Raising Buster

Buster as a puppy, standing in grass

As Mallory and I drove to pick up our puppy from the little farm he called home for the first eight weeks of his life, we were prepared. We’d visited a few weeks before, read (and re-read) books on dog training, found a veterinarian. We had all the food, toys and supplies he’d need. Our home was thoroughly puppy-proofed with crates, baby gates, suitcases and cardboard. We’d held off getting a dog for years, but this was it: We were ready!

Several weeks later, we’re in a veterinary emergency room. Buster had eaten a discarded joint he found along a sidewalk. Nine hours and one round of intravenous fluids later, we get to bring him home. The vet tech warns us that he’ll still be “tripping balls” for up to twenty-four hours.

More time passes. Buster’s peeing on our floor again for the twentieth time in a single day. Eventually we’ll learn he has a bladder infection (he squats so low to the ground), but for now we assume we’re just really bad at this. Sensing our frustration, he barks at us. We are all exhausted and crying.

Buster laying outside with an absurdly large cone on, looking dejected

Months go by. Buster’s old enough now to be neutered. He’s wearing a punishingly large and inflexible cone after escaping every cloth or inflatable alternative to reach his stitches. I’m watching him spin out with anxiety and frustration, counting down the minutes till he can have another sedative and desperately hoping that he’s healing okay.

We so weren’t ready.

But there were successes. It took less than a week for Buster to sleep soundly by himself in his crate. He picked up new commands very quickly. His disposition was sweet, playing well with dogs and people alike. When I was excited, he’d share in my excitement, ears back and tail wagging. When I was down, he’d instinctively crawl into my lap and lick my face. We knew he was a great dog, if we could only overcome our short­comings as “pawrents.”

Gradually, with consistency and discipline and help from others and more than a little creativity over many months, our successes outpaced our failures. He started lifting his leg, stopped getting bladder infections, and the accidents slowed… once a day, once a week, once every few months. He learned not just to play with us, but to relax with us. When a family member watched him for a day or a weekend, we missed him.

Buster laying on the floor with a sweet expression

Today, Buster’s our friend, playmate, confidant, walking buddy, alarm clock, cheerleader, idea springboard, comic relief, ice­breaker and amateur neighbor­hood watch. He keeps us active and healthy. He reminds us not to take everything so seriously and to think about someone other than ourselves.

In short, he’s family now.

Maybe we were ready after all.