Rufus was the unfortunate dog who belonged to the Daniels children somewhere in the mid-1970's. A short, black, and malodorous canine, Rufus spent most of his unhappy life with the Daniels penned around the garage, barking at friend and foe, eating cheap dog food and wondering why no one paid any attention to him.
Those were years of intense stress in our family. Mom was adjusting to life as the single parent of the four children she bore in less than five years. Emotions, when we expressed them, were usually negative and/or hostile. But mostly we didn't express them. There is a certain comfort in repressing one's feelings.
I don't mean that we were intentionally mean to Rufus. We had plenty of time for kickball and to go to Scout meetings. But we were little prepared for the time a good dog requires for nurture and personal growth. Who has time to love a dog when one is having a hard time loving one's self?
It is little wonder that when the gate was left open one morning Rufus ran hard and fast and as far as he could, never to be heard from again.
So, in 1997, when Buddy came to live with our family, my first thoughts were of Rufus. I was apprehensive, remembering Rufus' unfortunate circumstances. Buddy was everything Rufus had been at the first - cute, cuddly, happy. We have no penned in yard in Roann (and I would be hard pressed to build one), so Buddy would be safe on that score.
As Buddy grew, he fast became a family dog. Slowly, over 8 years, he became my dog. When Buddy needs a bath, he's mine. When Buddy needs a walk, he's mine. When Buddy needs to go out to 'read the mail,' he's mine. When Buddy needs a table scrap, he comes to my chair.
Buddy has become a close confidant and friend as well. There are few professions lonelier than the pastorate. Pastors know things about people that we can't tell anyone - even our wives. Pastors learn things about people from others that we can't share with others. We are the dead end on the gossip train. Pastors rarely have someone to understand their own issues and pains. We are supposed to be the strong ones at funerals, the comforting ones in the nursing homes, the healthy ones while anointing the sick, and the holy ones when administering the Church's sacred rites.
Enter Buddy. Like me, he is middle-aged (in dog years). Like me, he's pretty much content in his routine, happy with his family, satisfied with his home, and not in as good shape as he used to be. Buddy enjoys an evening walk, a good back scratch, and minding his own business. He occasionally barks inappropriately. Once in a while, he likes going out on a leash-free toot, just to see what's up in someplace new.
Being two overweight middle-aged males, Buddy and I take long walks to try and stave off the on-set of aging. I am able to share some of my confidences with Buddy. Buddy has heard about parish problems and has kept his opinion to himself. When I have a personal dilemma, Buddy offers no opinion. He just listens. When I am talking on and on about a situation I can't figure out, Buddy often brings me back to reality with a lunge at a stray cat or a quick jump at a squirrel.
The dog Rufus was around in the time of my life when adolescent confusion and family upheaveal led to neglect and emotional distance of both boy and dog. And though Rufus and I had much in common, we had no relationship.
The dog Buddy is around when life is going well. I have a wonderful family, I have plenty to eat, a great house, and the funnest job in the world. And so does Buddy. We have much in common, with the bonus of having a good relationship, too.
I sometimes wonder what happened to Rufus. I hope somehow, somewhere, he found a family who'd love him and let him know that life is best when it's shared with a good friend.