74: The Night Watchman

74: The Night Watchman

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

The Night Watchman

Fun fact: The only dog that doesn’t bark is the African Basenji, one of the oldest dog breeds. Paintings of them have even been found in Egyptian pharaohs’ tombs.

“He doesn’t look like much of a guard dog,” my husband said, as he cupped the face of the yellow Lab puppy and looked into Buster’s eyes. He ran a hand over Buster’s smooth back and picked up one of his large feet. “But if he grows into these feet, he’s going to be big.”

We had rescued Buster from a shelter. His previous owners had tried to contain his energy, but the fenced back yard of their city home had not provided enough room for exercise. The neighbors had complained about his barking, and Buster had escaped too many times by digging holes under the fence. The shelter staff thought he would be happier on our farm, where he would have room to run.

We put Buster in a large, fenced-in area with a bowl of fresh dog food and a pail of water. He barked all night. Early the next morning, after a night without sleep, my frazzled husband let him out. We worried we’d spend the rest of the day trying to find Buster, but we shouldn’t have. He had found a home and didn’t intend to leave. He spent the day napping on our deck or watching us through the picture window. We never locked him up again.

Those first months, my husband and I would look at scrawny little Buster and wonder if we had made the right choice. We had wanted a guard dog, but Buster loved everyone and spent his days sniffing out the squirrels or chasing rabbits. He greeted visitors with a wagging tail and a sloppy grin.

Even in his prior city life, Buster had always been an outdoor dog, so I never understood his longing to be inside. As our sons ran in and out of the house, he would sneak past their legs and flop his long body across my husband’s favorite leather chair.

I lectured our boys about making sure the door was closed each time they came in or went out. “The door is meant to keep bugs and animals out,” I said, “Buster included.”

My sons would promise to try harder, but somehow Buster would find his way to the overstuffed leather chair.

“Bad dog,” I would yell as I poked him with a broom. After repeated prods, he would slink outside and wait for another chance to break in.

One cold winter day, when I was home alone, I found Buster spread out in his favorite chair, the front door wide open. How had he gotten into the house? I inspected the front door, searching for evidence. Hundreds of tiny teeth marks confirmed my suspicions. Buster had mastered the art of turning the knob and pushing open the door.

Our new plan was to keep the front door locked at all times. We would use the patio door off the mudroom as our main entrance. Less than two days later, that door was open, too, and Buster was sprawled across his favorite chair.

We then decided to use only the back entry, a fancy French door with a lever and the added protection of a sliding screen. Buster had that one figured out the first afternoon, and he was back in the leather chair enjoying the easy life.

Buster’s door-opening skills required a constant state of lockdown. A short trip outside to tend the flowers or shovel the sidewalk meant locking the door behind us.

His secret talent discovered, Buster soon found a new favorite spot: a rocking chair on the front deck. He nosed the chair next to the picture window and sat upright on the flowered seat cushion. When content, he would rock back and forth and doze. He would open one eye occasionally to observe our meal at the dinner table or watch as I carried the dirty dishes to the kitchen sink.

At Buster’s mealtime, he walked back and forth across the deck as he watched us through the window. He would emit one of his infrequent barks to remind us of an empty food bowl, and on hot summer days, he would bark until I filled his bucket with fresh, cold water. In the evening, while my sons worked on their homework near the window and I swept the kitchen floor, Buster was happy to once again sit in his chair, rocking contentedly as he watched us.

As Buster grew, so did his devotion. Hour after hour, he ran behind the tractor as my husband baled hay. When our boys were outside playing or riding their four-wheeler, Buster would be right by their sides, never resting until they were safely inside the house. He grew to be the kind of dog that earned the respect of strangers who remarked, “That’s the biggest Lab I’ve ever seen.”

In his last years, Buster still opened an unlocked door, but he didn’t come inside. Instead, he stood in the open doorway until one of us came, a reminder to keep things locked. Then he was off on another patrol, his feet following the path he had tread around our house a million times, the trampled grass trail a testament to his vigilance.

After my husband returned home from work, Buster settled into his doghouse for the night, his black nose visible through the opening. He stirred from his bed only if a car turned onto our driveway or a deer ran across the yard. But on evenings when my husband was away on a business trip, Buster didn’t sleep in his usual spot. On those rare nights when I was home alone, Buster was on high alert throughout the night, nestled beneath my bedroom window, warning intruders to stay away.

Every few hours, I would hear Buster make his rounds. He would jump against each door and check the knob to make sure it was secured. Then once again he’d begin his trek, his feet following the thin dirt trail of protection around the perimeter of our home. After he was assured all was safe, he returned to his spot beneath my bedroom window until the time came to make another round, another patrol.

Like a night watchman, just keeping us safe.

~Angela F. Foster

More stories from our partners