Nov 24, 2019
If I told you I had the best dog in the world growing up, you’d probably disagree with me. You’d tell me about your dog, how it was the best dog in the world and if anybody else was listening nearby, they’d interrupt our kingly canine conversation with a story of their own. I understand that and I’m not here to argue, but when I was trying to decide what this episode would be about, I came to a stop when I thought about Butch. It’s been a while since I thought about him, but while it might be just my opinion that he was the best dog a boy could have, I believe his memory deserves a little attention. There won’t be much funny in this episode, or even too much that’s messy, but there will be plenty of life. Butch’s life. It’s the story of one truly amazing dog.
I don’t remember how old I was when we got Butch or the circumstances. Actually, I don’t even remember getting him - just that he was there for the best parts of my childhood. Butch was a black lab, mostly. I think he had a little bit of other stuff mixed in, but he was mostly lab - just a tad shorter, but not by much. Anyone who’s had a Labrador knows the loyalty inherent in that breed. I know there are lots of loyal dog breeds, but Labs have a special kind of loyalty specific to them.
I was a young boy when my first memories of Butch wander out of the haze and I’m able to make something out of them. We lived in a rural area of Georgia where the traffic wasn’t bad enough for moms to worry too much about us riding our bikes in the road and some of that is also credited to less people in the world. It was the early to mid eighties. I know every generation looks back fondly on the years of their childhood and considers them the days of good old, but it’s what I knew and there are parts of it I don’t miss and parts I long for deeply. Like my days with Butch.
My memories don’t go back to when he was a puppy, but I clearly remember him as a healthy boy with a stout, strong frame and thick, shiny black fur. He also wore a smile. Always. His tongue would fall from his mouth while he grinned in that irresistible please tell me how I can make you happy way all good dogs have. But he wasn’t a good dog. He was a truly amazing dog.
Butch followed us kids wherever we went in the neighborhood - through the deepest areas of the woods, down dirt roads, and into creeks. Wherever we were, there was Butch right beside me, grinning that goofy grin because that dog thought I called out the sun in the morning and put it to bed each night and all he wanted to do to show me how much he appreciated it.
Even those memories, thought, are foggy. I remember a summer night spent in the backyard of a friend. while we slept, Butch sat guard outside the tent, letting any creature that dared to come too near that if they wanted to get to us, they’d have to come through him first. Earlier that evening, before we got too tired to stay awake, we snuck into my friend’s neighbor’s shed and stole a bunch of fireworks. Butch was there too, grinning and wagging his tree limb of a tail, as if to say, What’re we gonna do next, huh? What’re we gonna do?
But then we come to my first clear memory. Butch didn’t come when I called him and that wasn’t right so I went looking for him. And I found him laying under one of my parent’s parked cars in the drive way.
I called him out from under the car.
Here, Butch. Here boy.
But he didn’t come. He looked at me with sad brown eyes. His tail weakly beat the ground, happy he’d been found, but he didn’t come.
Here, boy ... Come on, Butch. I called again, but he just looked at me and whined.
So I went to him and getting closer, saw the gaping bloody hole in his thigh. It was too neat to have been made by anther animal and when my dad looked at it, he recognized it for what it was - a bullet hole.
We knew who had shot him. A crotchety old man up the road had recently threatened to shoot him if he’d ever found Butch in his yard again and here he was with a bullet hole in his leg.
Dad wasn’t one to rush off to the vet every time a pet had a problem, but this was something a barrel of homemade mange dip wouldn’t cure. The news wasn’t good. The bone was shattered and wouldn’t heal, so we had two options. We could put him out of his misery so he wouldn’t have to try and keep up with the other dogs, or we could have the leg amputated and take our chances with a gimpy dog.
Yo can imagine my vote and my parents agreed. We had it removed and after a few weeks of special treatment, Butch - one truly amazing dog - quickly learned to get around on three legs.
He came to be known as Tri-pod by the adults who thought they were cute, but that nickname never grew on me. He was Butch and he was awesome.
For the next several years, life went along fine for Butch. Our family went through some terrible times, but Butch kept me going with his constantly eager, wagging tail and that relentless grin.
Eventually, I grew into my teen years and we moved to another state. Butch came along, but he didn’t get to roam free like he had before. He was relegated to a large back yard with a chain link fence and I, learning about new pursuits and interests, slowly forgot Butch was there. Well, I never really forgot. He met me at the fence every single time I went outside or came home from school, always wagging, always grinning, always delighted to see me again. But what was once a fierce friendship became an occasional pat on the head or a Hey, boy from the drive way on my way in the house. As I was growing up, I didn’t notice Butch growing old.
He had another dog to bond with - a female - and they did what dogs do, creating a litter that has its own story, but Butch was showing signs of age, with plenty of white around his muzzle. The only things that didn’t change was that wagging tail and that toothy grin.
Then one day, we realized he was sick and the vet gave us the news that he had heart worms so bad that, due to his age, treatment would only prolong his suffering. I wouldn’t hear of putting him down. He was my Butch and we’d been through a lot together and although I hadn’t spent much time with him lately, I couldn’t do that to him.
Fortunately for him, but unfortunate for me, my mom and stepdad made the decision and a date was set. I spent some time with him during that last week because I needed the memories to last and Butch was just happy to have me there like the good old days. I was in high school by then and the morning came that while I was in school, Butch would be taken to the vet and laid to rest. I was told to go out and say my goodbyes before we left and I did that, but I couldn’t make myself stay with him too long, It was too painful and I wanted to keep a brave face.
As we started to back out of the driveway, I looked one last time at Butch, standing there at the fence, watching us go, expecting to greet me on the way back in with his tail wagging and his smile brilliant. And that’s when I lost it. I started screaming for him and tried to get out of the car. I knew this was the end game and once we pulled out of sight, it would be the last time I ever saw him. He saw me upset and started to jump up and down on those three legs, and barking, wanting desperately to get to me - his boy - to protect me from whatever it was that had me so upset. I wailed and cried, calling his name over and over again as my mom drove away. I don’t remember anything she said, but I imagine she tried to console me. As a parent, now I think she probably had a moment herself one she was alone. The heart of a mother breaks for her children when they’re in pain and there’s nothing they can do. I imagine it’s a feeling only rivaled by that of a dog who needs to get to his boy, but there’s a fence and eternity between them.
Maybe there’s nothing that stands out to you as all that special about the story of Butch, but that’s what makes it special to me. He was mine and I was his and we had a bond. So to me, that makes him one truly amazing dog.
Sorry about that. I have this insatiable need to stir people’s emotions, but also to tell stories. I hope one day when I step out of this life, there will be a bridge there and all of our beloved pets that went before us will be waiting on the other side. It’s a comforting thought.
I’ll be back soon with another episode, but until then, how about sharing Funny Messy Life with your friends? You can do that by using the social media buttons at FunnyMessy.com and you can subscribe there too. Lastly, I’d love a rating and even an honest review at Apple podcasts the next time you’re there. It helps me know how I’m doing. So until next time, thanks for going into the past with me for a glimpse into my funny, messy, life.