Sunday, January 13, 2013

the routine of buster

Like most dogs, Buster enjoys routine, and one of his earliest was to ask to go out in the middle of the night, say 3 a.m., to pee. What this entailed was opening his crate, at which time he would take a long slow stretch, yawn, and shake his body until he was airborne. Then it was out the door, into the big front yard, and I would spend the next 15 or 20 minutes exposed to the world, in my pajamas, maybe a jacket, waiting for Buster to pee, because if there had once been a sense of urgency it was now gone as his nose, small as a button on a cocktail dress, grew ten times its size taking in the scent of the great outdoors, its tantalizing fragments of stories and ideas, and if our neighbor Linda happened to be walking by (she played trumpet in a jazz band and often was just getting home from a gig, or, if our timing was really bad, she was just bringing Poco out for a little walk) I simply allowed myself to float into the surreality of chatting with a neighbor over a chain link fence at 3:30 in the morning while a six-pound, hairless puppy I had found in a gutter a few days before sniffed noses and wagged tails with a Yorkshire terrier dressed in plaid. Buster would forget all about peeing until we got back inside. That was 18 springs ago, when we lived in Chicago, and I’m thankful that routine did not last.

The daily carrot routine started 15 or so years ago, when I was working 9 to 5. Upon arrival home at about 5:30, the dogs would go out (Queenie being the other dog), and then I would stand at the kitchen counter, slicing a carrot, sharing pieces with Buster. If I somehow forgot—like the time that twig jumped into the spokes of my bicycle’s front tire, bringing my commute to a halt one block from home, flinging me over the handlebars, resulting in a gash on my chin—believe me, Buster would hound me until I remembered. Ever try slicing a carrot while holding a bloody towel to your chin? But here’s the thing: Compared to the size of his head, Buster’s eyes are big and very round, like large chocolate drops in a cute little terrier face, reminiscent of those creepy paintings of big-eyed children that used to be so popular, and he has these floppy ears that perk up when he is anticipating anything, which is most of the time, and he is, quite simply, cute and irresistible. Why do you think I picked him up out of a gutter? And kept him?

It was in that suburban house, where we moved when Buster was about two years old, 15 pounds, and fully furred, that many of the food-related routines took hold. Queenie, a border collie mix from a shelter who joined the family a year after Buster, benefited from these routines, but she did not always partake. For example, it was many years before she showed more than a passing interest in carrots. At first, she would take a piece of carrot, spit it out, take another piece, spit it out, you get the picture. Luckily, I had Buster to clean up after her. Then, one day, she simply started eating the carrots. From the start, though, she enjoyed the truffles, though not quite to the extent that Buster did. Officially called Paris Puppy Truffles, I made these treats using a recipe in a little dog treat book I no longer have, so cannot properly reference, but I remember they were made with whole wheat flour, almond bits, carob powder, a little oil, an egg, and rolled into golf balls. They baked for half an hour. For many years, the daily truffle routine was the highlight of the day. Whereas Queenie simply grabbed the truffle and ate it, Buster preferred that the truffle be rolled from the kitchen into the living room, onto his truffle rug. (When we moved from the suburban home to the U.P. house, which was carpeted, I brought along the truffle rug, and when it got ratty, bought a new one.) Buster would charge the truffle, come to a dead stop, stand over it, guard it, stare at it so intently I often could not move myself until Buster suddenly did, either letting out a sharp bark, or a quick tail wag, or a pounce that sent his butt sky-high and the truffle maybe nowhere or somewhere but oh, the plans!, and the truffle would, indeed, come to be buried minutes or seconds later under the mounds of wadded up truffle rug, all designed and arranged by Buster with much grunting and yapping and the use of the nose and the legs and not just a little imagination. Once the truffle had disappeared, it had, of course, to be resurrected, to be found, searched out, and unburied, which required, of course, more of the same grunting and whining and nosing and scrabbling about, and every once in a while I had to help, as the truffle became hopelessly lost, maybe shot across the room, coming to rest underneath the sofa, unbeknownst to Buster, still staring at and searching under the rug, but he’d be the first to tell you: those truffles are wily. Eventually, much like a normal dog, Buster would eat the truffle, and I would watch him, and sometimes he would look at me as if to say “What?”, and then, with great satisfaction, he’d return to his snack.

Buster’s latest routine began in September. I marked it that morning in my journal: I held Buster for a while. Nice! And so the day began … Buster’s never been much of a one to be held, unless there was imminent danger, like the time the greyhound pinned him to the sidewalk, jaws clamped around his neck, or the time two Jack Russells bolted from behind a house, came tearing across the street, barreling toward us in the most frightening hullabaloo, in times like that, taking shelter in my arms was tolerable. Other times, he’d rather not be held, unless you were occupying a window seat in the car. But now, since September, after Buster gets up in the morning, goes out, comes in, he stands in the middle of the living room until I pick him up. We settle into my chair next to the fire, his head resting in the crook of my left arm. If he’s shivering from the cold, I cover him with a blanket. As time passes, his body relaxes, becomes heavy, he dozes, perhaps even snores. If Elliott joins us, taking the lower lap, as it were, he snuggles in and applies the Purr Cure—For Whatever Ails Ya!

I have this thing about the animals who have died since Buster came to live with me. The first, a dog named Dandy, died less than two months after Buster arrived. Dandy will always be in my heart, and his song is “There Must Be an Angel” by the Eurythmics. Queenie died a little over two years ago. She will always be at my side, and her song is “Land of Hope and Dreams” by Bruce Springsteen. Goldie, the cat who showed up shortly before Buster and who died two years ago, will always be at my feet. His song is “And When I Die” by Laura Nyro. Buster has a song, “He’s A Tramp,” from the Disney movie, but Buster's version is by Bette Midler, and Buster, I know now, will always be in my arms.




Buster writes about Queenie 

Read last week's post, or listen to it.