My beloved dog Buster went to Heaven today at the age of 16. He was, and always will be, the best dog ever. His contribution to our lives is so significant that his story needs to be told, and I will try my best to do him justice.
We adopted Buster from the Knox County Humane Society when he was 11 years old. We had no plans to adopt a dog that day, or even to visit the shelter. But as the kids and I were on our way home from shopping, the Spirit moved me to stop there and “just look”. That’s what I told the shelter attendant when she greeted us; that we were “just looking”. She immediately pointed out the dog in the lobby with her, Buster, who she explained was like the shelter mascot. Everyone loved him, she said. Visibly, it was obvious he had come in as a mistreated and neglected animal. He had a skin condition and was missing fur in a number of places. He had warts on his face and body, his teeth were rotten, his ears were infected. And there were two baseball-sized growths on the front of his chest. Then she tells me he is 11 years old. Well I can tell you that if I had no intention of adopting when I came in, I certainly didn’t plan on adopting an elderly dog with a laundry list of health issues. She must have sensed my skepticism and quickly pointed out that he acted very young for his age, that the growths were only fatty tumors, that his other conditions would resolve with time and care, and that he really was a very sweet dog.
We decided we would just check out the other dogs. As the kids and I walked through the kennel, it was surprising how few dogs they had that day. And all of them seemed aggressive and unsuitable for our home. So we headed back to the lobby thinking we would leave, and Buster greeted us there. He looked up at me as if to say, are we going home now? Before I knew it, I was filling out paperwork to take him home on their “slumber party” program, where you can bring the dog back within a week if things don’t work out. He hopped into the car like he’d done it a hundred times. Since we had no plans to adopt that day, we needed to buy dog food. Not knowing how he would act in the car, I waited with him while the kids went in the store. Buster went on high alert, watching them go into the store and never taking his eyes of the entrance until they came back out. I was amazed that he had become so protective so quickly. But they were “his boy” and “his girl” from the moment he got into the car. And before we got back home, there was no question that he was our forever dog. I finalized the adoption right away.
The shelter gave me Buster’s file at the adoption. His history was shocking to me. He original owners had him for 10 years when they relinquished him to a shelter in southern Maine. The dog they described was not the dog I knew. They said he was aggressive, didn’t like children, and that the wife wanted him gone. But he was the sweetest, smartest dog I had ever met. To this day, I can not fathom how anyone who owned Buster for 10 minutes - let alone 10 years - could give him away. But based on his condition, they obviously didn’t love him. After that Buster was transferred in and out of shelters for over a year, and was adopted out for a 3 month period during that time. The people who relinquished him to KCHS cited the reason because he had a “bladder problem”. They also said he was left alone for 13 hours a day. That’s not a bladder problem, that’s a neglect problem. From this and other things we observed in his initial behavior, it was clear he had lived 11 years of abuse and neglect.
Even after we adopted him, he faced more struggles. We had Buster scheduled for surgery as soon as we could. He needed the large fatty tumors removed from his chest, as they were making it difficult for him to breath, and he needed many rotten teeth extracted. Surgery for an 11 year old dog can be rough, but he came through it with flying colors. In the few years that followed he was attacked by a neighborhood dog, and was practically ripped apart. But he completely recovered from that too. Then he suffered from canine vestibular syndrome, which is like a stroke. It was so bad that neither the doctors nor I thought he would survive. But not only did he survive, but he completely recovered again. He is the bravest, toughest dog ever!
God brought Buster and I together at one of the lowest points of my life. He gave me hope and peace and a joy that helped me face the trials of life. He understood me and cared for me and offered me companionship and comfort whenever I needed it. Some people say I rescued him. But the truth is that Buster saved me! And he taught me so many life lessons. For example, how to stop worrying about what people think of your appearances. Most people looked at Buster and saw his warts or tumors. But I saw his beautiful spirit. And so I learned not to be so critical of myself, and that what’s on the inside matters far more than what is on the outside. And he gave that unconditional love to my children too. It is entirely possible that without Buster, I might never have even met my husband. Buster also taught me how to slow down and look at life through kinder eyes. And especially in this past year as his body began to succumb to the ravages of old age, he helped me to cope with and accept my own physical disabilities. I took a lot of criticism from family and friends when I adopted “such an old dog”. But these years with Buster have been the best of my life and I wouldn’t trade my time with him for anything. My compassion for the struggles of the elderly has grown, as there is such a great need for people to open their hearts to the aged - both people and pets.
A friend shared this quote with me: “The magnitude of our grief when we lose someone special from our life is a measure of the magnitude of the love and blessings we have received from them.” This is true. However, there is no way to fully express all the joy and love he brought to my life. No way to truly honor what an amazing dog and friend he was. And there is equally no way to convey the grief our family is experiencing. We will miss him always and he will never be forgotten. What I pray for now is that his story will touch someone’s heart in a way that inspires them to advocate for animals and the elderly.
I believe with all my heart that God has taken Buster home with Him. I look forward to the day when he greets me at the gates of Heaven.
Buster: Best dog ever!