“Remember when he would jump up in our laps when we were on the couch?” “Yeah, sure do”, I whispered softly, watching with a heavy tightness in my chest at the slow deliberate circles Buster was turning in the grass. His supervised evening ventures outside to poo, pee, sniff and scratch were the only joys left in his little life. Well, that and the one small handful of Honeynut Cheerios we treat him with each day. Being now totally blind and suffering from painful hips that just won’t stay in their joints made this last pleasure not quite as enjoyable as it once was for him. “Poor little feller” Ricky’s deep reassuring voice broke the unspoken sadness we both were experiencing. “Go get him, momma” Sighing deeply, I arose from the steps to gently retrieve my little grey headed baby from his obvious predicament … hopelessly lost in our large backyard.

Ricky had put his foot down “No, Prissy We are too old and set in our ways to have a baby For heaven sake, our children are grown already” Not one to give up easily I begged “Please, PLEASE at least think about it ” Now, ten years later, I realize Buster was the only soul on earth that would have ever been able to fill the void left in my heart when I realized (finally) that my children could pretty much take care of themselves. I remember the day we picked him out as any mother would remember the birth of her children All twelve puppies came running up to us at the same time, small quarter-cup sized bundles of pure energy, each one stumbling over the next with a “pick me, pick me” look of excitement in their eyes. Because they were so very small, four together wouldn’t have made a pound, they were kept on a counter in a large but shallow sided box in a room connected to the breeder’s house. “How do you know which one to choose?”, you might ask. “They all look just alike ”. Well, ever heard of love at first sight? Corny, I know, but the truth I began picking them up, one by one, waiting to feel the familiar tug on my heartstrings, when suddenly, as I reached down to pick up one of the larger, healthier looking pups, Buster, looking like a small butterbean with large ears pushed him aside and leaped into my hand As I brought him up towards my face, he began covering my cheek with huge “puppy suger” filled kisses ………….TUG BIG TUG There went those heart strings…….

Buster was the runt. Although smaller, he was smarter, feistier, and much more determined to go home with us than his larger siblings. Large brown eyes of pure excitement gazed at us as if to say “Mommy Daddy You have finally come to pick me up ” As I tucked his tiny body into my sweater sheilding him from the cold outside, I was overcome with a sense of protectiveness that only a mother can feel. So it was, the beginning of one of the sweetest relationships of my life.

Those of you having never experienced the pure joy of sharing your life with one of God’s many and loving creatures might as well stop reading right here ‘cause you just won’t get it. How many folks do you know will excitedly greet you at the door EVERYTIME you come
home? Even if you had just walked outside to get the mail. Even if you had walked into that door fifteen times in the past hour. Buster’s unashamed excitement at seeing us never ceased to burst my heart with joy. Even in his last days, upon hearing us come up the steps, he would begin the arduous task of standing on his feeble legs and tilting his face up into the direction of our voices…..always with a puppy smile on his face.

From the beginning, Buster seemed to know instintively his place in our family. He was our child, our little boy and mommy’s shadow. Being no bigger than a small potato, we had to keep a very close eye on the little feller. His favorite place to be while I cleaned house or went about my daily chores was to be tucked away in a small belly pack fastened around my waist. He would poke his head out and watch to make sure I was doing everything just right, or would just root down to the bottom of the pack to take a much needed nap. After a hard day of picking up his toys, turbo tuck running through the living room, kitchen, porch and yard, helping mommy clean the house, greeting each and every person that came and went through our busy household and finally showing off his talents as the smartest dog in the world, we would all crawl into bed together, Buster curled up warm and safe under the covers in the curve of my body.

For nine wonderful years, Buster filled our lives with more love than I think one person has the right to accept, laughter that forced tears down our cheeks and a happiness that can only come from a parent watching their child grow. For nine years everything in our lives revolved around one tiny four pound bundle of pure love. Even now, every morning, every evening before bed, every time we walk out of the house and every time we walk back in, our first thought is “where is my baby?”. I still catch myself looking for his tiny gray head poking out from under his baby blanket on the couch. I still have to choke back a singsong “Where’s my Buster?” each and every time I come through the back door.

“Oh my lord ” “How did you guys get so wet??” The sight of Ricky and Buster standing there in the livingroom, Ricky’s boxer shorts dripping on the carpet, both soaked to the skin with water dripping off chins and whiskers, brought down the house in hysterical laughter. “I swear, he just went right in the pool…..like he didn’t even see it.” “I had to go in to get him or he would have drowned.” Had I known then what cruel path we had suddenly been forced onto, I would have taken Buster and run…….hard and fast away from this unknown disease that had begun to deteriorate his tiny body. After all, isn’t it a mommy’s job to protect her babies? Keep them away from harm at all cost? Looking back now, we see that the slips, mishaps and accidents were all signs and symptoms of his advanced aging. As I was drying him off after his last, almost fatal, fall into the pool, I noticed his eyes had a strange glaze to them. It slowly dawned on me that my precious little boy’s world was growing dark. Our fears were confirmed the next day when Dr. Branch examined his eyes. “I’m afraid little Buster is going blind. There are tests we can perform, and while they will only confirm what I believe is
happening here, there is nothing we can do the stop the progression of this disease.” …….so we took him home to his familiar surroundings and his ever growing world of darkness.

Ricky answered the shrill of the telephone laying on the table next to me. The one I had ignored in hopes that if I ignored it then all of this would become a horrible dream that I could wake up from. Instead, Buster and I were curled up on the couch together where we had been most of the day. He sleeping peacefully while I, with eyes red from an endless river of tears, rubbed his tiny velvet cheek and whispered how much I loved him. “Layne, it’s Quailwood, things are slowing down there a bit so they want to know if you want them to come on early.” Someone
tell me how you schedule your child’s death….please, someone tell me….because I still can’t for the life of me understand it. “Nope, nope, nope”, I straightened up on the couch, “This is all wrong. Not doing it. Not today. Not ever…..ever…….ever… please god, help me. How can you bring this baby into my life, let me fall in love with him completely and then force me to make this decision??” I don’t understand. I will never understand. The jangling of the phone had brought Buster out of his blissful sleep and he was now looking in the direction of my face, his eyes sweet …..and sad…. as if to say “it’s okay, mom…….I don’t want to be in the dark anymore, I don’t want to hurt anymore, I want to play again…” As I cradled him softly against my body, racks of pain and grief squeezed my body in a grip that took my breath away. I then uttered two of the most painful words I have ever had to speak, “It’s time.” Complete silence. Complete grief. Complete ……..complete.

My baby was so brave. He sat up slightly at the sound of someone he loved coming in the back door. He did love Quailwood so much. We could say “You wanna go to Quailwood??” and he would literally go get his bed, his food, his blanket and his toys and be standing at the door ready to go As Leslie sat down on the couch beside him, speaking softly to him and to us, he looked in her direction with ears just slightly back almost as if to say “Well, hi You came to my house this time, huh?” It is that image that I will carry with me until I take my last breath. His tiny gray headed profile and the brave look on his face. My baby was so brave. As she prepared the steps necessary to help Buster ease into heaven, he lay down on my chest, gazed up into my face and sighed …….as if trying to comfort me ….to let me know how much he loved me. My little boy took his last sweet breath of life and then eased into a forever peaceful sleep. Silence……complete……utter grief….there are no words…..there just are no words. For what seemed forever, I held the warmth of his little body against my chest as if to capture it in my heart forever. I kissed again and again the velvety smoothness of his head and then wrapped him softly in his blanket, Elmo at his side.

Thus is the end of this wonderful story of my little boy? …..my little shadow? …….my little Buster? No, as long as I can feel the warmth of his body in my heart, as long as we can remember with laughter his wonderful antics and happy puppy face, he will be with us forever. You see, his life intertwined with ours and in doing so, wove a beautiful story that has no end. From the first puppy kisses when he was six weeks old until the last beat of his heart laying on my chest………we were in love with him……forever.

Layne from GA