In Memory of Buddy, March 2005-July 30, 2020

Eulogy written by Lauren Zinn, 2020

Introduction from SASHA Farm:

Hurricane Katrina arrived on August 29, 2005, one of the deadliest and strongest hurricanes ever recorded. Where was SASHA Farm in 2005? Our founders had been rescuing animals since the 80’s and became a nonprofit in 2001. Although the focus was on farmed animals, they had an incredible “dog barn” and had rescued and adopted out many dogs who could not find placement otherwise.

When we heard about Katrina, we knew that we could help by rescuing some of the dogs who had not been reunited with their families. Also, we were confident that our wonderful community of supporters and veterinary partners would do everything they could to make certain these Katrina rescues would go on to lead healthy, happy lives with new adoptive families in Michigan.  

Lauren Zinn and her husband Frank Zinn, and daughters Mara and Sadie adopted Buddy from SASHA Farm, and they wanted to share his amazing life story with us. Thank you, Lauren, for writing his story, and thank you to SASHA volunteer Michael Wadsworth for his help in preparing the story for our blog. Many Katrina dogs have gone to the Rainbow Bridge, but their lives and legacy live on through this tribute to Buddy. Lauren’s incredible eulogy follows:

BUDDY ENTERS OUR LIVES

After Hurricane Katrina, volunteers from SASHA Farm in Michigan drove to the devastated area to rescue more than thirty dogs of all shapes and sizes back to the north for adoption. We learned our rescue was “owner-surrendered” from Mississippi. The vet said he was under one year of age. He was part of our family from November, 2005 until July 30th, 2020.

At the age of 12, our daughter Mara volunteered with her friend Hannah to walk the rescue dogs. I thought it was so noble of them. Hannah’s mom, Ellen, offered to drive the girls to SASHA Farm, an animal sanctuary in Manchester, Michigan. I thanked Ellen for taking Mara on this trip, and as I turned back toward the house, it suddenly dawned on me what was happening. I spun around and shouted, “Don’t you dare come home with a dog!” Our family was already comprised of our 11-year-old dog Beulah and a relatively new rescue cat named Lucky that came from our family friend Dean’s farm. On top of that, I was home schooling Mara and planning for a home Bat Mitzvah.

Upon their return, both girls had adoption papers for the dogs they walked and now loved. It would turn out these were the only two dogs of the group who did not have heartworm disease.  This would be one of the many miracles that made Buddy so special.

Mara begged us to at least meet the dog. I finally agreed and drove with Mara and Sadie (our other daughter) to Manchester. Frank knew once I saw the dog, I would not be able to say no.  We arrived at an outdoor shelter. There were dogs and small igloo-shaped dog houses spread all over. I remember he was so happy to receive visitors and was ecstatic to go for a walk. This innocent body of surprisingly strong energy and pure joy almost pulled my arm out of its socket.

Most of the breed he inherited was Black Labrador Retriever but something else accounted for his thin legs (Blue Heeler, I was told) and his spotted tongue (ChowChow, I was told). He had the sweetest brown eyes and long eyelashes that made him look girly (our family friend Michael said). His fur was all black except for a small white stripe on top of his lower back (probably from a scar, I was told). The vet imagined he’d been sleeping under a car when the driver started the engine, burning his back and causing the white stripe over the scar. She said it was common down there. Another miracle? SASHA Farm named him Bubba 2. They had a bigger black lab named Bubba 1.

I wondered what Bubba 2’s owner called him when he lived in Mississippi. The answer came in a vivid dream – Harvey. After the dream, I believed he was meant to be ours. Frank was right. I was hooked. Reluctantly, Frank agreed to meet our new dog and after negotiating with the girls, agreed to adopt him. Mara had already chosen a new name which Sadie, our younger daughter, seconded – Buddy. As he grew, we gave him little nicknames like The Budster and Budward.

Before we could bring Buddy home, we had to make sure Beulah would be okay with a new dog. She was getting cranky in her old age and might not adapt to a young whippersnapper around her. The staff at SASHA Farm suggested bringing him to our house to meet Beulah. Buddy respected Beulah and wanted to play. Immediately, Beulah approved and accepted this pup into her family. We moved them to the backyard where Buddy ran circles around Beulah. It  was a blessing. Beulah came back to life. They played in the backyard and we could see that  this was good for Beulah, too. She would get three or four more years to nurture him and he  would give her the purpose for doing so.

And so, a rescue dog from Mississippi became a member of our family and brought joy to our hearts. That first night, Buddy slept on Mara’s bed. We have a photo of him rolled on his back with his legs splayed as if he was saying, I’m so safe here and I’m all yours. But he had a lot to learn and there were more miracles ahead.

Buddy making himself right at home

BUDDY LEARNS THE ROPES

The first thing he had to learn was how to step inside the house. The woman volunteer from SASHA who brought him over explained that he had probably only lived outside in the South and certainly only outside at Sasha Farm. Dirt floors were all he ever knew. I remember him being nervous to come into the house from the backyard. It was all new. For his whole life with us, he was not the kind of dog that owned the furniture or cuddled in bed with you. Besides a spot on the couch, he humbly preferred the floor.

Mara’s cousins, Samuel and Noah, remember meeting Buddy that December when we brought him to his first Christmas at Grammy and Grampy’s. They met him in the basement near the ping-pong table where he was afraid to drink water out of a bowl. He was always tentative about accepting whatever was given to him. A bowl of food. A bowl of water. Even a treat. He never grabbed out of your hand. We had to tell Buddy it was okay to eat and then he would eat. So gentle, I never feared my fingers getting snapped off while giving him a treat.

Buddy had to learn to leave Lucky alone. She was not too sure about him and he was eager to sniff and check out this other animal in the house. But every time he got close, she’d hiss and sometimes swipe. He figured it out and left her alone. Eventually, she trusted him and even let him smell her when she came inside after being outdoors. They both learned to coexist. When it was just the two of them, after Beulah passed, they would each lie on the couch every night next to Frank. It was part of their lives.

Buddy made our girls happy. Mara would hold up treats to see him hop up on his hind legs. He made her laugh. Especially when she gave him ice cream. Sadie would dress him up and put hats on him for the holidays. He accepted it. Mara took him to obedience school and an agility class. She worked on training him and he was a good dog. He’d learn to come when we called him.

At Michael’s farm, Buddy even followed Mara on horseback during her riding lessons, keeping up with us and running around in the fields and always coming when called. He came with us to Dean’s farm and ran there, too. One time he didn’t come and I got nervous. I remember Dean calling, “Buddy, venga!” He finally came out of some really wild piece of forest, pond and mud, all filthy wet. He was so happy to rejoin us and I was relieved. But there was one time when he did not come and I feared we’d lost him.

One summer in northern Michigan, we went to Elberta Beach for the sunset because that’s the beach that allowed dogs. There were a lot of people out. Someone far away shot off fireworks and at the cracking sound, Buddy bolted down the beach. I never saw him run so fast. He ran and ran. We looked and called for him everywhere. It was now dark and we were searching with flashlights – but no Buddy. Finally, I called our voicemail machine downstate. Someone had found him and left a message with their number. A family had him and they were still in the area with Buddy in the back of their SUV. It was a close call – another miracle.

BUDDY MAKING FRIENDS AND AN ENEMY

Buddy made friends with Bear, a pug-mix in our neighborhood who was about a year younger. Bear’s home became Buddy’s home away from home. They were the only people we would  trust to leave our dear Buddy with when we traveled, especially as he got older. On the day Buddy died, Lori, Bear’s owner, posted the sweetest tribute to Buddy on Facebook. “Bear’s oldest friend got his wings today.”  Buddy made friends with many of the neighborhood dogs. I think he knew it was wise to like the dogs of our friends. Some people told us their dog didn’t like other dogs except for Buddy. He was such a good dog.

But there were some dogs he didn’t get along with for territorial reasons. He didn’t like our neighbor Jim’s dog, a big husky mix. They growled at each other whenever passing. Perhaps Buddy remembered when we had the chickens and a storm knocked down a section of fence between our yards allowing Jim’s dog to charge into ours and nearly kill our 3 chickens. One day, while walking past our house, Jim’s dog growled just as Frank and Buddy were stepping out to go for a walk, before Buddy’s leash was on. Buddy actually charged out and the two were entangled in a vicious fighte with Jim’s dog dominating Buddy. It was as though, with Beulah’s passing, Buddy had stepped in to fill the vacant role of family protector. (He was exhibiting his bravery for us though we couldn’t condone it) We checked him over after the fight and Buddy seemed okay. No blood. But a few hours later, Mara’s friend Rachel came over and Buddy did not jump up to greet her as he usually did. He wagged his tail and started to jump but held back. That’s when we found a giant gash in his chest deep under his fur. We took him for stitches right away.

EMOTIONAL SUPPORT DOG AND BEST FRIEND FOREVER

I remember the first time Buddy went to the vet for something other than shots and routine exams. Mara was with me and we both thought Buddy was acting very strangely. He wouldn’t move and he seemed really sad and depressed. I found a vet who was still open after dinner. Dr. Susan Daly diagnosed him with Limber Tail, a condition caused from over-wagging. That day, he had wagged his tail nonstop from so much joy while standing in Crystal Lake looking at minnows. He fished, or eye-fished. He wagged so much that he was in pain.

Sadie cuddled with Buddy more than I ever knew. There were times when she wanted to come into our bedroom and sleep with us but would find Buddy sleeping outside our bedroom door where he always slept (before he couldn’t do steps anymore and then used the downstairs couch for his bed). On those nights, she would join him on the floor and bury her head in his fur and he would absorb all her emotions. Buddy was an emotional sponge for all of us but it was Sadie who perhaps benefited the most from this gift he freely gave. When she had a hard time in middle school and came home ready to burst into rage or tears, it was Buddy who received her feelings without any judgement.

I, too, depended on Buddy. I took him with me in the fall of 2009 after we bought the cabin up north. It was October or November. No snow on the ground or in the forecast and I planned to read and work and do some projects up there. With Buddy I would feel safe. As soon as I arrived, I turned on the heat. Soon after, the power went out everywhere except the town of Frankfort. I had made friends with some neighbors up the road the summer before – an elderly couple, and I walked up the hill with Buddy and knocked on their door. They invited us into their house where they had a wood stove working. We played cards for a while. Buddy laid next to me. He seemed content there and willing to tolerate their little dog. I’m not sure if he liked this little dog but Buddy would want to stop and visit them whenever we walked that way. Well, if it weren’t for Buddy, I would have been scared up there alone without power. I got a heat lamp  from the hardware store in Frankfort. We lasted another night, the two of us camping together  under a big comforter inside the house. Buddy was my buddy through it all and I was his.

When Mara worked summer jobs up north, she always found time for Buddy. They hiked on Indian Trail, and he eye-fished in the lake off our cousin’s dock though she was careful he never got Limber Tail again. When she went to college, she had Buddy join her for the Turkey Trot at Albion College, and visit her on campus. While Mara was away at college, Sadie spent more time with Buddy at home. He was there, in her room, meeting and watching the friends who became part of her world.

After Beulah died, it was usually Frank who walked and fed Buddy every morning and every evening. When Buddy needed medication or shots, it was usually Frank who took him to the vet. Frank was Buddy’s buddy. And it was toward Frank whom Buddy, as an old dog, turned his head and spoke with his eyes whenever he had something to say. May I have a treat now?  Something is outside that I need to check on, could you let me out? I’m ready for my walk whenever you are. I’m ready to go home. I know you want to go left to the park but I’d like to go right and stop at Bear’s house for a treat. When are the girls coming home? You’re packing bags so I’m staying by the door, ready to get in the car with you. You (or someone) is sitting in my spot; could I have it back now?

Eventually, Sadie left for New York City and then Chicago but always came home to see Buddy. Mara had graduated college, moved to a new city, even adopted a dog of her own. I remember the first time Mara brought Belle home and the two played in the snowy backyard. Buddy liked to play in the cold weather more than the hot weather. Belle was jealous of Buddy and wanted all the attention but Buddy never argued. Even with dogs, he was accepting of all their emotions.

BUDDY SLOWS DOWN

On a weekend in January 2017, when Sadie and I were at the Women’s March in DC, Frank woke to find Buddy in a strange position in the upstairs hallway. Buddy had vomited and was very confused and dizzy. Frank got him in the car and to the vet. The vet put him on medication which helped but looking back, he never really fully recovered. His balance was off. His head slightly cocked. He stopped coming upstairs. He adapted to new limitations. His indoor world was now the main floor of the house. Although it now rarely happened, if he was really scared by a severe thunderstorm or determined to see my students, he would overcome the basement stairs. He used to come to the basement all the time when I taught to greet and see all the kids, and they loved seeing him.

We couldn’t figure out why Buddy kept getting heavier and fatter in the months leading up to Sadie’s departure for New York City. We thought Buddy’s slowness over the summer was due to weight gain. My friend Nancy, a vet tech, came to visit from Oregon. As she pet Buddy she said his belly felt more tense than it should. We took him to the vet and he was diagnosed with an 8-pound benign tumor on his spleen. The next day we drove Buddy directly to our Ann Arbor vet who referred us to a clinic in Flint where we got an expedited appointment the next morning.  Buddy had surgery and stayed in their hospital for two nights. I remember going to visit him there even though we couldn’t take him home. Seeing us, his people, cheered him up and helped his miraculous recovery giving him another three years as our family dog.

As he got older, he sat every night on one end of the couch with Frank on the other. They watched movies together. Lucky would sit in the middle, trying to keep warm between the two of them. When she could no longer jump on the couch herself, she would paw at Frank to pick her up and she would lie on his lap or next to him. Sometimes she would be right next to Buddy. He didn’t seem to mind. He was there for her, too. Every night on that couch, Buddy felt the warmth, comfort, familiarity, safety, companionship, and presence of his people, and heard nature through the sliding glass door behind him and the sounds of Frank’s films before him.

A few months before Buddy died, he was attacked by our next-door neighbors’ two dogs. He was much older now and I sometimes think this attack accelerated his decline. Buddy didn’t see them coming. We screamed, yelled, and kicked. The neighbors finally got the dogs off of Buddy but he was clearly shaken, as were we. We didn’t see or feel any blood but certainly his pride was hurt.

Buddy slowed down and his walks were shorter. He told us when he’d had enough. He would simply stop and look up at us with his eyes saying, okay, I’m ready to go home now. A few weeks ago, we weren’t even sure he’d make it home from the usual walk. That day we drove up north and took him directly to the Platte Lake Vet since Dr. Daly’s clinic was booked. Dr. Molnar saw him. She kept him for the day to do blood tests and found that his liver was really small, shrinking, and not working. They gave him infusions all day and we took him home for the night and then back the next day for more infusions to hydrate his body and hope that his liver would  be revived. He would either gradually decline or gradually improve.

He wanted to eat but couldn’t. Frank had been making him boiled chicken and bought special dog food. But at this point we could only get a few treats in him and then he stopped wanting. He was still walking but barely. His walks became two steps out the door to pee and done. When he stopped drinking it was a matter of keeping him comfortable on the couch on the indoor porch. Buddy was dying but somehow, we didn’t really believe it. Wouldn’t there be another miracle?

SAYING GOODBYE

Mara came up north the weekend when he was still eating and still walking. Even though she was coming back up north the next weekend, we encouraged her to say goodbye to him when she left, just in case. When it was clear that he was declining, Sadie took the day off and stayed by his side all day. Buddy and Sadie had bonded over the years and she perked him up, making me think he’d get better.

I wasn’t sure he’d be here the next morning but he was. Frank and I took turns being with him all day. I pretended to work here and there but sat by Buddy telling him how good he is. Then Frank took a bike ride and I had a turn to get some exercise when he came back. Thirty minutes later, Frank called. He said Buddy had collapsed but was okay. I never biked so fast. I found Buddy lying on the couch next to Frank. Frank thought we were going to lose him. His breathing was changing. The signs of dying were more visible. Not only did he show us unconditional love but he was now showing us how to die gracefully and with dignity.

We weren’t sure he’d live through that night. I don’t think he really slept which made us realize he was in pain. Frank called the vet as soon as they opened. It was time. They said they would come to us at 1pm. Sadie came over that morning to say goodbye. We bathed him in words of affirmation about what a good dog he was and how much we loved him. He wanted to get up but couldn’t. We moved him back to his couch. He was dying. My sister Lynn and her partner Elna called to whisper words of love into his ear through the phone. They sat vigil with us from California as we waited.

The vet came at 1:15 and gave him a sedative. He was already leaving. We said our good byes.  She gave him the shot that would give him the gift of his last breath and let his soul slip away.  We stilled ourselves. After some time, we helped move his body into the vet’s truck and Frank picked up his ashes the following week.

As we came into the cabin for the first time without Buddy in it, I bawled. All the tears I had been holding back came out. That evening Sadie came driving up the road and Mara and Belle arrived next. We all gathered together in our tiny living room. Sadie poured each of us a glass of bubbly wine and Mara said, “Let’s all tell Buddy stories.” It was the most beautiful and cathartic tribute to our now-gone family member. We each shared memory and lots of photos as we remembered Buddy together.

Buddy grew up with us and we grew up with him. He grew from a young dog bouncing with energy to an old and graceful dog whose quality of gentleness was always on display. He was the most well-adjusted dog of all the dogs we ever owned or knew. He fit into our household. He became us. And we became him. We filled him with our love and he welcomed every human emotion we gave him. I am so grateful for the gift he gave to us. He showed us how to accept feelings unconditionally. He was our buddy, our avatar of compassion.

Who we are as a family is unimaginable without Buddy. He is part of each and all of us. He lives on in our hearts and minds as well as in our actions through the lessons we learned from him. Mara shared a cartoon image of two dogs sitting at the end of a dock facing a sunset on the horizon with their backs to the viewer. One dog had wings, the other did not. In a thought bubble above the dog without wings, we read, “They still talk about you.” And in the bubble above the dog with wings, we read, “I know.” We will always talk about Buddy and he will always know.

*The date of Buddy’s death coincided with the 9th of Av in the Jewish calendar. It is the saddest day of the Jewish year and considered an auspicious day to die. Buddy’s spirit lives on.