When Buzz joined our family 8+ years ago, she was welcomed by our Alpha dog, Maddie. Maddie a big-boned, black lab was pretty easy-going and it seemed that she quickly took Buzz under her wing. Over the first few weeks Maddie seemed to pretty well explain the "order of the household" ("All elimination is to happen outside, not in," "Begging for food is frowned upon," "Only bark when there's something to bark about [i.e. folks who aren't "ours" coming into the house]", and "Please, let up on that jumping up on the humans. No, they really do NOT like it. They DON'T think it's a game"). Years passed and as the young boy humans grew, so did Buzz ("down") Lightyear. She was the cutest little cropped and therefore tailless girl, an Australian Shepherd. She was a born herder. She came by it honestly. Her favorite "herdees" seemed to be the grown-up humans, especially in the middle of the night on the way to the bathroom (dog gone it).
About 5 years ago, the oldest boy human desperately needed his own dog to sleep with him on the foot of his bed. So after jumping through hoops (the boy human, not the dog), Emma came to live with us. We were (suddenly, it seemed) a 3-dog family.
It was a lot.
Our older lab began to sigh. A lot. Mostly all the time (she'd been with me and Linda before "those crazy boys" joined our brood). It seemed that if there were any mentoring of the newest 1 year-old Red Bone Coon Hound Pit Bull, it was up to Buzz. Maddie officially passed the torch onto her.
Here's the thing about middle children: we're reconcilers; we're bridge-builders; we're peace-keepers. We are simply not-wired-Alpha.
Emma, being the smart dog that she is knew from pretty much the beginning to "follow Maddie's lead, but ask no drawn-out questions and stay the heck out of her way." And she did pretty well. Pretty well. It probably never occurred to Maddie to explain to Emma DON'T EVER, EVER, EVER chew on the furniture. (Maddie probably remembered doing that same thing as a puppy and was obviously well-trained, cause she put it in the sea of forgetfulness). So Emma spent the next several years (until the last couple of months, honestly) tasting ever piece of furniture AND Gamma's homemade pillows in our house. YIKES.
After Maddie's death, Buzz and Emma became pretty good sisters and I think dear friends. Hanging out together all day while the humans were working or schooling ~ watching movies, playing cards. Eating side-by-side. Walks together in the evening. Going on adventures. They became a pretty good pair.
And so today I'm worried about Emma. In less than 24 hours this past week, Buzz went from being a little lethargic when we were having dinner on Monday night, to being put to sleep the following evening. Linda took her to the Vet (Dr. Adkins, who is an angel on this earth) just before noon on Tuesday and she never came back home. We were blessed to have her family and her buddy, Sarge with her when she died and for that I will be always thankful. But when we all came home, silent and teary-eyed, Emma just couldn't figure out what to do. She sniffed all of us and kept watching the door. And she made her way around the house, sniffing and seeking out her friend. But she never came.
I'm one of those humans who believe in talking to children and to pets (well, maybe I've learned it doesn't do much good to talk with the chickens...). So I sat down on the floor and told Emma that Buzz had been very sick and she just didn't let us know. And that she was going to be in a lot of pain. And we didn't want that. And so we let her go, and it was my best hunch that Maddie was waiting and had met her at the door, ready to teach Buzz the next thing.
I know that Linda and Brogan and Sam have all told her something as well.
But I'm not sure when, if Emma will ever quit looking for her. For all of Emma's time in our family, Buzz has been her companion, her co-conspirator, her goofing-off buddy, her sister.
As I'm typing this, I wonder if Emma came to know something we didn't know on Buzz's last night. I wonder if Buzz shared it with her (or bravely kept it to herself). I wonder if Buzz gave Emma some life-advice on Monday night, while we were having dinner. I hope that there was encouragement somewhere and gratitude, but maybe that's a human response and for dogs it's a whole different thing.
See, that's the tender place for me as the hours are now days, and knowing that time will continue to pass. I wonder what it looks like now through Buzz's friend's eyes.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.