It has been almost exactly 8 years since Chris and I adopted Buddy, our feisty silky terrier, our first pet together. We had just moved to Iowa City after graduating from DePauw, and I had been pouring over petfinder.com almost as soon as we set foot in our first apartment. I had wanted a dog of my own throughout college and was excited to finally reach that stage in my life where I could actually get one. I was looking for something small, non-shedding, and relatively young, which isn’t exactly a piece of cake combination to find in shelters and rescue organizations. Apparently many people are looking to adopt “small, non-shedding, relatively young” dogs so when one is available for adoption, it will get snatched up pretty quickly. I felt so lucky when I called a nearby rescue organization about an adorable 7 month-old silky terrier named Buddy and found out that he was still in need of a home. I had already been obsessing over his cute picture online and had gotten Chris to agree that this could possibly be the pooch for us. When we visited him at his foster home he was playful and sweet and even more adorable in person; of course we were going to adopt him!
He came home with us a few days later after getting neutered. It was September and still warm out, and the very next day was the Iowa/Iowa State football game. We had planned to tailgate and watch the game with friends, so naturally we brought our brand new-to-us pup along. He was such an angel on that walk through all the massive crowds of crazy people – he stayed right next to me and never barked or pulled on the leash once. About a block from the stadium a guy hanging out in front of one of the houses approached us as we walked by. “Hey! Is your dog named Buddy?” he called out.
“Um, yeah, it is,” one of us replied.
“That’s my fucking dog!” he exclaimed.
I was about to get defensive (Um, no, that’s our dog!), but then he smiled, crouched down and reached out to pet Buddy. “Did you just get him today or something? We gave him up just a few days ago!”
Yep, we met Buddy’s previous owner among a crowd of probably 90,000 people the day after we got him. That insane coincidence had Chris and I talking for like the entire next year.
Those first two years when it was just the three of us living in our apartment were definitely the sweetest years with Buddy. He was our baby, our first child, and we were so devoted to taking him on walks, to the dog park, out in the parking lot to play fetch, and to run around with the neighbor dogs next door. He had shown us his anxious side by developing strange fears of all sorts of things, from thunder to our camera to anyone leaving our apartment, but we weren’t too concerned because it didn’t seem like there was anything we could do about that anyway.
But as time went on, Buddy’s behavior got more complicated. We adopted a second dog (hello, Luna!), moved into our home, I started working full time as a teacher, and then we had a baby (hello, Charlotte!). Buddy did not adapt well to these changes and his anxiety was palpable. To simplify: we’ve struggled these last four years with him, and we worried about our future with him. First he became aggressive toward other dogs and then he started snapping at us, including (and especially) Charlotte. It is so hard not knowing how to help someone you love, and a dog is so exception. We felt helpless, clueless, and unqualified when it came to helping Buddy overcome his issues and working on the subsequent behavior problems. Mostly, we were so saddened that the sweet little pup we considered our first child just wasn’t the same dog anymore.
When he started throwing up months ago, we assumed it was his anxiety. When he started to become really finicky about his food, we weren’t surprised either – he’s always been an unenthusiastic eater. It wasn’t until we noticed the vomiting was happening almost daily and that despite changing the type of dog food we feed him a hundred times he still wasn’t interested in eating it, did it dawn on us that there could be a real problem. As soon as we called the vet and made the appointment, we knew something had to be wrong. We gave him a haircut and each pass with the razor revealed another protruding rib. He was sick. And then immediately, for the first time through all of this, he started acting sick. He was weak, tired, and stumbling around our house. The vet told us his liver was failing, and probably other organs at that point, too. He gave us some pills to stop the vomiting and make him a little more comfortable. We took him home wondering how less than a week earlier he was regular old Buddy, barking at everything under the sun and accompanying me on a 1.5 mile walk.
We spent the next few days couped up and snuggling, trying to keep him warm under blankets and getting him to eat anything at all. (Peanut butter was all he’d take.) The vet gave us pills to last a week, but by the second day home we knew we wouldn’t use them all. It was devastating to watch him deteriorate so quickly, and we decided on Sunday that Monday (yesterday) would be his last day. I slept on the couch each night with him to keep him company, took lots of pictures, and babied him to bits. When we woke up on Monday, he had unexpected surge of energy and spent most of the day off the couch. He spent time outside in the yard and wandered around the house like usual. He found the sunny spot on the living room floor and rested there for a bit. He posed for pictures with Charlotte and our pumpkin. And then, late that afternoon, he took a ride in the front seat of our van and stuck his head out the window. I like to think that he found that reserve of energy so that he could have a good last day… I hope it was a good last day.
When we arrived home red-eyed and weepy without him, I still expected him to greet us at the door. All day today I’ve been looking for him, anticipating his sometimes incessant barking, and reminding myself to close the gate before I leave the house. I suspect it will take a while before we are used to Buddy not being here. Right now it just feels very weird.
One silver lining of his illness – we got to enjoy the best version of our dog during those last days. He was too sick to be so anxious so he wasn’t looking around for things to bark at, he didn’t freak out every time we closed a door, and he let us pet him, hold him, and snuggle him to our heart’s content. He followed me around and wanted to get on my lap while I was nursing Caroline. He let her swat him and didn’t hide when she started crying. In terms of the quality time we had together, his last days were the perfect punctuation mark to his life.
One of his last day pictures. He was only 8.5 years old. We miss him.