Years ago, decades ago actually, the great actor Jimmy Stewart sat beside Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show and read a poem to his beloved dog who had passed away.
Back in my callow youth which, to be truthful, should have at that point long morphed into responsible adulthood, I wrote it off as the maudlin ramblings of a slightly addled old man. My opinion changed a few days ago. I lost my wingman. Technically Buddy wasn’t even my dog. My ex brought him into the house after I had moved out – $1500 worth of ‘Goldie-Poo’ puppy, all paws and a face that could melt ice cream. I wasn’t consulted. Nor should I have been. I thought it as a ridiculous idea. “Its like having a child! Who’s going to train him?” I offered in spite of the fact that my opinions were not solicited. The move was, as many of hers were, a good one. Buddy gave the kids some responsibility and my ex some company. He grew to provide a little protection in the city and up north where she would rough it on a piece of property she was developing. And Buddy gave back a lot of love. A ton. When I would come to the house, he would wag not just his tail but his whole hind quarters. He had some issues with the mailman, people of color and a couple of dogs who were regulars in ravine by the house but for the most part he gave everybody a fair shake so to speak. He ate everything in sight and you didn’t leave food on a table for too long but he wasn’t a nuisance. A couple of years in I was granted partial custody due to my son’s going away to college and the ex spending long stretches out of the country. We developed a little circus act. I would take him down into the ravine to a spot where I could use one of those ball slingers to its maximum distance but directing the orange ball way up the slope to a “hidden green” as they say in golf. Buddy would scale the heights like a mountain goat, rummage around in the foliage or leaves depending on the season, and then return to the lip of the landing, ball securely in his mouth and hold a “Rin Tin Tin” pose for the cameras. He would then negotiate the downslope while I hummed the theme from Lassie or Sassie, if you recall The Flintstones. We played to standing room crowds – no seats down in the ravine – for years. When I was lucky enough to have him down at my crash pad, we would throw the ball around at the local park. He was always the alpha dog. And when I took him to Starbucks he was a conversation starter, well, a ‘chick magnet’. My wingman. Didn’t have to leash him. We strode down the street in a tight formation. He loved my boat even if the poodle in him didn’t care for swimming. And he would worry if I went in to the water and left him to watch the ship. I even took him on the road a couple of times. My favorite hotel in Montreal took pets, albeit with a $24/hr pet sitting fee. But the staff loved “Monsieur Buddee” and it was cool to throw the ball around the McGill University common or hit the patio scene with him. Even took him to Shabbat services a few times. Not a peep did he utter. Needless to say he was the Senior Vice President Of Cute at the office. Best of all was that he opened up my heart a little. They say that the latin for dog “canis” comes from the Hebrew word “chesed” which translates to kindness. His kindness brought on more of mine along with a lot more courtesy which I am a little short of sometimes. He made me get up and hit the street when I wasn’t in the mood. He washed a lot of blues away just by being difficult with the most personality any four-legged creature could have. I have to say that in the last ten years he was the most significant thing to happen to my heart other than my spiking cholesterol levels. Good dog, bad arterial plaque. I didn’t host him much the last couple of years. My ex travelled less and took him up north more. Our last weekend was in December and I remember almost every step of every walk. I even took him to my girlfriend’s where her own three grown daughters went crazy for him. Again, Buddy was a lethal force for hooking up if put in the wrong hands. Or right hands pending on your needs. The end was quick. My son came home from a golf trip with me a couple of weeks ago. Buddy had gone in for his spring shearing and with all that fur gone, came back from the Pooch Parlor very gaunt and distended. Three grand worth of tests revealed a tumor by his heart that “could kill him at any minute” according to the vet who suggested my son and ex put him down right there. Wasn’t going to happen. Buddy went home with some medication, rallied a little while the rest of his walked on egg shells. Last Thursday my ex took him out for a walk with his beloved ball and he played even when it started raining. He had to be coaxed inside with some treats. She went upstairs to check her email, leaving Buddy on his bed. A few minutes later she heard what was a mortal ‘yelp’, came downstairs and Buddy was gone. By the time I got there he just looked like he was sleeping. My son is taking this the hardest. It was his first major loss and Buddy was really his “pup” as he called him. My daughter lost one of her favorite photo subjects. My ex lost some real companionship. I lost a friend. You can’t have the love of a pet without dealing with the pain when they’re gone. Buddy was only ten but he died at home and spared us the “dead dog walking” trip to the vet. He was a gent, a classy gent. I told my son that he is young enough to have a couple of more Buddys in his life. My ex is going to need a dog sooner than later. Just the way that goes. I don’t think at my age there will be another Buddy. I am not ready to take on that kind of responsibility and I don’t think I have the chops to take on a dog of that energy at my age. I can barely keep a relationship going that doesn’t involve full-time living in! I have some great memories that will sweeten with age. And when it’s all over, when I am supposed to meet those five people in the after world according to Mitch Albom, I might ask to switch one of them out for a part-time wingman named Buddy.