This post was originally published on May 18th, 2015, the day before Buster’s eighth birthday.

He’s been gone two weeks now, and I’ve tried many times to put into words what he meant to me. But I keep coming back to this post. On that day, our hearts were light and the words came easily. We smiled and laughed and played with squeaky balls. On that day, I wrote this tribute to a dog that had completely changed my life. And it says everything I still feel today.

Dear Buster,

Tomorrow it will be seven years since I found you hiding behind the dumpster in our cul-du-sac in Philadelphia. I don’t know how much of this you remember, but I can still picture the construction worker running out to warn us about the “big black dog.” After shuttling Ty and Rod inside, I grabbed a leash and came to see if I could help you. You were so scared. It broke my heart to see you trying to make yourself small, trembling, not daring to look at me with those big brown eyes.

I sat down with my back to you and talked gently. I told you that I wouldn’t hurt you … that I just wanted to help you get home. Slowly, slowly you moved a little closer. And I kept talking, not glancing your way, just reassuring you that everything would be alright.

You seemed to understand, and finally you moved close enough to sniff me. Holding my breath, I slowly reached over and clipped the leash to the chain around your neck. And that’s when I promised you that I’d make sure you were safe.

Together we walked though the back gate onto the patio, and got my first real look at you. You’re beautiful! You sniffed all around and then came over, sat down, and gave me this deep stare that communicated your loss, confusion, and hope all at once.

A Letter of Gratitude to My Dog on his Birthday

I tried desperately not to fall in love with you, certain that someone was looking for such a gorgeous boy! So I called you “Dog,” pretending that not giving you a name would keep my emotions in check.

The search for your people was a team effort. Posters of you were plastered all over the neighborhood. We called the shelters and rescues to let them know where you were, sent out email blasts to the members of our dog park, and put your story online.

While we waited for the phone to ring, we got rid of that awful chain and bought you a proper collar. You met the vet, so he could check for a microchip and make sure you weren’t injured. And you spent a morning with the groomer who have you a nice bath. It was a whirlwind, and you took it all in stride.

Buster Watching Me

What I remember most is that you loved being in the car. One day you and I were out for a walk and a neighbor who’d heard about you pulled over to say hello. She left her car door open and you almost knocked me over diving into the front seat! What a sight we must have been – two grown women, laughing so hard the tears rolled down our cheeks – trying to get you back out of that car!

Now I realize that was a sign. In the past seven years we’ve traveled well over 100,000 miles together.

As you know, whoever raised you for the first year of your life never got in touch with us. Sometimes I imagine there was no one else – that heaven delivered you straight to our doorstep, to light up our lives, and so you could guide us on a journey beyond our wildest imagination.

But there was turmoil in those first few months. Rod wasn’t keen on keeping you. He saw that you had no manners, and you peed every time he bent over to pet you. But Ty was even more opposed. He wanted to be an “only dog,” and for the first few weeks, it was Ty and Rod against you and me.

Buster's Birthday

When the time came to take you back to the vet to be neutered, you also got a microchip so you’ll never be lost again. Once you recovered from surgery, you were all-consuming. Trainers, trips to the dog park, you and me walking miles every day because you were a German Shepherd puppy living in a townhouse.

Ty tried to bite you when you got too close, and Rod was keeping his distance. We were a house divided – literally and figuratively – and I have to admit, I almost gave up. I didn’t think I could handle you. And I wasn’t sure I could give you what you needed.

Eventually, you and I managed to win Ty and Rod over, and none of us can fathom a life without you now. We all owe you so much – you’ve changed our lives completely.

Ty and Buster sporting their seatbelts

A few months later, we set out on our first family vacation. There was no question it would be a road trip, and what a riot it was! You, a year-old German Shepherd puppy, confined to the back seat of our car for three and a half weeks. At that time there was no easy way to find dog parks, or know if you were driving right past a pet friendly beach. It was on that trip that our real adventure began.

Like a diamond being formed, the pressure of being trapped together in the car for 3,500 miles brought forth the idea for – a website that would make it easy for everyone to travel with their pets!

And then life started to get interesting. A year later we launched the website. Six months after that we sold the house and bought our first motorhome. We left everything behind … and started truly living.

Over the past seven years I’ve learned so much from you. You’ve taught me that the most important thing we can do is love each other – the rest we can learn together. You’ve shown me that I’m stronger than I think, and that fear should never stop me from following my heart. I’ve learned a lot about patience – for you and for myself – and that being gentle is always the right answer. And you’ve brought me to so much joy. Going through our photos, you’re smiling in almost every one.

We’ve seen so many places together, and for that I’ll be forever grateful. But what’s even more precious is that you’ve helped me become a better person. Without pressure or demands, you’ve changed me from the inside out, just by being you.

So tomorrow, we’ll celebrate your “birthday.” Not the day you were born, but the day you came into our lives and started working your magic. You won’t understand the fuss or why we’ll have special treats – but we will. We’re remembering all the fun we’ve had, all the wonderful experiences we’ve shared, and looking forward to the many places we’ve yet to go together. And we’re expressing our gratitude that one day, seven years ago, the stars aligned and you became ours.

A Dog Changes Everything

The eleven-and-a-half years we spent with Buster and the fifteen we had with is brother, Ty , are some of the most precious of my life. I’ll never be able to completely express my gratitude in words. But I believe the boys felt our love for them all of their lives, and especially at the time of their passings. They will always be a part of me. And I hope that our adventures together have inspired you to make memories with your own pets. 

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  • I love you Amy. And I’m so grateful I got to meet both boys and spend time with all of you. It’s such a treasured memory for me, and I hope we spend some time together again soon.

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