Dogs

Buffett Leigh O'Brien

Buffett Leigh O'Brien

Dogs of Our Dreams

I have always loved dogs. In almost every snapshot of me as a child, I am clutching a squirming puppy in my chubby arms or trailing after one of my black, flop-eared Cocker Spaniels. Teddy and Tim, father and son, were the definitive dogs of my early life. They accompanied me everywhere I ventured in my midtown Memphis neighborhood—to friends’ backyards, to the patch of woods behind David Brown’s house, to the playground attached to our Episcopal church—and they were frequently enlisted as partners in mischief. On several occasions, my group of ragtag companions and I tethered all our dogs together in one barking cacophony, rang all the doorbells of a nearby boarding house, and set the pack loose in the foyer, scaring the stew out of the various residents who opened their doors to the collective dervish.

After high school, I endured a desolate, extended, period of doglessness. I couldn’t keep dogs at college, in East Tennessee, and when my husband and I moved to New York City to start our early careers, dogs were out of the question. We lived in a 600-square-foot “one-bedroom” on the Upper West Side and worked 12-hour days. After work, we went out to dinner. We were virtually never home. For years, I pined for a dog, coveting the motley packs orchestrated by the inveterate professional dog-walkers of Manhattan. But when we finally moved to Austin, the issue having been forced by the addition of three children under five, we moved to a tranquil, suburban cul-de-sac on the greenbelt and immediately scanned the “dogs” section of the classifieds. We bought Jordan, the chocolate runt of a Lab litter, from a plumber in Cedar Park. She became the definitive dog of our early family life, sticking close by the children and tracking their every move. When strangers approached, she circled them, sniffing, making sure they were kind. With her amber eyes, noble snout and velvet ears, Jordan was a vision of dog perfection. Her gentle temperament was equally stellar; and as the children grew up, and Jordan needed another “job,” she and I became “pet partners” with Therapy Pet Pals of Austin. We visited the forsaken elderly in nursing homes, and Jordan—instinctive in her compassion—padded over to the old folks in their beds and wheelchairs and delicately lay her head in their laps. Even those with the blankest of expressions would light up in her presence and stroke her sleek, seal-like head.

Jordan died in our arms two years ago. She had lymphoma, and since she was 12 and a half, putting her through chemo, and further compromising the last months of her life, was not humane. Our vet, Ian Voelzel, came over to our house with his assistant, Daniel, to administer innocuous-looking pink liquid through a Draconian needle and syringe; and after placing a lady-like paw, with black-lacquered nails, on our daughter Owen’s shoulder, she slipped away. When Ian and Daniel loaded her onto a stretcher and ferried her to the back of their SUV, I carried our young Bichon Buffett out to the tailgate and lowered him to her lifeless body to sniff her one last time and say his goodbyes. For the following four months, Buffett was listless in grief.

Now Buffett is back to his former, jaunty self. He has Jamie now, another chocolate Lab—a female yearling with half a screw loose. It is eerie how much she looks like her predecessor, Jordan. She started out as Jesse’s pup. My eldest son, 23, loves dogs as much as I do. He acquired Jamie by happenstance—when he was out jogging at dusk in Fort Worth last September. A college student then, he knew better than to get a dog, especially since his lease forbade pets. But as he jogged past a redneck couple hawking a box full of Labrador puppies, his mind flashed to Jordan. Before he knew it, he had reserved the runt. An hour later, he was back, cash in hand. At just shy of six weeks, Jamie was too young to adopt. Jesse cleared out a dresser drawer, lined it with soft towels, and placed it next to him in bed. He installed a doggie door in the ramshackle bungalow, knowing he wouldn’t get his security deposit back anyway. The crater in the kitchen wall, from a particularly wild party he and his roommates hosted, took care of that.

Jamie settled in and life was good. Jesse popped home between classes, and before work, to look after Jamie, feed her and take her out for quick walks. When he was free, he took her out for long adventures to Fort Woof, the premier, off-leash dog park in Fort Worth. But one night when Jesse came home, Jamie was not herself. She didn’t get up from the couch to greet him, and when he called, he saw that she couldn’t walk. And then he remembered, and ran to the kitchen. Sure enough, a soft plastic rat poison wrapper lay in tatters on the floor, just by the back of the stove. The exterminator, a crotchety old character dispatched by Jesse’s slumlord, had visited a few days before. Jesse and his roommate John rushed Jamie to Metro West Emergency Animal Hospital, where the vets swarmed into action. They hooked her up to tubes and machines, and at one point had to drain her chest of blood. When the plasma transfusion didn’t do its job, the vet used her own dog to give Jamie live blood. Miraculously, after three days on life support, Jamie, then five months old, pulled through. But just to be safe, my daughter, Owen, and I drove up to Fort Worth and took her home to Austin. Months later, Jesse and John were still finding soft packets of rat poison behind appliances, and under beds.

Jamie turned a year old in late July. Though the vets insisted she would suffer no ill effects of the rat poison after she recovered, she’s a little unbalanced. She spooks at children and machinery, becoming wild-eyed and even aggressive. But otherwise, she’s a jewel—a chocolate beauty with an  intelligent, exuberant spirit. Buffett adores her, although he still rules the roost. As for me, a Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern, I have two resident, furry therapists to listen to my dreams.

Jamie Leigh O'Brien

Jamie Leigh O'Brien