After 16 years in residence on Kerrville Folkway in North Austin, “Buddy” moved on to Doggie Heaven last week.
Known as the “neighborhood pet” for his welcoming grin, better suited to a Cheshire cat than a mixed-breed canine, that grin had begun to fade in recent months as muscles in his back legs deteriorated.
This open-jawed, happy-to-see you border collie mix was having to endure being toted from his long, deep sleeps to food and water bowls. Then a heart murmur found several years ago by renowned neighborhood veterinarian Doyle Wood returned, making every breath Buddy took labored and, I suspect, painful. His doorstep greetings had come to an end.
Early on a Saturday, surrounded by his Kerrville Folkway family and the loving team of vet Dr. Doyle Wood’s Balcones Animal Clinic, Buddy moved on. He was at least l7.
Survivors include Bob Mann and Valerie Phillips who welcomed a badly-wounded Buddy into their home in 1997 where he fell in step with the glorious park romps and home life of his new hosts, the energetic and comical mother-daughter mixed dachshund team of Wally and Molly.
Like all pooches we grow to love, Buddy was, indeed, one of a kind, but, in journalism lingo, there is a “back story:”
That 1997 summer, I motored in my red Miata to my high school class reunion in Cameron, 70 miles away in Milam County, where I grew up and where my parents lived for more than half a century.
Always I overnighted with them during visits to the old home town. But for the reunion visit, I took a room at The Varsity, the town’s only motel. Who knows, I pondered, perhaps a classmate from the ‘60s would find me more compelling in the ‘90s. I might need a place to entertain.
Although the Miata was second home to Molly and Wally, they did not accompany me this trip. But I believe their scents did.
Predictably, I ended up on my own after the reunion’s Saturday night festivities at the rented National Guard Building – where, incidentally, the class of ‘67 and all of Yoe High were let out of school a day in 1958 to see Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson dedicate the then brand new building.
So I returned to my motel and retired, having absorbed my share of Cameron’s strongest beverages. I was awakened by whining and scratching from the motel door. Opening it, I encountered the scraggliest, skinniest, ugliest pooch ever I’d seen.
He looked at me with a “You’re my last chance, pal” look.
Because he appeared infected in several spots, and his long-haired coat was a mat of mud and parking lot oil and grease, I stepped back, just as a Cadillac pulled in next to my Miata.
Out of it emerged Suzanne Lippman, the same elegant beauty she’d been as one of our 90 classmates from ‘62. Also, out stepped her husband, a pleasant chap whose name is lost to parking lot history.
Suzanne spotted the ragged pooch in my doorway and came in for a closer look. “I wouldn’t touch that dog, he’s sick,” warned her husband.
Suzanne was undeterred. “But he’s precious” she said of the skinny clump of mud, weeds and parking lot debris.
I saw an opportunity, the kind I would never have spotted back in the day while I was a classmate of Susanne’s. I made my move.
“I’ve got him,” I said heroically, scooping up the matted pooch.
“Take care of him, Robert,” Suzanne said as her husband escorted her to safety, leaving me with this strange canine, so thin that when she lay down she coiled around into herself, snakelike.
Charging across the highway to an all night gas station, I bought two hamburgers and offered them to my new roommate.
“Those are for me?” pled his soft, brown eyes. They were and with that meal Buddy and I bonded.
I cut the dirty hair, and scrubbed him down, discovering embedded in Buddy’s neck a circular wire he’d apparently broken while escaping the evil that had imprisoned him. Buddy slept on the floor, I took the bed.
As we approached my Miata next morn, attached to my steering wheel was a $50 check from Susanne’s husband, designated for dog care.
Top down, my new “Buddy” next to me, his ears and hair blowing in the wind, we returned to Austin to meet the hometown team, sassy mama dachshund Molly and sweet daughter Wally, not as savvy as mom but a nice fit for the space between my head and pillow most nights, while Molly puttered and muttered beneath “our” bed.
But first, vet Doyle Wood who I doubt owns of those prissy white medical frocks and whose bedside manner, though caring, is more George C. Scott than Jimmy Stewart, had to evaluate Buddy’s condition.
“I don’t know, Bob, I’d say 50-50, this dog has been through a hard time.” But six weeks and a few bucks later, Dr. Doyle’s skill persevered.
The next few years were magical, all three dogs working out their pecking order positions behind the Miata’s two seats . We were a curious sight, cruising the neighborhood while the three pooches barked their superiority to leased dogs on the sidewalks.
Those were never harsh dog exchanges; likely the sidewalk pooches couldn’t figure out what they were seeing until the Miata was long gone. Molly, in and out of the Miata, was head of the pack, then Buddy. Wally never cared much for that leadership thing.
Molly moved on at age 10 from cancer and other ailments. Buddy and Wally grieved mightily until they worked out a revised seating arrangement.
Buddy’s face grew white through the years although he would race the Miata to the end of our block at full speed well into his teens. Wally, who’d been born in my bed in southwestern Virginia in 1990. died in that same bed 18 years and three months later in Austin.
With Wally gone, Buddy entered dark days of “doggie depression” until Dr. Doyle found for us a charming 2-year-old black Lab mix with 4 white paws who Valerie dubbed “Boots.”
Boots, two weeks after losing Buddy, still looks for him, especially when I mention a car ride. The past year, Boots had taken to rousting Buddy from under the bed for rides since Buddy’s hearing had gone.
But I think Boots, while riding beside me alone now, is beginning to understand that Buddy is now “neighborhood pet” in a heavenly neighborhood while Molly and Wally are on the lookout for a red Miata
– Robert Mann