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Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2007 02:31 am

My best buddy

Gaining perspective with the help of a new friend

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Untitled Document Like turkey and mistletoe and eggnog and fruitcake, there’s a tradition in the journalism business of wrapping up each year with a look back at the stories and events that made news. We get to reprint our favorite photos, revisit our favorite characters, and see how it all looks through 20/20 hindsight. I’ll let you in on a little secret: We don’t do this because the year necessarily deserves a second glance; it’s because reporting actual news in late December is like trying to read an encyclopedia at a rock concert — it just goes against the mood. Everybody’s focused on the holidays — running errands, throwing parties, planning trips to grandma’s house. Nobody is available to return reporters’ phone calls, answer our questions or provide documents. The holidays force us to move deadlines earlier. Consequently, we punt to you our “year in review” edition. Don’t worry; I’m not about to rehash my columns; that would be painful for all of us. Instead, I’m going to tell you about the highlight of my year, which has four legs and a furry tail: Yep, that’s right; I got a dog. Having never owned a canine before, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know what kind of dog I wanted or where to find one. I needed something that wouldn’t destroy my house, bite my kids, or eat more than 15 pounds of food per week. Other than that, I was pretty open. I stumbled across a Web site called petfinder.com, an online catalog of homeless animals being boarded in shelters. I spent more hours than I’d like to admit perusing doggy mug shots and reading profiles, usually written in first person (“I love to play fetch!”), which I suspected was a handy way of dodging less charming truths (none of the pooches confessed, “I got kicked out of my last residence for mutilating a pair of $85 running shoes.”) Inevitably, I fell in virtual love with a pup named Jonah. A coal-colored mix of pug and Boston terrier, Jonah was so ugly, he was adorable. But the shelter manager asked me a few questions and determined that I wasn’t the right match for Jonah. He was too young, I was too inexperienced. The manager told me I should look for an older dog, and gave me a list of breeds that would suit my kids. I tailored my search to this criteria, and pursued all sorts of potential companions. Some were adopted before I called; some just didn’t feel right when I met them. Finally, on a trip to southern Illinois for a work assignment, I made arrangements to meet an allegedly adult Scottie named Buddy. Unlike most critters on petfinder.com, Buddy didn’t have a mug shot. When I met him, I discovered he wasn’t “adult” and he wasn’t a Scottie. The only document he had indicated he was a 13-month-old miniature Schnauzer, and I wasn’t convinced that those claims were true. All I knew for sure was that he wasn’t happy living in a miniscule crate in a tiny house with about a dozen other dogs. I had to make a quick decision — it was getting dark, and I was several hours from Springfield — so I told the shelter owner I’d take him. She tied two shoelaces together as a makeshift leash and handed me a rawhide bone to keep the dog occupied on the trip to his new home. A local vet confirmed that Buddy’s probably less than two years old. As for his heritage, the vet speculated that he might have some Shih-Tzu mixed with Cairn terrier. Before long, I realized how little I cared what breed he might be. The best thing about Buddy is how wholeheartedly he lives up to his name. For Evan, my youngest son, Buddy’s the creature who guards him each night from “the Goosebumps dummy” — a character that seems to haunt his dreams. For Milo, my geeky teenager, Buddy’s the only interesting item on earth that doesn’t require double-A batteries or a plug. And when the geeky teenager squabbles with the 7-year-old, Buddy is the ultimate neutral third party. We’ve only had him a matter of months, but it’s already hard to imagine life without Buddy. How would we ever navigate car trips without Buddy perched on the console? How would we avoid whatever comes at the end of “If you don’t quit dawdling and put your shoes and coat on and get your book bag, I swear I’m gonna . . . “ absent Buddy’s brilliant ability to intervene? And most importantly, how would we find a reason to wander the streets at all hours of the day and night if Buddy didn’t insist on going outside three times a day to pee? Buddy has dragged me through heat, rain, wind, mud, ice, and snow, not to mention swarms of mosquitoes and gnats. Walking Buddy, I’ve had a chance to notice flower gardens, autumn leaves, Christmas lights, and the stunning beauty of my son ambling beside me. Walking Buddy, I’ve gotten to enjoy coherent phone conversations with various sources, friends, the plumber, and My Mother. I’ve had even better conversations with Evan; I’ve had some very interesting talks with myself. I guess you could say my year in review is really more of a urine review.
Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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