bucky was 6 months old, we brought home little 10-week old Jesse. Bucky proceeded to destroy every chew toy of the new pup he could latch on to. That didn’t last long. Bucky finally capitulated to the natural order of things. He had his moments of rebellion, including leaving a few well-placed holes in Jesse’s chest a couple of times, but Bucky eventually paid for acts like that in spades.
Regardless of his pack status, Bucky was a happy dog. One of our friends visiting from out of town once commented that after he dies, he wants to come back as our dog. Bucky just exuded that kind of happiness.
Bucky was the happiest when outside, just sitting for long stretches of time and watching anything: birds, squirrels, moles, gophers, the sky—yes the sky. He used to look up to the heavens a lot, looking at helicopters and airplanes, and the contrails of jets flying at 35,000 feet. This somehow spoke volumes about the soul and spirit of a dog that was in fourth place in the pecking order of a pack of four. It’s not that he was searching for freedom from any dominance, but that he had his own way of achieving that freedom. He could just be.
Hope with a question.
Only six weeks after Jesse died so suddenly, Bucky became sick suddenly—he wouldn’t eat one morning and just wanted to retreat to a different room to sleep. Diagnosed with pancreatitis, he was treated with fluids and antibiotics. After three days at the clinic, he was back home on a strict diet. But a day later, one of his rear legs didn’t look right. Jen, our friend, a vet, who had earlier euthanized Jesse, gave Bucky a look at our house during dinner that weekend. Our boy was back at the clinic for X-Rays: secondary lung cancer was the unfortunate verdict. A follow-up ultrasound showed the primary tumor in the kidneys. The leg problem was due to a spinal fracture caused by the cancer having also spread into the spinal column.
Every day thereafter, Bucky went downhill so fast that in a week, he lost the use of his back legs. He would lie on his bed and look at me with that same perpetual look of hope upon his face, but a hope mixed with confusion. As he would try to get up, he would look back toward his hind legs that no longer worked, and then look into the back of my eyes and try to speak to me, seemingly with a word that began with the letter “W” and ended with a question mark.
For once in my life I didn’t have an answer for my friend.
The only thing I could do for him was to make as short as possible this new phase of his life that was so unfair to him—as unfair as the briefness of his new-found elevated pack status since Jesse died.
So, we had Jen make a house call on Tuesday night. Now, Bucky could no longer achieve his own freedom by just being. We had to free him—taking on his misery—and in return we are left with seeing the shadows and hearing the echoes of more than eleven years of living with a being who gave us everything and asked nothing more than to not be left behind.
I hope we didn’t let him down.
TRIBUTEHad an old dog whose name was Blue You know Blue was mighty true You know Blue was a good old dog Blue treed a possum in a hollow log You know from that he’s a good old dog. ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ Blue treed a possum out on a limb Blue looked at me and I looked at him Grabbed that possum, put him in a sack Don’t move, Blue, ’til I get back. ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ It rained, it rained, yeah. It rained, it rained, yeah. ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ Old Blue’s feets was big and round Old Blue’s feets was big and round Never allowed a possum to touch the ground. ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ Me and Blue went out on a hunt Blue treed a possum in a hollow stump You know Blue was a good old dog Blue treed a possum in a hollow log You know from that he’s a good old dog. ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ But Old Blue died and I dug his grave I dug his grave with a silver spade I let him down with a golden chain And every link I called his name “ONE! Blue you good dog you” “TWO! Blue you good dog you.” ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ Blue laid down and died like a man Blue laid down and died like a man And now he’s treeing possum in the promised land I’m going to tell you this just to let you know Old Blue’s gone where good dogs go. ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ When I hear Old Blue bark When I hear Old Blue bark Blue treed a possum in Noah’s Ark Blue treed a possum in Noah’s Ark. ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦
Bucky died on February 2, 2010.
These lyrics, excerpts from the song Old Dog Blue, were sung on February 2, 1928 in Memphis, Tennessee by Jim Jackson, recorded and now preserved as part of the Anthology of American Folk Music, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.