Remembering Buster Dawn
Animal Stories from

By Karen Dawn of DawnWatch
December 2009

Neighbors ask if I will adopt turkeys again this Thanksgiving. I am not sure. I think of last year’s turkeys lined up at the front gate with the dogs, greeting sunset passersby on their way to the Via bluffs. I think of Buster’s patience when the turkey named Bruce, later renamed Brucilla, usurped Buster’s bed on the porch. Mostly I think that this year Buster will not be here to guard the turkeys. This will be the first holiday season in twelve years without Buster Dawn.

Buster came to me in November 1997, a tiny puppy from the pound. I didn’t know then that I should have adopted an older dog because puppies always get homes – and because I liked my rugs, furniture and shoe collection. When I picked up Buster he looked into my eyes and started to lick my face. You can see from my favorite photo that twelve years later nothing had changed. For those twelve years my skin care regime centered on Buster’s daily exfoliation treatment. What will become of my complexion now that he is gone?

On our first Thanksgiving together I carried Buster to a friend’s house in a shoebox. The rescue folks had told me he would grow to about 35 pounds. Ha! Cafe Vida regulars may remember often seeing a 75lb mutt poised across a man’s lap. That was Buster Dawn, with Jim, my ex.

Buster and I took our first walk together on Christmas. I strolled the Soho streets with my beautiful puppy, awed that for once I was not walking alone. A few weeks later we wandered over to the Village and I called my friend Eric to tell him to come down and grab a coffee as we were right on his corner. His response: "Oh Karen, I just love that you are a ‘we’ now."

Yes, Buster changed me to we. Nights in my apartment watching television had always been so lonely; with Buster they were cozy and fun. And I think Buster opened my heart and made it possible for Jim to enter a year later. The day Jim and I first met, for lunch, he dropped me back at my apartment and met Buster and also Paula, Buster’s newly adopted sister. Buster immediately suggested a ball game, and Jim obliged. When Jim picked me up for dinner that night I was running late and asked if he would mind waiting in the book store across the street. He said, “Sure. Or do the dogs need walking?" My heart almost burst – I had found my canine kids a wonderful daddy. Buster led Jim on our usual walk around Soho. Soon we all moved to Pacific Palisades and became a family.

We were a close family. Jim insisted that we never take family holidays anywhere we couldn't take the dogs. Once he had heard Buster's fantastic rendition of Happy Birthday he couldn’t bear a birthday without it. Buster had quite a voice; what he lacked in tone he made up for in gusto.

Thanksgivings were spent at home. I would cook for days and then invite vegan friends over to share the feast -- plenty of Wild Turkey (bourbon!) and veganized versions of classic dishes. Buster loved sweet potatoes. I once made the mistake of leaving a bowl of them on the lower shelf of our serving trolley where Buster clearly thought they had been left for him. Thank heavens my guests were all animal lovers who cackled when they saw Buster swigging back our sweet potatoes. They were happy to dig into the dish once I had skimmed Buster’s personal gravy off the top.

One Christmas we drove to Mexico and rented a guest house. Its front patio, and that of another patio leading to the main house, was attached to a mutual landing that had stairs down to the street. In the main house, Chumaka and Amiga, a rottie-mix and a coyote-mix, lived with their humans. As we brought stuff up from the car into our Christmas abode, Chumaka and Amiga guarded the landing like customs officers inspecting imports. Everything passed their muster but for Paula and Buster. The canine guards at first refused to let our guys past the landing. But Buster somehow slipped past the sentinels into our guest house. A moment later he emerged carrying a new dog toy that Jim had put under the Christmas tree. He slunk out onto the mutual landing, darted over to Chumaka and Amiga's patio, dropped the toy, and darted back. Chumaka and Amiga gave up their post to check out the peace offering. For the next week we were a pack of six. Walks to the beach involved all four dogs – the peacemaking mutt, the rottie-mix, the coyote-mix, and the pitbull. Nobody fracked with us!

Paula recently reminded me of that sweet gift-giving gesture. Though she had lost interest in Buster as he weakened over the last few months, her grief in the days after we let her explore his lifeless body was undeniable. After we placed him in his grave, she lay beside it for hours with her paws hanging over. She brought up a toy and dropped it in on top of him. Unsure the move had been intentional, I gave it back to her. She dropped it in again. We buried her sweet offering with our sweet boy.

I have never loved anybody the way I loved Buster. Some might say that because human relationships are hard I had settled for a lesser relationship with a dog. But was it lesser? Who has a human who howls down the house whenever they get home from work? And what human could make my heart sing just by walking into the room, every time, no matter how many times a day? The intellectual conversations about books and films that a human might offer – and not all do – cannot outweigh the joyful camaraderie of walks along the bluffs, the trusting head on my lap when I curled up with a good book, or the simple and silent companionship Buster would offer as he supervised my holiday preparations.

What a strange holiday season this will be without Buster Dawn. He was the heart of our little family. When Jim or I were out of the house, Buster would wait all night in the front yard until the missing pack member was back safe in our cave. Jim moved out just after last year’s holidays, and now, without Buster, there is really no family at all. Yet, oddly, I am dreading the holidays less than I had expected. Buster’s love changed me, and it will be there this season even without the loving licks and the heavenly howls that were its physical signs. Buster opened my heart, and it did not close when he passed. Though our little family is no longer, I know there will one day be more love in my life, and more holidays with family. That will be Buster’s legacy.

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