Columns » John Brummett

And the second shall be first


Any man fortunate enough to possess a newspaper column is entitled to use that space once to pay tribute to his departed dog. It'll probably turn out to be his best writing, coming from a truer and more honorable place than any assessment of public policy or a public personality. I know I push the privilege with two tributes in eight months. So it must be. No girl more deserved her own column. Being second, you see, was the theme of Sissy's nearly 14-year story. She came along two years after Bubba because Shalah decided Bubba needed a pal. He didn't think so, of course, and devoted the first few days of Sissy's residence to growling and huffing to impose a silly macho bluff and establish the hierarchy. Sissy was the whitest kind of yellow Lab, purity against Bubba's devilish black. A few times, to my everlasting embarrassment and delight, Shalah would adorn these canines in those very typecasts at Halloween. Bubba and Sissy would meet alarmed little goblins at the door, he perturbed and aloof in a red diablo's cape and she eager to please in pink wings and a halo that kept drooping to the side of her head. She was in many respects the superior animal. She was the one we could trust off lead while we gardened in the unfenced front yard. Her dad was a Welsh champion and she was a leaner and finer athlete. She simply chose not to assert herself. She knew her place and found meaning in it - beta to his alpha, demure to his obnoxiousness. People who didn't so much like dogs, especially one like Bubba who'd scrape the flesh from your shinbone to command attention or service, liked Sissy. She'd simply walk up to you, grin and ignite that helicopter tail. On the April afternoon when we put Bubba to sleep because he could no longer walk and his system was shutting down, we decided to go for a group-grief stroll through the neighborhood with Sissy. About a mile into it, I saw her drag her right hind leg. The animal chiropractor/acupuncturist who'd come by to work on Bubba tells me she had told us so, but that our focus understandably had been on the more immediately compelling need and the more powerful personality. Eight months later Sissy had no use of her back legs and was spending a couple of pre-Christmas days on an IV after a blood test showed kidney malfunction. Maybe she decided to hang around through the holidays for our sakes. But on New Year's Day night she simply forgot how even to stand. As I carried her from the back seat to the door of the animal hospital for the formal end, I heard a woman say, "There's that sweet white dog." I was all right until then. For more than 13 years Bubba and Sissy were a unit, their names said as one, swimming in synchronized tandem, bobbing heads above the water moving first this way and then that, walking ahead of us at the end of their red leashes, Bubba always a bit out front, of course, by his insistence and her acquiescence. When we lost him we still had her. When we lost her we ended an era. Losing him left me heartsick. Losing both leaves me heartbroken. But, yes, there still is Scooter. He's the mutt Shalah saved as a weeks-old pup six years ago. She retrieved him from the middle of a busy street where he'd been run over. He had a broken hip and leg, ticks, lice and profound problems in interpersonal relations. He cost more than the purebred Labs. These days he looks at us as if to say, "I'm really glad to be here. Y'all are swell. But I hope you'll understand I'm no Bubba and I'm no Sissy. I'm just a dog from the 'hood with issues, and I'll do the best I can." I'm sure that will be good enough. And he'll get his own column someday, unless somebody writes mine first.

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