Party dog

His death seemed likely often yet I was stunned when it came.

There was the time he ate Avery’s pin cushion, a stuffed frog full of straight pins. We gave him a matter of hours before his gut was shredded. Instead, he nonchalantly threw up broken, half digested pins then returned to his sprawl on the floor, engaging in his favorite pastime: lunging at flies.

There was the first time he was hit by a car. His whimpering on the porch late one night was our only clue that he had been injured. Then there was the second time he was hit by a car…

Buddy was not promising from the beginning. One fine spring morning in 2008, an animal control officer called me from a rural vet’s office. Word was I wanted to adopt a Newfoundland. I had been on a secret quest for a lifeguard for our small children who swam in the Colorado at our River Farm. My plan was to surprise them with a fluffy puppy; however, what was on offer was a skeletal, abused black mop they estimated to be about two years old.

“We rescued him from an animal hoarder who stopped feeding him,” said the officer as he struggled to stand. Apart from his enormous head and floppy mouth, this mutt was not what I had in mind. But, he was the Keith Richards of dogs – mangy, beat up, and somehow irresistible. Needless to say, everyone was surprised when I brought him home.

What no one could anticipate was how after a few months of heaping bowls of giant dog food and love, he’d blossom into the largest lap dog you’d ever seen. As Skip says, he became our Clifford. True, he was a drooling, dirt encrusted, 145-pound black mutt that could incite terror by his mere presence, but if that’s all you saw, you missed the point entirely. He was all lover. He never wasted time with balls or jumping for Frisbees. He lived to smear slobber across your thighs in his persistent, clumsy attempts to nuzzle. His favorite place was in your arms, preferably in the middle of the massaging flow of the Colorado River.

Lucky for him, our community farm is full of visitors, campers and tubs of water. We created a “Grooming Basket” loaded with brushes and combs to not only assure children that he was gentle, but to coopt them into grooming, which required a battalion of helpers. We encouraged the kids to brush and release, brush and release. Over the years, several birds nests were found lined with his fluffy clumps.

Bud loved all farm guests. He took any quilt on the ground as an invitation to flop down in the middle, crush toys, knock over picnics, insist on love and drool on squealing vistors.

Though he was rarely the brightest bulb in the pack (why did he occasionally mark customers? Why did he repeatedly get sprayed in the face by skunks?), Bud taught me about discrimination and presumption as he unnerved canine and human alike.

“Does he bite?” the Hispanic teenagers would shout from across the street when I took him lumbering through our neighborhood.  When we passed by the RV park next to our home, a chorus of RV-sized mini canines rang out in a frenzy of barking as he made his rounds. Chihuahuas were the worst, teeth bared, straining to get him. Bud stared down at them dumbfounded and moved on. He was a lover, not a fighter.

During a recent post-vet appointment meander down South Congress, a woman across the street shrieked. Bud and I looked around wondering what was the emergency. But she was yelling at us – “Is that a bear? I thought that was a bear. WHAT IS THAT?”

Even his canine partner, Boonie, a white Italian sheepdog (our first rescue dog), felt compelled to assert his dominance daily by humping Buddy’s face. As Boonie focused on thrusting, Buddy lay sprawled on our dusty dirt driveway, head between two huge paws not even flinching. You could almost see Bud’s little brown eyes roll in his head as he said to himself, “OK, little man, get it over with it.” Though visitors were appalled, we came to find comfort in the ritual “Face Hump,” which was as predictable as roosters crowing and people staring.

What folks (and Boonie) failed to understand, is that Buddy was really a big baby, who could by turns be embarrassed and silly.

Like when we had him shaved to the skin to alleviate his hot spots. The groomer had transformed his lionlike mane into an effette poodle leaving only fluffy ears and a pouf at the end of his tail. He was mortified. He raced into the house and hid for several days.

Or the time Skip bagged a deer and was looking forward to presenting this hard-won roast to the family. The meat was perfect, glistening and cooling on the kitchen island. Skip stepped out, forgetting that Bud’s mouth was table level. When the meat went missing we looked everywhere. In the garden, in the driveway where he took his dirt bathes. But, no, he had shoved it under Ethan’s bed, certain it would never be found.

He loved Ethan’s bed. That’s where he hid his treasures – purloined dinners, rotting carcasses excavated from the compost pile, gnawed crayons…Thunderstorms and firecrackers sent him racing into Ethan’s bedroom as he tried to shove himself under the twin bed. When that didn’t work, he thought nothing of catapulting his dripping, filthy self onto the mattress and under the sheets.

I loved our Bud, dirt and all. How I wish he were here to trek in more. Instead, he took an evening amble this week that ended badly. We guess he must’ve gone down to the river to cool off and a snake got him in the check. He died in our arms gasping as venom swelled his head and shut his throat. He deserved a better end, but given his proclivity for mishap and unprovoked aggression, perhaps not surprising. Our sweet Bud is gone and he has left a giant size hole in our hearts.

Christmas on the farm