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Walkin'

We got the word last week that it is the beginning of the end for Buzz, our hound dog for the past dozen years. The limp that developed a couple of weeks earlier is caused by cancer in his right front paw. Since he is 12 1/2 years old, roughly equivalent to 90 or more in human years, there isn’t much that can be done but to keep him comfortable through pain medications
Sabra and I were both very sad to get the news. We decided to pass it on at the risk of seeming self-indulgent or maudlin. Buzz has many friends, however, and it only seemed right that they should know. We’re told that he may live as much as a year but a couple of months is more likely. As the limb weakens it may break, or as the cancer spreads it may degrade the quality of his life to the point where he’s better off passing on. Either way we’ll probably be forced to do something to ease his suffering. Thinking about that day is very painful.
For now all we can do is enjoy the remaining time we have with him.
Buzz seems to sense what is going on and has reached the same conclusion.
He lingers just a little longer, for example, for his morning pet. It’s a ritual we share. I swing my feet out of bed, put them on his side and gently prod him to wake up. After moving away for some stretching he comes back to me for a thorough scratching. He starts by putting his head between my knees as I sit on the edge of the bed. If I itch a spot behind his ear just right he lets out a low rumble of satisfaction. From there he’ll turn sideways, sliding his body onto my legs and becoming a lap dog– all hundred-plus pounds of him– for a brief time. Next he backs in for a good rump rub.
I’ve asked Sabra to give me the same treatment but she always declines.
After being groomed stem to stern he faces me a second time, gives my face a poke with his cold nose, heads out the door and looks back at me as if to say, “let’s go, time for breakfast.” Although I haven’t failed to feed him once for the some 3900 days we’ve been together he always puts a worried expression on his face like this day may be the one day I forget to feed him.
For the next hour or two, he’ll doze by my side if I’m home. Around 10 a.m. he’ll poke my elbow to let me know it’s time to stop typing and take him for a walk. If there’s one thing that defines Buzz besides loving his chow, it’s his love of a good walk. It’s no accident that this column is named Walking. I love one as well. Over the years, we’ve logged at least 10,000 miles together. When he was in his prime he’d range far and wide to scout the route, covering 10 miles for every one of mine. The past couple of winters he’s declined to go out if the thermometer dips below 20, skipping straight to the treat he gets at the end of our treks. Despite his aching paw he has been extra-insistent on us getting out lately. He doesn’t range much, if at all, any more. In fact, I have to slow down for him to keep up. Neither of us care, however, we both know that there’s only so many left.
For the remainder of the day he’ll sleep, at my side if I’m home, or on our bed if I’m not. I’ve joked many times that a robber could take the bed he’s sleeping on because his slumber is so deep.
He gets up for dinner and then naps again till bedtime. Then it’s one last treat and a visit to our backyard for nature’s call. This time of year, there are deer passing by the fence and he’ll typically take time to bark at them. His breed, Rhodesian Ridgeback, was bred in Africa to hunt lions and he has doggedly scared all of them out of Iowa, so he has to settle for barking at deer. And bark he does, sometimes annoying me because I want him to come in so I can go to bed. And that’s the last thing I’ve noticed. Lately, he seems extra-stubborn about not coming when I call, lingering to bark just a little more to keep our hearth and home safe from invaders.
Rage on old buddy, rage on.