Posted by: Rob | April 24, 2008

Dogs – Our true companions

daisyfae, over at the Trailer Park, recently wrote a blog piece about her dog, Mr. Pickles. It was an entertaining piece about an out of shape dog, resisting daisyfae’s efforts to whip him back into form. It also reminded a bit of a dog who once graced our lives.

Bugsy was Shelley’s dog. We moved to Kansas in ’92 when I accepted a position at the Farmland Refinery in Coffeyville. Once the girls started school in the fall, Shelley was home by herself during the day and found the quiet discomfiting. She wanted a companion; she wanted a Cocker spaniel. I was checking the classifieds one day and found a listing for Cocker puppies. I stopped by the owner’s place after work to take a look. There was a smallish kennel out back that contained a blonde cocker (the mother), a pair of black cockers about a year old (littermates from a previous litter), a little black cocker with white chest markings. The yearlings were jumping up on the gate vying for my attention as was the little guy. The little guy was also excited, but was getting trampled by the older two. He was the one I was drawn to though and I asked to have a closer look. I didn’t really know a whole lot about dogs, but he seemed alright. Thirty American dollars changed hands and he was ours.

Since I hadn’t thoroughly planned out this purchase, I had nothing in the way of food or bedding for this new puppy. So I stopped at the Coffeyville Wal-Mart on my way out of town to get food, dishes, a collar and other supplies. I left the pup in the Voyager while I went in to make my purchases. Upon my return, I found the pup had left me a surprise; there was a turd on floor mat right under the steering wheel and the pedals. Hmmm, thanks a lot, doggie.

Shelley and the girls squealed with delight and oohed and aahed when I brought the new pup into the house that night. Since we didn’t know what he’d been up to or where he’d been, the first order of business was a bath. When I was checking him out at the breeder’s, she told me that he had been flea powdered. I knew what fleas were but, being from Canada, had never really experienced them. When we put the dog in the bath, the bugs came off of him in droves. I’d really never seen so many fleas. It was kind of disgusting, but it was the moment that gave him his name: Bugsy.

Bugsy was a character. Right from the get-go he behaved like an “old man” and that became one of his nicknames. Spaniels have this thing where they rub their ears on the ground (or on the carpet); Bugsy would grunt/groan as he did this and it sort of seemed endearing, I guess. When we would go for walks, he always had to be in the lead. If he was in a collar on a leash, he would strain ahead until he was virtually choking himself. More often than not, we would just let him run. He would put on two or three times the miles that we were as he ran up ahead, ran back to check on us and ran on forward again.

Bugsy never achieved true Cocker stature which leads me to believe he was probably the runt of the litter. But he was barrel chested and that, coupled with his short legs, led to many a comment from strangers or passersby while we were out walking about “what a fat little dog” he was. He did, admittedly, have a portly look to him, none-the-less Shelley was always mildly offended when someone referred to her dog as “fat”; I don’t think she ever once regarded those comments as humourous.

Bugsy became a seasoned traveler. He went with us everywhere. At the time we were driving a Chevy Astro van (with a cheap Mark III conversion – so, four captain’s chairs. He would sit in the middle, behind the front two seats, but ahead of the two. The girls would laugh as, whenever I rounded a corner, Bugsy would lean into it. He could recognized fast food joints and would get super excited when we entered the drive-thru. To keep him from getting into the kids’ food, we would get him a plain hamburger. He’d wolf that down and beg from the kids anyways. I say he was a seasoned traveler; he was. I’ll bet he traveled more miles and went to more places than a lot humans I’ve known.

After we’d moved back to Canada we were travelling back down to the States to spend some vacation time with our Kansas friends, Larry and Sherry, in Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park. We’d stopped at the US border for the usual examination by the (then) Customs officer. We’d pretty much been cleared to cross when Bugsy popped his head between the front seats and was spied by the Customs man. “What a cute dog!” Did we have a rabies certificate for him? Uh, no. Not with us. “Well, I can’t admit you with the dog until you have one.” So, it was turn around and head back to Cardston, Alberta to find a vet, get a rabies shot and certificate. After that, we were able to cross the border without incident. Good thing too, as Bugsy became the “guardian” of our camp site. While there were grizzly bears roaming the area (we even saw – and smelled – a live one in one of those culvert traps), a larger threat was posed by the deer that would come in to camp after dark to eat Bugsy’s food out of his dish. They got braver and would come in during daylight and even when we were there. Bugsy would valiantly chase the deer away across the road and into a meadow. Thinking the job done, he would proudly strut back to camp never once realizing the deer was following him all the way back.

He did love to come camping. But he had to sleep in the tent (and later on, the tent trailer) with us. The main thing that sucked about that, though, was that he got up early and had to pee and would whine until someone let him out. That got worse as he got older too.

One year for our anniversary, Shelley and I backpacked into the Siffleur Wilderness area for a weekend. We only hiked in about 7 or 8 kilometres, although with full packs, that was long enough. The dog didn’t carry anything but himself, but with his usual back and forth while leading the way he pretty much wore himself out. He spent nearly all of the weekend alternating between sacking out and licking his paws.

Over the course of his life he blew out both hind leg MCL’s (chasing cats), threatened many cats (except the ones he lived with), was mocked by squirrels both at the farm and in the woods, became an accomplished mouser, and loved us as we loved him.

He left us in January of 2005; it was hard to say goodbye, even though age was ravaging him. He was going blind from cataracts and arthritis was making it difficult and painful for him to get up and around, especially when the weather turned colder. Yet, he was a part of our family and he will live on in our hearts and memories.

*Note: Before this post was finished, I left a comment at “Love is Forever“, which I’m reproducing here:

I’m not sure why it is, but I seem to have been reading several posts by different bloggers these last few days about our furry friends. This has inspired to pen one of my own about our last companion and I’m working on it now.
Your post, however, has really brought back the memory of the grief I felt when we lost our Bugsy. He, too, succumbed to congestive heart failure at the relatively young age of 13 in January of ‘05. And I feel some guilt still, because we didn’t know the end was so near for him and he died alone.
In retrospect, we thought losing him was the first of the “three” bad things that started 2005. A few weeks after Bugsy’s passing, a friend of my late wife’s – a person of high public profile here – died of cancer. That was “two” of “three”. At the end of January, we learned the youngest daughter of dear friends of ours had been in a serious auto accident and was severely brain injured. Fortunately, she recovered far more than was ever expected (although not fully). At “three” of “three”, we felt we could breathe easier. Not so. S was dx’d with Melanoma in April, just a couple of months later.
As Shelley lay hours from her own death, I verbally visualized what I “saw” for her “on the other side”. Those images of her – healthy and whole again – included her little dog cavorting about her.
Grief is grief and, regardless what some may think, there are creatures on this earth that mean more to us than a lot of humans ever will. I cried more for Bugsy than I had ever previously for any human I’d known who had passed.
As sure as I was of the images I visualized for Shelley with Bugsy, I’m also sure your Baby and A are indeed keeping each other good company.



  1. Beautiful. Although my canine life partner complicates the logistics of my daily existence from time to time, i cannot imagine life withouth him – he was snoring on the couch as my eyes teared up reading your comment at Love is Forever.

  2. Beautiful memories. They have such personalities and offer such love, don’t they? My Shih Tzu who had congestive heart failure was also the runt of her litter; I wonder if it’s more prevalent among runts?

    She loved to go to the video store. Not that I ever brought her in, but the words “veedeeo store” (said just so) were enough to get her very excited. 🙂

  3. DF – Thanks. My eyes teared up writing that as I thought back on those days. Good to hear Mr. Pickles is getting some decent rest. Bugsy loved to sleep on the couch too – whenever he could sneak onto it cuz he wasn’t really allowed…

    TGLB – Personalities for sure. Bugsy did not like small children (although I’ve been told that a lot of smaller dogs don’t); mind you he had good reason as a budding juvenile delinquent that used to live around teased him whenever opportunity presented.
    Bugsy’s thing was his “selective” hearing. If you were calling him he “couldn’t” hear you, especially when he’d sneaked off far enough to completely bugger off for a neighbourhood tour. But, open a crinkly snack bag 200 metres away? He was there like a dirty shirt, begging for his share.

  4. This made me tear up, too, as a life-long dog afficianado and Cocker lover. My Friday is the latest in a long line of Cockers in my life that go back to before I was born. My mom’s first baby was a blonde Cocker named Honey. I came next.
    I never had children, I’ve only had dogs. It hurts to lose them, but for me it hurts more to be without them. Especially now that I’ve had Friday trained as a service dog, and she goes everywhere with me.
    She is ten now, and arthritic from blowing out a couple of ACL’s (jumping off the scooter when I’m going at full tilt.) I fear losing her.

  5. @ silverstar98121: Bugsy was our first and only cocker, but I think Shelley made her choice based on cockers that her Aunt and Uncle had. Those were three consecutive blonde cockers all named Trixie. I only knew the “last” Trixie. Poor thing was 15 yo, had only one eye and was deaf at the end. She was still pretty spry though.

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