Thursday, May 29, 2008

Memories of Butchie, Part 1

Dogs' lives are too short. Their only fault, really. ~Agnes Sligh Turnbull

It was a cold Saturday night in February. The ground was covered with layers of ice and snow, but with powerful swings of the pick Sean was able to break through the frozen ground to the softer earth down below. He and Brian hollowed out a perfect hole, free of rocks and roots, to be Butchie’s final resting place.

“I don’t want any roots bothering my boy,” Sean declared, his voice cracking.

Although his footprints were still visible in the snow outside my back door, my most loyal friend of the past 14 ½ years was gone.

********
He wasn’t even my dog at first. Amanda and I had moved away to California when Brian was just 9 years old, and my mother tried to fill in the emptiness left in his life by getting him a puppy. Brian named him Butch after his favorite scene from Lady and the Tramp, where the dogs are served dinner behind the Italian restaurant. Tramp had different names, depending upon the restaurant at which he was dining, but the Italian guys called him Butch:

Joe: Here's your bones, Tony.
Tony: Okay, bones. Bones? Whassa matta for you, Joe? I break-a your face-e! Tonight, Butch-a he's-a get the best in the house!
Joe: Okay, Tony! You the boss.
Tony: [Showing Tramp the menu] Now, tell me, what's your pleasure? A la carte? Dinner? [Tramp barks]
Tony: Aha, Okay. Hey, Joe! Butch-a he say he wants-a two spaghetti speciale, heavy on the meats-a ball.
Joe: But Tony, dogs don't a-talk.
Tony: He's a-talkin' to me!
Joe: Okay, he's a-talkin' to you! You the boss!

Butch was a hyper little puppy, so my mother signed him up for obedience school. Although he was a fast learner, he didn’t get enough exercise or attention in those early days. My mom brought him to all of Brian’s soccer practices and football games at first, but once he was a full grown bucking bull of a pup, she couldn’t handle him at the sidelines any more. He had to stay home alone all day, then every night while they were out at practices and games.

By the time I moved back from California, Butchie was an unruly one-year-old. To make matters worse, he was gated in the kitchen, because something about the new carpeting my mother had installed throughout the house made him want to hunch up and take a crap.

Amanda was afraid of him when we first moved back. She was just over two years old, and the very first night back in New York she woke up screaming.

“What’s the matter Little One?”
“Butchie!” she managed to say through heaving tears.

Oh, man. I was afraid of this. The poor little thing was terrified of this animal. He was twice her size and knocked her over whenever he came within a foot of her. And so she was having nightmares already, probably of him biting her and tearing her up or something…

“What happened,” I asked her.
“He… he… he took my piyyow!”
I stifled my laugh. Amanda’s pillow was one of her most treasured possessions. Since I’d imagined the line between dreams and reality to be blurred at the age of two, I very dramatically called down the stairs, “Butchie! You Don’t Take Amanda’s Pillow! That’s Not Yours!”

This seemed to satisfy her, but the next morning she woke up screaming again. This time, I wasn’t quite as horrified. I was actually quite curious to know how her mind was working.

“What’s the matter Little One?”
“Butchie!” she managed to say through heaving tears.
I gasped. “What… did he… DO?!”
“He… he… he took my DONUT!” (Another item cherished by my toddler.)
“Well I am going to yell at him!” And I called dramatically down the stairs again, “Butchie! You Don’t Take Amanda’s Donut! That’s Not Yours!”
After that, she never had another nightmare about him, and they became the best of friends.

But there was still the issue of his lack of socialization. I tried to take him for walks up the street, but he tugged so hard that it was difficult to keep both he and Mandy’s stroller on the side of the busy road. So that was out.

I would try to wear him out in the yard, but he needed to be leashed at all times since the yard wasn’t fenced in. I would kick the ball around with him and try to get him some exercise, but he was young and needed much more.

If you wish the dog to follow you, feed him. - Unknown

Brian eventually trained him to go around the yard without a leash on. Whenever he walked him, he carried a bone in his pocket, so Butchie stayed right by his side. When they got back to the house and into the back door, Butch would get the bone. Eventually, we could just let him out and watch him from the window, and he’d always come back for that bone.

That made it easier to play with him in the yard.

He obsessed over his popped soccer balls and popped basketballs. Before they popped, he would get his teeth stuck in them and have his mouth stuck open until I pried the ball out of his mouth. Once they popped, he would whip them back and forth so hard that he’d be pummeling himself in the face with them. And he would chase them up on the hill until he was thoroughly exhausted and I made him stop and come in the house.

When I found a soccer ball at the pet store with rope around it, it seemed like the perfect toy. He could carry it around easier and I could throw it. But man, did he pummel himself in the head with those things even worse. He loved those balls.

To a dog, motoring isn't just a way of getting from here to there, it's also a thrill and an adventure. The mere jingle of car keys is enough to send most any dog into a whimpering, tail-wagging frenzy. - Jon Winokur


When I finally got a car, our options for playtime increased: I took him for rides. It got him out of the house, it was something different and interesting for him, and I could walk him where I didn’t have to worry about the road so much.

The river was a favorite place for all three of us. It seemed he could smell the river long before we got there. Either that, or he recognized the road that lead to our little patch of sand on the Hudson. By the time I was within a few miles of it, he’d be dancing back and forth in the back seat from one window to another, because he knew where we were going.

I used to have to park near a garbage pail, so when he barreled out of the car he wouldn’t rip my arm off. Dogs always mark a garbage can, so there were plenty of sniffs there to keep him occupied while I rolled up the windows and locked the door.

Whenever we got to our destination, he was so excited he’d have to take a crap. Eventually I recognized the pattern, so I would park far away from other people so they wouldn’t give me that “You’d better clean that up” look. I was always prepared with my plastic bag. But it was still more polite to defile the weeds than the sand of the beach the kids were playing on.
While there, he would happily spend the entire time fetching sticks from the waves.

When I’d tell him “no more,” he’d pick up his stick and bring it into the water himself. When he dropped it, it would start to float, and he’d quickly snatch it up again. He would drop it again, stare at it for a moment as it bobbled in the waves, and then snatch it up before it got away.
Or he would go into the water and bring out every floating stick he could find, and the bigger the better. He'd try to drag an entire tree from the river if he saw one. It wouldn’t be long though before he’d drop the stick at my feet again, desperately wanting another throw.

In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely try to train him to be semihuman. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog. - Edward Hoagland

He and Amanda had a favorite game at the river. I’d throw two sticks, one for her and one for Butch. They’d both dash into the water to get them. Butch would only chase after his own stick, and Amanda would only chase hers. Then it would be a race to see who got back to me first. And Butch was fully aware of the competition. He’d be swimming his fastest, shooting her sideways glances as they swam neck and neck and raced out from the waves.

He would chase sticks until he literally made himself sick. One day at the river he threw up and almost passed out. I don’t know if it was heat, exhaustion, or too much river water.

The dog is the god of frolic. - Henry Ward Beecher
Back at home, I got Butchie used to being let into the livingroom with us at night. Eventually, he was given run of the whole house all day and there was no more gating. That helped with his behavior at home.
But he was still a cut up. He didn’t like us all sitting around on the couches watching TV. And he knew what would get us up: He’d steal our shoes. He was smart about it though. If he wanted to get me up, he would steal one of my shoes, bring it over to me and stand there staring at me, wagging his tail. I’d reach for it, of course, and he’d duck out of the way. Eventually there would be a chase, and everyone would be laughing at his antics and he couldn’t be happier.

If he wanted to get my mother off the couch, he would show her one of her shoes. To get her up faster, he’d show her one of her high-heeled work shoes. That never failed to get her attention, although she wouldn’t be laughing.

He could show Amanda any shoe and she’d be pissed. It’s fun, when you’re the youngest in the household, to have someone that ranks below you and you can scold. So any shoe would get her up, and any attention was good attention for Butchie.
Another favorite activity was fetching the newspaper. At first, my mother would bring him outside to the driveway with her when she got the paper, and she’d put it in his mouth so he could carry it in. Eventually, all she had to do was open the front door and say, “get the newspaper!” He’d happily retrieve it and bring it into the house. We’d have to offer him a bone and get it out of his mouth fairly quickly, though, or he’d start tearing into it. This always got a reaction out of us, and that was always his goal.

I think he found it hilarious when I would try not to laugh at him and try to make my girly voice really low: “Heeeeeeeeey! You... Drop it!” He would freeze in his play-bow and just wait. If my mother laughed, the chase was on. If I couldn’t hold my mad face and let a smile slip, the chase was on. Many times, our newspaper reading began with page 3 or 4 since the first few outer layers were torn to shreds.
But he could always make us laugh, and he knew it.

********

He has told me a thousand times over that I am his reason for being; by the way he rests against my leg; by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile; by the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him… When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive. When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile. When I am happy, he is joy unbounded. – Gene Hill

11 comments:

KJP said...

It is amazing the calming effect a loyal dog can have on almost anyone. A Basenji was my favorite dog, sneakiest rascal God ever gave a tail to, but with endearing qualities which kept him alive for 15 years.

Put together a little memory album of his life with you. In years ahead you will probably enjoy the results of your effort.

Give your kid hug and let them know all is ok...

citizen of the world said...

I love his graying face in some of the more recent photos. Very sweet.

Travis said...

What a wonderful story. It's so tough to lose a pet, but you have so many memories of a fulfilling life.

This reminded me of my folks' dog Buddy, who passed almost three years ago.

Tammie Jean said...

Hi KJP! Yes, dogs do have a calming effect. I've also heard that "dog people" live longer lives. If that's true, I wonder if that might be a result of the calming effect, or the companionship & love, or the dog's ability to get their person up off the couch and outside on a regular basis?
And yes, a memory book is a great idea. I've already started compiling all the photos, but the stories should be in there too. He was a fun dog.

Hi Citizen! Yes, his face got very gray as he got older. The next post will have more recent photos (these are the old scanned ones).

Hi Travis! It was hard to write about, but fun to remember all the silly things he did. Funny... my first yellow lab (we got when I was 7) was named Buddy. Another great dog... I'm definitely a dog person!

Malathionman said...

It is amazing how Labs love the water. I take mine to work everyday and he rather play in the water than run in the grass.

Glamourpuss said...

What a lovely tribute to a dear friend. I especially love the photo of the rear view mirror - his expression is priceless.

Puss

Tammie Jean said...

Hi Malathionman! It's so true - Butch loved the river! I also had a little kiddie pool in the yard for him, and I'd tell him to go swimming and he'd get in and stand stand there.

Hi Puss! The scary thing about that photo is that I took it while I was driving. But whenever I took him anywhere I'd see that face, so happy with his ears flapping in the breeze, and I was determined to get a photo of it.

velvet said...

What a wonderful post. Butch sounded awesome and I'm sorry for your loss. I suppose that the sorrow at their passing is the price one has to pay for the privilege of having these wonderful creatures in our lives.

Tammie Jean said...

Hi Velvet! I agree... it was a privilege to have had such a loyal friend, and my life was made fuller and more joyous because of him.

MyMaracas said...

What a character he was, and such a love. He reminds me of my old dog Tigger, who loved the water too.

I'm so sorry for your loss.

Tammie Jean said...

Hi Vicki! Yes, he was quite a character. We certainly had a lot of fun with him over the years :)