I'm looking at my dresser right now. That side of the room, in front of the furniture looks pretty empty tonight, as it did last night. The night before last, and all of yesterday, and for two months, there was a collapsible dog kennel in that spot, in which was a brown plaid fleece blanket, a seafoam green towel, and a tiny black teddy dog with a squeaker inside him. Each night, the kennel also held a water bowl, a food bowl (sometimes), and the best beagle in the world.
My little buddy, Buster, quietly slipped away from us, the night before last.
It was something that we knew had been coming since November. Buster was an athletic dog. He loved to walk around our neighborhood with me (2.5 miles, and he still never wanted to stop) and run around our front yard. At the beginning of November, just after the loss of one of my uncles, Buster seemed slow down a bit. At first, I thought he was tired after a week of not walking at the pace and distance he was used to. One night, we took him on a walk before feeding him, and he was slow and sluggish, and I assumed it was the lack of food. The next night, he was more tired and seemed weak. The morning after that, my mom and I took him to the vet. After a bit of a wait, we learned that his kidneys were failing. He stayed a week in the hospital before coming home. He had perked up after getting IV fluids, and one of the ladies at the vet's office had given him a little teddy bear dog. Buster came home and we began giving him subcutaneous fluids to flush out the toxins that his kidneys were unable to handle. He also had to wear a male dog diaper in order to catch the blood that was being passed. He was quite underweight, but would eat food if given it. He slept in his kennel at night, in my room.
He began to decline in the past few weeks. He began refusing most food, though he'd eat some things if they were offered. Buster began requiring more fluids to flush the toxins out, but he was weak with anemia. However, on the last day, he ate pieces of ham and chewed up his vitamins. He obediently went to the bathroom and watched television with me for most of the day. My parents came home and began cooking supper.
Here is what I know happened next. I walked into the living room, and Buster stood up, wagged his tail, and looked excited. I recognized the signals and asked him if he had to "pee-pee." We walked to the door together and I put on my shoes and coat and let him out after removing his diaper. It was a cold night, so I watched from the other side of the door. I looked away at the tv for a moment, thinking he would come back up the steps after using the bathroom, as he normally did. Instead, he went around to the backyard. I got outside in time to see his shape trotting briskly in the darkness. As I went to get a flashlight and began looking for him and calling him, he ran to our shed (his favorite place to find shade in the summer), crawled under it, laid down, his head on one of the supports, and went to sleep. We found him a little while later.
Here is what I believe happened after that. I believe that Buster opened his eyes somewhere else, and found himself running through a big field of dirt and grass and rabbits and birds. And maybe he began digging before he looked up and saw someone coming towards him. Always the friendly sweetheart, he ran to the man. And the man, he knelt down and took his hands, big calloused hands, with gaping holes in his wrists, and rubbed the silky ears of His finest canine creation. I believe that my God took Buster, who loved to cuddle, into His arms and welcomed an amazing creature into His kingdom.
You may ask why I believe this. Here's the reason: defiance. I grew up in a Christian school and going to a more or less fundamental Christian church. Now, while fundamentalist Christianity does contain many doctrines that I believe, they also tend to uphold such tenets of the faith as "your puppy has no soul" and "before the Fall of man, women had one leg" and "tattoos are evil," none of which I believe, for various reasons. So what am I defying? I am defying the belief that my God is not big enough to welcome an animal into Heaven for His praise and glory. I am choosing to believe, as my brother said, that all animals have a purpose and are so much more than just filler. I am choosing to say that it is presumptuous to assume that we humans are the only possible way that the God of the Universe can be glorified.
As we were burying Buster, I felt another presence beside me. There were eight of us outside, but there was no one I could see standing to my right. My thoughts? Probably God, standing there and putting His arm around me and saying "It's okay, I've got him now. He's fine."
Now, am I a hippie or animal activist? No. I love my dogs, and I'd love to rescue dogs one day, to take them in when no one else will. The Bible says, in Matthew 10:29, these words: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet none of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care." Buster, I choose to believe, is with the Father, who watched over him on earth when we couldn't. Buster was welcomed in by the Son of God, who I believe lifted Buster (whole again, normal weight, with no gray hair) into his arms (which still bear the marks of the nails) and welcomed my little dog home, where angels and other believers can praise God for eternity because of the marvelous creation known as a dog.
Buster departed this world with the grace and dignity that a dog that amazing should have. His sweetness and his vibrant little presence will be missed. But I know I will see my little Buster again, and for this reason: my God is big and powerful and loving enough to care for the sparrows and for the little beagles. Praise God for eight amazing years with Buster.
Buster Cale, A Great Dog, Summer 2002-January 11, 2011