The room smelled of disinfectant and the floor was cold, but the exceedingly kind staff had placed a blanket on the floor. I sat down and began to cry, leaned against the wall, then invited Buddy to join me on the quilt. He was nervous and uncomfortable, but mine was the face he trusted most in this world, so he lumbered over and lay down between my legs. His health had degraded so quickly that my wife, Cari, couldn’t find a substitute teacher to cover her classroom for the afternoon. So this final goodbye was just between my Buddy and me.
When you live with a golden retriever, it is a fundamental truth that you’ll always have a little dog hair on you. Yet today both my pullover and pants were completely covered with Buddy’s hair. Before arriving at the veterinarian’s office, I had spent the entire afternoon lying next to him on our kitchen floor, running my hand over his head and body in an effort to bring him comfort. Every few minutes Buddy would raise his head and turn to look at me, silently asking that I rub his chin and neck. Then his strength would leave him, and he’d turn away, lowering his head back to the kitchen floor.
It was only 10 days prior that we had received the news that Buddy’s cancer was terminal. At 11 years of age, Buddy was already old for a golden retriever, but he was always a puppy to me. He had been prescribed some medication that we hoped might give us a few months, but the initial burst of optimism quickly faded as his lymph nodes continued to swell until they felt like hard-boiled eggs.
Buddy came into my life while traveling on business for the Door County Community Foundation. On that first Monday night away, I lay in bed talking with Cari on the phone. She shared with me her desire to get a puppy – a desire I most assuredly did not share. We have six children, and the last thing I wanted to add to our crowded house was a dog. On Tuesday night we spoke, and she had found a breeder in Milwaukee with a litter that was almost ready to go to their new homes. Once again, I expressed my distaste for the idea. Throughout Wednesday I received text messages from Cari with pictures of this puppy.
On Thursday I asked about this new obsession. Cari confided in me that her sisters were finally beginning to have children of their own and she was feeling the longing for another baby. Suddenly, adding a puppy to our home seemed like a really good idea to me.
The irony is that although Cari did far more to care for Buddy, for some reason he decided that I was his human. Every morning when I came down the steps, Buddy excitedly waited there to greet me. He could identify the engine sound of my car, so when I pulled in the garage, he barked enthusiastically at the prospect of seeing me. I know that my wife loves me and that my children appreciate me, but there was simply no one in the world who was as consistently happy to be with me as my Buddy.
It’s amazing how something you didn’t seek out, or even want in your life, can become so overwhelmingly loved by you. Be it a person, a pet or a place, I am always in awe of our potential to love.
If years ago I were to have written up a description of the traits I want in a friend, I’m not sure many of my current friends would meet the minimum qualifications. Yet when I go too long without seeing them, my heart begins to ache.
I was born and raised in Hawai’i, a place that is referred to as paradise. It’s a sentiment I fully understand because I am, and always will be, a Hawai’i boy at heart. Yet the last time I sat on the sands of Waikiki, I told Cari I couldn’t wait to get home to our life in Door County. Sometimes the most unexpected things sneak into your heart and become the ones you love the most.
After saying my final goodbye, I brought Buddy home. Cari and I buried him next to our firepit, where he will always sit by my side. What a wonderful gift it is to be able to love.
This column, written by President and CEO of the Door County Community Foundation Bret Bicoy, originally appeared in the Peninsula Pulse.