Monday, May 28, 2012

Booka's Tale

Talking with Booka.
In the late spring of 2001 my mother and I were driving home from Kent. At the main (nonresidential) intersection of the tiny city we live in we encountered a litter of puppies running for their lives across five lanes of busy traffic. No one was stopping for them. No one was even bothering to slow down. Like where ever they needed to be was more important than what was going on right in front of them.

My mom and I stopped, holding up traffic behind us, and corralled the puppies into the back seat of her car. Our living arrangements were tight at the time and we didn't have time or space to actively raise a litter of puppies. In our modest three bedroom abode lived four people and three cats already. We didn't have a fenced in yard. The means to provide for them all just wasn't there.

Unsure of what to do, but not wanting to condemn them to the pound, we drove to a nearby family-run pet store to tell the owner of our dilemma. En route, one of the puppies wiggled her way from the back seat into my lap where she promptly laid down and hid her face in the palm of my hand. The puppies were unharmed, but terrified. Someone had not only abandoned them, but had probably thrown them from a moving vehicle.

Arms full of puppies, we entered the local pet store. The owner was very understanding of the situation and eager to help. He agreed to keep the puppies on site, see they were taken care of and house broken, and sell them to people in the market for a family dog once they were old enough and had been to a vet. It was more than we could've hoped for, really. He could have just as easily turned us away. These weren't purebred champion stock dogs or anything he could make good money off of selling. They were quite obviously just mutts.

I'd only ever had one dog in my life, truly. A German Shepherd I had grown up with as a baby and lost tragically around the age of thirteen to bone cancer. Her loss was still fresh in our minds even so many years later and we were not interested in 'replacing' her. Yet here I was, holding this last puppy, unwilling to put her down. My mother turned to look at me like maybe I'd lost a little bit of my mind, but still I refused to put this puppy down. In the short drive over, with her face nuzzled into my palm I had absolutely fallen in love. Putting her down to a fate unknown would break my heart. So I began pleading.

My mother was more adamant about not being ready for another dog than I would have liked, and though I understood completely, I could not give up. I promised to take care of her, all by myself if I had to. It was only a couple of years until I'd be 18, and I swore to her that as soon as I moved out I'd take her with me. I'd do chores, homework, whatever. I swore all kinds of things. Finally, not wholly convinced but willing to give it a shot, my mom relented and we drove for home with a puppy in my lap.

She was a cute thing, half Golden Retriever and Half German Shepherd by the look of her, with long, soft black and brown fur. Normally it takes some time to name a new pet. You need to get to know them a little. But I could think of only one name for her, due to her little brown face and fuzzy body: Booka. No one could argue with me about this. Upon sight of her, they immediately understood and accepted as fact that this animal's name was Booka. As if it had always been so.

Booka. And that was that.
Everything was going splendidly until we walked into the house and my mother's husband-to-be saw what I had in my arms. "NO!" he boomed, "Not in this house!" But by this point, we had no where else to take her, so we managed to argue with reason she should be allowed to stay at least until we could find her a new home. I was devastated and angry. Who the hell was this guy, this newcomer, to tell us what could and couldn't stay in our house? And why were we listening?

He was angry and mostly without reason, threatening that he would throw her out the second he heard any noise from her whatsoever. The cats had reacted better to the dog's presence than he had. So I sat up, diligently, all night with this puppy in my bedroom to prevent her from making any noise. I fed her promptly, kept her entertained until sleepy, then watched over her as she slept. Just in case. The moment she woke I snuck her outside to go to the bathroom, so she wouldn't have to whine to tell me. This went on for days. I was thoroughly exhausted. The tiny dog sleeping in my lap, on my bed reminded me what I was fighting for and I stuck it out.

My mother's husband-to-be put ads in the newspaper to be rid of Booka. There was mild interest but ultimately only one person came to see her. We'd spoken to him briefly over the phone about it, at least ensuring that she would be going to a mature home where she would not immediately be carted off to the pound for growing to a size unexpected or barking at rabbits.

I was very upset the day the guy came for her, but I'd been assured it was for the best and so I was doing my best to be understanding. I was with her in my room, as usual, when the man arrived. He was speaking with my mother and her husband-to-be when I came out to meet him. All seemed to be going well until the man mentioned wanting to modify the dog. Have her ears clipped and the like. I was over joyed. This, for everyone, was a deal breaker. The man was sent away empty-handed.

My mother's husband-to-be gave up trying to find her a new home. Booka was staying. I couldn't have been happier. I saved up money to have her taken to the vet. She needed her shots and to be spayed. I saved up for those too. I chipped in for dog food. I walked her since we didn't have a yard. She was my responsibility. I met her needs to the best of my teenage ability.

At no time did I expect her, as a puppy, to repay my effort. She was happy and healthy and that was good enough for me. Yet one night, she was presented that opportunity. It was shortly after September 11th, very late in the night. I had just come home from a concert and decided to take Booka out since I had woken her up coming home.

While outside, I heard a ruckus from our shed. My brother had a lot of questionable friends, so I expected to find one of them trying to break in for a place to sleep. It had happened before. I looped Booka's leash over the hand rail at the bottom of the stairs and went to investigate. What I found however was a crazy guy with a knife at my ribs (because honestly if you're willing to stab another human being you're insane). I was crippled with fear, certain that this guy was about to stab me in my own yard and no one would even know what had happened until morning.

Then Booka, impatient and curious as puppies are, started protesting her tether. The sound made the guy think twice, buying me precious time to not immediately get stabbed. He probably mistook her noise as someone coming. This was Ohio, most people in Ohio have guns. He backed away, though the knife was still pointed at me and then booked it when headlights from my brother's car hit the end of our driveway.

I have very little doubt that the only reason I did not get stabbed is because of that little dog. Because in those few minutes before my brother arrived, there was nothing else to stop him. As if I needed a reason to love this animal any more. We were inseparable after that. If I was outside, Booka was with me. If I was inside, Booka was right beside me.

We moved out of that house shortly after that incident, to a place with a nice big, forested yard. Booka loved it. In the morning we'd get up really early to watch the birds and the deer parade through, undoubtedly while eating pancakes.

A shared love of syrup.
After a time, my mother and her husband-to-be got a second dog, from the Animal Protective League. An Aussie/German Shepherd mix we named Ruby due to her bright pink nose. She and Booka became fast friends. Ruby was, for want of another word, neurotic. Probably due to whatever circumstance she had been in prior to the animal shelter. Booka kept her calm. Such a part of the family did she become that when my mother and her husband-to-be finally got married, Booka was a bride's maid. Which she showed her appreciation for by following my mom around sitting on the train of her expensive wedding dress.

When it came time for me to actually move out, my mother didn't want me to take Booka with me. Understandably, though I didn't like it. Removing her from the household would devastate Ruby, who could not remember a time before having Booka as a constant. Regrettably, when I moved out, I left her behind. I did not move far however, and would visit every weekend, making both Booka and my childhood cat Odin's week.

Every Sunday afternoon, without fail, the two of them would move to my mother's large picture window at the front of her house and wait for me to arrive. No matter what. Over the years she got a little slower with age and gray hairs started to crop up along her face, but she would always be a puppy in my heart. I could see her no other way.

Eventually I moved out of state and could not visit but a couple times per year. During that time I think I missed my dog and my cat more than anything else from Ohio (family aside). When making my decision to finally move back home again, she was a deciding factor. When I met the love of my life and was faced with moving out of state again, she remained a deciding factor. I wanted more than anything to take her with me, but could not. I did not have the space or the means to get a dog that size (she had grown quite large!) 3000 miles, and her reason for not going with me the first time was still in effect. Ruby needed her. The guilt of removing her from her 'pack' and the yard she loved so very much wasn't something I could bear selfishly.

So I made due with what I could. Visiting when able and a surplus of photographs sent by my mother to update me about her well-being. Last November I nearly flew back East when I was notified that someone had shot Booka while she was out sitting in the yard.

Who does something like this?
My mother insists it must have been an accident, as people are fond of hunting in Ohio. But I fail to see how a hunter could have possibly mistaken a dog her size and coloration as anything but in the middle of autumn where the ground is clear and there are no leaves on the trees to obstruct your view. While furthermore she was in someone's nice open yard midday. Perhaps I'm just something of a pessimist when it comes to people, but I'm confident some jerk just decided to shoot whatever animals they could find nearby and trusting, relaxed Booka was a perfect target.

Thankfully it was not a mortal wound. The bullet had gone in through her flank and stopped just short of her spine. Recovery was slow, both physically and emotionally. This big fluffy dog that never knew fear beyond that of thunderstorms, was now scared of the unknown. She did recover though and fully. Police never found out who shot her or why.

I was so close to just blowing through my savings to have Booka brought to me. To a place where I could keep her safe. It was an illogical impulse, but one I had none-the-less. There was nothing anyone could have done to spare her that bullet, aside from predict the future and jump in front of it first.

Everything returned to normal and was great again until April 15th, this year. My birthday. On April 16th I received a voicemail from my mother sounding concerned telling me to call her.  She had waited to call until after my celebrations, which should have spoken volumes as to the severity of her call. Though it's something I am grateful for.

My mother's voice has a typical Irish-mom sort of ring to it where she often sounds far more serious than she needs to, so I kind of thought maybe I was over reacting when I got that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Then I called her and realized quickly it was legit. I could hear the sorrow in her voice in her hello and knew whatever she was about to tell me was going to break my heart. Booka had suffered a severe stroke and was too far gone by the time they'd gotten her to the emergency vet to be saved. She had died on my birthday.

The stubborn Irish part of me refused to acknowledge my grief over the phone. My mother was upset and it was my duty as her daughter to be strong for her. So I was. Immediately afterward though I basically hung up and shriveled up on the bed in a mess of weepy tears. This lasted all night. So complete was my sadness that it had the ability to make other people sad just by proximity. I am still sad. There are days where I can be nothing but, despite best efforts to be productive.

I'm sure it will pass, as all things do. Time makes it easier. In the meanwhile I just need to distract myself and work around it. This entry is in memory of Booka, who was a good dog. No, a great dog.