Stories Told

Eulogy for Buckethead

Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime. This is the story of Sugar, a wonderful dog I had who died eight years ago.

My stepson was over at a friend’s house twelve years ago, running around in the back yard, when the Rottweiler next door sailed over the fence and bit him on the leg. The puncture wounds were not serious and they healed without complication. The dog’s owner was mortified, apologized all over himself, and swore he’d keep his dog from clearing the fence again. We decided to let bygones be bygones.

Several months later my wife called me at work. “Jim, the people with the Rottweiler still feel so bad that they’re giving us one of their new pups! Isn’t that exciting?”

If the fact that they wanted to take the offending dog’s progeny did not prove that my wife and stepson were completely mad, the fact that we had a five-month-old baby most certainly did. But as usual I buckled and we got the dog.

Worried about the Rottweiler reputation, overblown if you ask me, my stepson named her Sugar so all would know she was a sweet dog. But when my brother inexplicably nicknamed her Buckethead, it tickled me so improbably that it stuck.

Sugar

The oldest photo I have of Sugar, from about 2000

My little Buckethead was on the small side, having been the runt of the litter, but she was smart, gentle, and obedient. My baby boy used to crawl up to her and yank on her ears, and all she would do was look up at me with long-suffering eyes until I intervened. She favored my wife and followed her around the house, which provided good opportunity for my wife to play “head bitch” (her words, not mine!) so Sugar would know the pecking order and her place in it. Sugar did challenge for top spot a couple times as Rottweilers will do, but my wife put her back in her place swiftly and efficiently. Her care gave Sugar lifelong contentment and happiness. When my wife picked up a stray abused dog, to our surprise Sugar took her under her wing and provided, in her doggie way, much of the same kind of esteem-building structure for Gracie that my wife had provided for Sugar. While Gracie will always have issues, I think Sugar’s companionship gave Gracie a lot of security and kept her from being a basket case.

Gracie and Sugar

Gracie and Sugar, 2008

Our dogs’ job was to secure the back yard against the great squirrel menace, and they poured all of their energy into it. When they spied one in the yard, they tore after it relentlessly, to the unending detriment of the patio enclosure’s screens. One day, a squirrel trying to escape Sugar scaled the maple tree, and then Sugar made a flying leap and scrambled right up into the tree’s crotch – which was six feet off the ground. She momentarily forgot about the squirrel as she looked down at the ground, her body’s tension showing her puzzlement. We had to coax her to jump down from the tree. After she did that, she realized she could go up there anytime she wanted to, and so she did. We used to entice her to do it to amuse our guests.

As she aged, arthritis crept into her joints, ending her tree-jumping days. And then my wife and I divorced. The dogs were hers, and she kept them; I didn’t see either of them for a couple years. But nine months ago she asked me to take them, and what a blessing it has been to have them back! I enjoyed the quiet of living alone, but missed having someone happy to see me when I came home. The dogs have been excellent company, and as the new top dog in their lives I’ve grown much closer to them. Sugar accepted the change with the characteristic good humor and serenity for which I always admired her, and set about making new routines in her new home. (I wish Gracie had transitioned so easily!) But she was almost 11 years old, quite elderly for a Rottweiler, and her arthritis had grown worse and she lacked her old energy. Some days I couldn’t get her interested in a squirrel in the back yard, and even when she did chase one, Gracie would sail off the edge of the deck after it while Sugar went down the steps gingerly before trotting out. I could see that I would have only so much more time with her.

Sugar

Old and tired near the end

Lately she has had some days where she lay around subdued, getting up only to eat and answer nature’s call. Then yesterday her legs gave out underneath her twice while I got ready for work. The second time, she just crumpled into the grass and I had to carry her inside. The vet diagnosed autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA). He said that the treatment for it would be very hard on her, especially at her age, and he estimated only a 30 percent chance of success. He said that without treatment, she’d die within a week – and it would be a horrible death by suffocation as her body destroyed her red blood cells. Yesterday was the end of the line for my poor Buckethead. I scratched her ears and stroked her head until she was gone. Everybody who’s ever had a dog through its old age has a story to tell, and this one’s mine. Gracie and I are both grieving in our way, but we will get along without old Buckethead. I’m telling people that to help Gracie cope with her big loss I’ll be giving her extra attention and making some new routines – tonight, I put her on the leash and took her for a run while I rode my bike, something we’ve never done before. But the truth is these new routines will help me grieve and move on, too. Goodbye, Buckethead! You were an excellent dog.

Sugar

Sugar, 3/1997-8/14/2008

Advertisements
Standard
Photography

Captured: Snow-covered dog

Snow-covered dog

I can’t believe Gracie is still with me. She’s at least 16 now! She’s stiff and slow, but as eager as ever to be anywhere I am.

I had some Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 in my Pentax ME, and my 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens was attached. I had a few shots left on the roll and decided to burn them off so I could get the film processed. Gracie was delighted to follow me out into the yard, my favorite photographic venue. (Seriously. I take more pictures at home than anywhere else.) We’d gotten a big dumping of snow; my sons and I had cleared the driveway the day before. As Gracie and I walked out onto the driveway, a big wind gust blew snow off the roof and onto both of us. Gracie, being a dog, was undaunted. I snapped this shot of her right away.

Standard
Photography

Captured: Travel buddies

Travel buddies

When I surveyed the Michigan Road in 2008, my dogs were my constant companions. I’d fold the back seat down in my little red wagon and pop the hatch for them. They always eagerly jumped in – they wanted to go wherever I was going. The point of the trip was to photograph the sights along the road. We were quite a sight, me with a camera in one hand and them leashed on the other. When we walked through the Michigan Road’s towns, people frequently stopped me to remark on my dogs. Gracie, left, is a Golden Retriever-Chow mix; Sugar, right, is a Rottweiler runt. I’ll never forget the elegant elderly woman in Madison whose eyes welled up with tears as she remembered her long departed, beloved Rottie. And when I reached tiny Kirklin, having two large dogs on a leash helped keep the peace when shopkeepers accosted me with sharp questions about why I was photographing their town.

Sugar fell ill and passed that summer. She was the best dog I ever had – smart, gentle, loyal, and good natured. Gracie is an abused stray; she’s never been quite right, even 14 years after she made her home with me. Age has flecked her face with gray, robbed her of her hearing, and generally slowed her down. Jumping into my wagon is hard for her now; I usually have to pick her up and put her inside. And long trips just exhaust her. But she still always wants to go.

Gracie sleeps a lot now. That’s all right;
she’s earned it. Read about it.

Standard