Buddy, My First Baby

Buddy is fifteen now – old, even for a mutt, I know.

Some days, it’s like living with a grumpy old man. There are gruff barks seemingly from out of nowhere, directed at nothing you can determine – but it’s [darn] serious stuff. There are noxious odors. Early morning, late night, and all hours in between bathroom breaks – and sometimes [it] happens anyway. He is always hungry, always angling for whatever food is on the move or held by the weakest link.

But Sunday was different. We went out for a constitutional and something happened. He ran. And played. Like a puppy. Like the clock had turned back at least ten years – to when he had soft puppy fur, no greys, less worries, less cares. Like even though the girls were there and he was gray and achy, they weren’t and he wasn’t, because it was just us again. Or so he played.

We ran. He frolicked. We rough housed. He gruffed his sweet playful sound I hadn’t heard in years. He gave me his belly and talked and rolled as long as I kept scratching with a little push here and there.

It was like we had gone back – like men who have made poor decisions dream of doing. But we hadn’t made poor decisions. Around us played three beautiful little girls and their daddy. It is them that he lives for – the young man who saved him from being put down the day before his brother was, the tender-heart that is his first baby, the spit-fire ball of dynamite that is his middle baby, and petite pistol that he lets climb and pull at him. Buddy has loved his girls and watched over them since before they were twinkles in my husband’s eye.

I remember when he defended my oldest from a pitbull when she was a toddler herself and the stress it caused him after. I remember how he has gotten between strangers and his girls. I remember how he fought back from death’s doorstep from kidney failure at my oldest’s sixth birthday. He has come back from having heart worms twice and he will always have back pain. I remember truck rides where he would stand in my lap to stick his head out with window. I remember being pregnant driving through Mountain Brook with my husband the first (and only) time we put his seatbelt harness on him in anticipation of my oldest. I remember bringing home my oldest and how he stood between her and everyone else, like he was all that stood between her and the world, like he would protect her no matter what. For a mutt from rural Arkansas, Buddy has had a blessed life, but it has been a purpose driven life. He lives for his girls – they are his reason.

But to see that puppy again. The one I fell in love with when I was nineteen. The one that knew we would be a family someday, even if I didn’t. To see that puppy again, to play with him again was a gift – a blessing – unlike any other I have experienced with a pet. To have my girls, especially my oldest, get to see the puppy I fell in love with, not just the aching old dog, was so perfect.

I know someday soon I am going to have to deal with the inevitable. But for now I won’t. I’ll forgive him when he tries to take the baby’s bologna. I’ll clean up his messes – again and again. I’ll let him have his reign, because he’s earned it. He is family. And when the time comes, and he has passed, we will take him out back and plant a tree, so that when our hearts long – as they will, as they should – we can sit in the shade together and remember the dog who was our biggest baby.

But for today, we shall take some time to cuddle.

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