The first is Buffy (1978-1989), seen here at one year-old as a Tomboy in 1979, as was fitting since she shared the house with four boys aged 14 down to 9.
Tomboy Buffy--You notice that smile? She kind of looks like the Mona Lisa, doesn't she?
We never really could figure out exactly what kind of dog Buffy was, but we came to the conclusion with our vet that she was part hound, part fox terrier, and part sheep dog. Quite the pedigree. But what Buffy lacked in breeding, she made up with intelligence, and eagerness to please, and unwavering devotion and love. One day when she was older and beginning to suffer seizures, we had just brought Buffy home from the vet and Mom and I were discussing her condition. The entire time, Buffy was sitting at my feet. I would say something, Mom would say something. I would say something, Mom would say something. I would say something, Mom would say something. And then we were done. Buffy, however, immediately turned her head to look at me, obviously expecting that I would say something else. It was really eerie. It was like Buffy knew that we were talking about her and that she was listening intently. Mom and I both laughed very hard at that time as Buffy had unwittingly broken the ice.
My brother Doug actually brought Buffy home from the Katz's one day in May shortly after my parents' divorce was final in 1978. (What's really crazy is that the Katz's Aunt/Sister Barbara would marry my father 17 years later, so we got both a dog and a step mother out of that house on Stratford. Okay, that sounded a little strange. It's just a coincidence.) Anyway, my brothers and I were experts at emotional blackmail. We had just gone through the ordeal of having to choose which parent to live with, and we chose Mom. We had always wanted a dog, but Dad had always said "no," and he usually blamed it on my allergies. My brothers resented me a little bit for that. So we played the "We'll take care of her, Mom. She's free, she won't cost you a cent" card. And....Mom relented. Having grown up with dogs her entire life, it was clear that Mom wanted her too.
You can't tell from the pictures, but Buffy was a sun worshiper. She must have been a California Girl in a previous life, because Buffy loved lying in the sun. Whether it be in the cool grass outside, on the patio or deck, or when we were away at school, on the carpet wherever the sun was shining in through the windows. When Buffy was about two, Mom was getting kind of tired of cleaning up the carpeting after Buffy dug, chewed, and patted down to make her den; so Mom crocheted Buffy a mini-afghan rug. It was about 3'x3' and Mom usually had it by the doorwall so that when Buffy would go out and then come inside, the carpet would be protected from dirty or wet paws. Well this little rug somehow became Buffy's security blanket.
I was home sick from school for a few days my sophomore year in high school. While everyone else was gone, I just kind of lay down and slept on the couch and watched television. But I witnesses the most remarkable thing. At about 1:30 in the afternoon the sun started coming in through the door wall. At this time, Buffy got up from the floor next to me and moved to lie in the sun. She made herself comfortable, and then she got up and pulled her rug about six inches away from the door and then she lay down on the rug on her back and let the sun warm her belly. About an hour later, the sun was moving on so Buffy shrugged, got up, grabbed the rug with her teeth and moved about a foot, lay down on the rug again, this time on her side, and soaked up the sun. She repeated this for the next couple of hours while the sun shone through the glass doorwall. There is no doubt. Buffy loved lying in the sun, but she had to had have the rug Mom crocheted for to lie on.
This is a picture of Buffy at 8 years old, all groomed, smiling, and proper. Clearly she had matured out of her tomboy stage and with my mother's influence, became far more ladylike.
Buffy's death, sadly, was slow. Mom had called me over saying that Buffy had run away. A few hours later, Buffy was found not far from home lying in a ditch, all sullen and pretty much in a stupor, as if she had run away to die. It was Sunday afternoon and the vet was closed. Mom brought Buffy home and I came over. Normally, Buffy would run up to me, wagging her tail, even with the hip displaysia she suffered from in her last two years. But this time Buffy just stayed underneath the table pictured above. Her head was lying on her two front paws, pretty much glued to the floor. Buffy barely looked up at me with her eyes, but she did wag her tail once.
I pulled out all the stops to get her to perk up. I used the "T" Word: treat. I used the "W" word: walk. I used the "P" word: Pizza. Nothing worked. I went to the kitchen and brought out a cup of dog ice cream we had in the freezer. No dice. So I got a scoop of Breyer's ice cream and brought that out to her. Buffy took one lick. She just would not eat or drink. The next day I took Buffy to the vet, and after a whole battery of tests it was clear that Buffy was in the final stages of kidney failure, to which she succumbed after three days.
Buffy's death tore our hearts out. She was our childhood dog, and you really only ever have one childhood dog--the one you grow up with, the one you play in the snow with, the one who follows you around to neighborhood baseball games through the high grass, the one who follows you bravely over rocks and sand and boulders into deep and murky and frigid Lake Michigan because you are her family and where you go, she goes--even if she's never been in water before and has no idea what swimming is nor a clue of whether she can keep herself afloat as we played in the whitecaps coming ashore that warm June day in Charlevoix when she was only three months old.
In 1989 I was just beginning to become a writer. I had taken some classes at community college, and in 1990 I was enrolled in a poetry class at the University of Michigan--Dearborn. It was in that class that I wrote this:
Goodbye, My Friend
I watched that neon sun go down
as a jet flew through
electric red and purple rays
in between soft clouds
pushed and pulled by the wind.
And as I watched, I wondered:
what happens to a cloud
when it is torn asunder in the winds,
almost like a loaf of french bread
in a game of tug-o-war
with the white blur of fur
that snatched it from the dinner table.
Does the cloud die
and fade to nothingness,
never to be seen again,
or do memories remain
like scattered breadcrumbs on the floor
after the tug-o-war?
sitting with her in the waiting room.
She would walk back and forth on the tiled floor,
lie down under my chair,
get up and walk back and forth again—
bumping into a table covered with magazines…
Come here, girl!
It is night now.
The sun has gone
and I no longer see the clouds.
So I lament
like that old McCartney song
of life and love and loss.
When I see that neon sun again
and the breadcrumbs too.
I’ll watch the wind
blowing the clouds around
my gentle rain.
--Matthew S. Urdan
(Originally published in 1990 in the Literary Journal Lyceum, published by the University of Michigan-Dearborn)
I'm proud to say that this poem won the poetry contest that year, and a $350 stipend I used towards tuition.
April 9, 1990, almost six months after Buffy died, it was Doug again who brought home Mookie (1990-2001), a chocolate lab/german shepherd mix. Doug rescued Mookie from the pound, and I can't imagine a better save. I've never met a dog as sweet and as loving and as friendly and people-oriented as Mookie.
Just a couple of quick stories about Mookie. The first is how she learned to turn on the faucet. Mookie was a big dog...Maybe it doesn't look like it in the pictures, but she was 70 pounds and she could easily put her paws on my shoulders when standing on her hind legs. One day my brother Paul and sister n law April were in from Chicago and Mom had Chinese delivered. Paul and April had to get back to the airport and Mom wanted to maximize the time we spent with them, so instead of doing dishes after the meal, Mom just put the dirty dishes in the sink and we continued to chat with Paul and April. Well, Mookie, on her hind legs, could reach the sink. So she did and started to lick the plates clean. When she was finished, Mookie lifted up her head and hit the water faucet, turning the faucet on. Mookie let out a yelp and it was clear she had startled herself, but from that point forward, whenever Mookie wanted to get a drink of water, she went over to the faucet and turned it on and helped herself. Mookie was a smart girl, but for whatever reason, Mookie never figured out how to turn the faucet off. Maybe she just didn't see a need.
Mookie, 6 years old, and Matt
Mookie absolutely loved to go for walks. When Doug brought her home the first day, I took her for a walk off-leash. She just followed me for a quick trip around the house. As she got older, we went farther, and then the walks became a run--at least for a few months while I could still outrun her. For her first six months I came over three or four times a week. A little less frequently after that, but I had succeeded in making a monster out of her. Rain, snow, blizzard, ice storm--it didn't matter. The second I opened that door to my mother's house, Mookie was on me and would not relent until we took our walk together. Kind of sweet, eh? And I could always trust her off-leash. She knew the drill, she knew the route, she knew the rules.
I could go on and tell you more, such as the story of Mookie chasing the Canada Geese in their own pond and marshlands; or how driving home one day from the vet Mookie just freaked out when the sky opened up and the rain poured down in this intense thunderstorm and couldn't wait to get home and inside under cover, or how Mookie almost snapped at me for taking her uncracked walnuts away from her so I could open them for her; but this blog entry is getting kind of long already.
I don't have a picture of my brother Brad's Golden Retriever Duke, but he died this year and it was very sad. I didn't know Duke very well, but he was a great dog. Super gentle and my brother's constant companion. The following is Brad's eulogy for Duke.
I know it is weird and at least I'll be able to use the excuse "he just died" for sending this but Duke was not only my dog but he truly was a big part of my life.Not to mention I am not going to want to dwell on this everyday until I see each one of you because most of you will ask how he is doing and that is going to be bad at least for a little while.
I was very lucky to have a great dog who traveled with me and worked with me on a daily basis. He loved the woods up north, he loved the lobby of the Peninsula in Chicago and he loved the UJC conference in Pittsburgh. But most all, he loved everyone he met. He always said hello and loved to be scratched on his neck and would put his back real far so you would have easy access.
Duke was truly man's best friend and I will miss him dearly. Those of you who have lost animals know that they really are more than just an animal, they are family, Mispucha!
For those of you who think I am a raving lunatic, what took you so long to figure it out? I took Duke everywhere AND HE WAS THE BEST FRIEND ANY OF US COULD HAVE ASKED FOR.
If I am a little out of it the next couple of days, I apologize in advance but I know that I am going to have huge mood swings.
Thank You for being there for me, I appreciate it.
By the way. Duke woke up this morning, ate his breakfast went to work with me and had no problems until the end of the day when I let him out to do his business, he walked around normally then collapsed. I immediately put him in the car and took him to the hospital where they discovered he had a tumor in his heart and while trying to treat him, he died comfortably with very little pain in the course of 5 hours.
Thank you for your patience.
Duke and Duchess
Duke and Duchess were the first dogs I knew. They were both German Shepherds and they belonged to my Grandparents. I don't have many memories of either of the, however Duke was the kindest, most gentle dog. I remember when I was about seven we were over for Thanksgiving and my youngest brother Brad stepped on Duke's tail. Duke did not even flinch. We actually have a picture of Brad and Duke together somewhere. I wasn't able to find it for this blog entry though.
My grandparents bought Duchess as a 3 month old puppy about a year before Duke died and they lived together for almost a year. Duchess was totally different than Duke. As quiet and gentle as Duke was, Duchess was like an unbridled horse. Every time we went to our Grandparents Mom would have to go in first because Duchess would jump up on my mother and tower over her with her paws. Duchess ached to be with us, but my grandmother would usually put her outside when we came over. BUT towards the end of Duchess's reign we got Buffy and brought Buffy over to my grandparents. Buffy was just a puppy when she first met Duchess, and Duchess was mostly indifferent as Buffy was just a fraction of Duchess's size. But it seemed that Duchess was mildy amused by the white ball of fur that was pawing at and munching on the giant shepherd's tail. Duchess put up with it for half an hour before going away to lie down. I remember Buffy running after Duchess, Duchess barking once and Buffy running right back to my brothers and me.
And so we come full circle: Buffy, Mookie, Duke, Duke, Duchess, and back to Buffy. May the Year of the Dog bring you luck! It has already brought me some joy from this trip down 35 years of Memory Lane.
Thanks for reading.