Samantha Bennett: Hound heaven, meet Buster

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This is my last column before Valentine’s Day, and it’s a love story.

A few years ago, I was living with a black Labrador Retriever named Oggie T. Doggie. Oggie taught me a great deal about dogs, and he spoiled me. When I moved to my own home I knew visiting Oggie wouldn’t be enough and I’d need a full-time, live-in dog of my own. One who could get along, of course, with Oggie, require little or no training, and accept a person who was at work all day. A no-drama, shovel-ready pooch.

Oggie happened to have a four-footed friend with a problem of his own. Beagle mix Buster lived in a home where evolving circumstances were diverting his family’s time and attention away from him. He’d been abandoned as a puppy, found by a nice man and raised to the advanced but vigorous age of 12. Now Buster needed to downsize into a comfortable retirement, but not everybody wants a senior dog, however charming and handsome.

Fortunately, I am not everybody.

Two days after the closing on my first home, Buster arrived with two leashes, a crate and a canister of food. I tossed an old pillow on the floor, and it became his bed. There we were, a dog curled on an old pillow and a woman sitting on a folding chair, two strangers marooned in a cavernous empty condo, sharing one thought: You’re not going to freak out, are you?

I had no way of knowing how my life was about to change. The shopping trips for endless canine paraphernalia — car harness, bowls, parasite prevention, reflective gear, Christmas presents, toys, high-end treats and grain-free fair-trade organic kibble, endless rolls of bags that I carried with me always, even when Buster and his digestive tract were miles away. I purchased day care and boarding and grooming, vaccines and tags and checkups. We walked in darkness and cold and wet, barking at ducks and running at the off-leash park. Summer meant insisting friends meet us at sidewalk cafes so Buster didn’t have to sit home.

Life filled with joys and adventures as my carpets and clothes filled with hair. We went to the Highland Games. We visited the duck and the Arts Festival and the pierogi festival. We took an obedience class so I could learn to follow simple commands.

He had his picture taken with Santa Claus, twice (never completely warmed up to him), and he was blessed by both a Methodist minister and Buddhist monks. He sat beside me when I watched TV, slept beside my knees and put up with my long showers, errands on the way home from the dog park and even the kitten I perversely insisted on bringing home. He emerged from initial shyness to become a gentleman at day care and a gracious host to my friends.

And then, just 18 months after hello, came goodbye. Buster was fine the last Thursday in January. He came home soft from the groomer. Friday, he was out of sorts and trembling, but the vet found nothing very wrong.

Saturday morning, the seizures started. I carried him to the car and we went to the hospital, where Buster stayed all weekend. Monday, he was doing better. But one more seizure was more than his brave heart could bear.

The kitten walks around meowing, lost for someone to pester and pounce on. Oggie has inherited some kibble and treats. The old pillow is still on the bedroom floor, next to the crate, but Buster rests in peace.

I’m only just learning how many friends he had, how many lives he touched, how many smiles he provoked. He was the best of dogs, a character and a loving companion, patient and playful and ready for anything, and I will miss him fiercely.

Good dog, Buster. Good boy. I wish we’d had more time together, but you made my home a happy one, and I will hold you always in my heart. And my sweaters, too.

Samantha Bennett, freelance writer:

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