Bubba’s Last Stand

Bubba’s Last Stand

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Bubba’s Last Stand

A dog is a dog except when he is facing you. Then he is Mr. Dog.

Haitian saying

During the four years I spent as an animal control officer, I learned that dogs are the first to know when spring has arrived. Dogs who never venture farther than their own backyards will somehow find themselves across town following the scent of spring. Bubba was no exception.

Each year, animal control received several phone calls complaining about Bubba—always in the spring. Bubba, an ancient, overweight and most often cranky bulldog with a profound underbite, snored in the shade of his yard all summer, and seemed content to stay behind his fence during the winter. But as soon as it began to thaw, Bubba began to terrorize the city.

Actually, Bubba was too old to terrorize anyone. His once tan and brindle coat was mixed with so much gray that he appeared at least twenty years old, and I noticed the beginning of a limp that had the definite look of arthritic hips. He never chased anyone; I don’t think he could have if he tried. Still, his appearance and his perpetual nasal congestion, combined with his bad attitude, made people uncomfortable when he got loose.

Sometimes he would get it in his head to sit outside the local deli and glare. The deli owners tried throwing roast beef at him but he just sniffed at it, gobbled it up, growled and stayed right where he was. Most people just got out of his way when they saw him coming; then they called animal control.

His owner, Tim—a thin, silent man who appeared ageless in that way men do after working outdoors most of their lives—usually showed up at the pound, apologized, asked someone to tell me to drop off his ticket and took Bubba home. He wrapped his thin arms around Bubba’s very large middle and heaved him into the back of his pickup truck. He never complained, never asked for a court date. He just apologized and paid his fines.

Tim didn’t seem the kind of person who would be interested in having a pet, especially one as difficult as Bubba. Tim lived alone in a large dilapidated Victorian house that was in a perpetual state of renovation. He had never married, and no one really remembered if he had any family. He didn’t seem comfortable showing affection to anyone, least of all a fat, grumpy bulldog. And Bubba never let anyone touch him, except for Tim, and even then he didn’t look too happy about it. Yet year after year Tim spent a lot of time leaving work to come and drag his grouchy, old dog home.

One spring, it seemed as though Bubba had finally gone into retirement, only growling at passersby from the comfort of his yard. That was why I was a bit surprised when I got a call on an unusually warm June day that a very ugly, old, fat and wheezing bulldog was causing a problem up at the high school. How did he get all the way up there? I thought to myself as I drove to the school. The route from Bubba’s home to the high school was all uphill. I had seen Bubba recently, and he surely didn’t look as if he could make a trip like that.

I pulled into the high school parking lot and saw the gymnasiumdoors open, probably for a cross-breeze. Bubba must have entered the school through the gym. This should be fun. I grabbed a box of dog biscuits and the snare pole and threw a leash around my neck. No animal control officer had ever actually touched Bubba. The equipment was going to be of no real use—he would likely never let me near him. I had to figure out a way to get him to want to leave. I hoped the biscuits would do the job. Entering the hallway, I saw lines of teenagers standing in suspended animation along the walls. One called out to me, “Every time we even go to open our lockers, that dog growls at us. He’s going to eat us!”

Sure enough, there was Bubba—holding the entire hallway hostage. I could see himstanding, bowlegged, wheezing like I had never heard him before, and growling at any sudden movement. Uh-oh, I thought to myself. Frightening the occasional neighbor was one thing, but growling at kids on school property—Bubba was looking at some serious penalties, possibly even a dangerous-dog action complaint, which was a rare occurrence, but one with dire consequences if he was found guilty.

“Bubba,” I called to him, and he managed to twist his pudgy body around to see who knew his name. He looked at me, wheezed some more and growled loudly. I reached into the box of biscuits and threw one over to him. He limped over to it slowly, sniffed it, sneezed and sat down glaring at me. So much for Plan A. I was going to have to use the snare pole on him and I wasn’t looking forward to it.

Suddenly from behind me, I heard, “Hey, ugly dog. Try this.” A tall teenage boy put his hand into a Baggie and threw a Froot Loop at Bubba. Bubba stared at the cereal, then up at the boy. He snuffled around it, picked it up and swallowed it. I turned to the tall boy leaning against the wall. “Can I borrow those?”

“Sure.” He handed me the Baggie, and I threw a Froot Loop toward Bubba. He waddled over to suck it up off the floor. I kept dropping them as I backed toward the open doors of the gym. Bubba was in bad shape; his bowed legs seemed to have a hard time holding up his rotund body. Every step seemed to cause him pain, and the wheezing was getting worse. I wanted to pick him up, but as I started to approach, he growled and backed up. So I continued to drop one Froot Loop at a time, inching my way toward the patrol car. Finally, Bubba was at the car. He was wheezing so much I worried he would have a heart attack. I decided to just get him home and worry about the report later: Bubba was fading fast.

I threw what was left of the Froot Loops into the backseat of the car. Bubba waddled over and stuck his two front paws on the floor to finish them up. I swallowed hard and quickly pushed Bubba’s rear end into the backseat. He grumbled and growled, but was mostly concerned with chewing the last bit of cereal. I couldn’t believe it—I had touched Bubba and survived!

By the time I pulled up in front of Bubba’s house, Tim’s truck was parked haphazardly in front. Tim ran out of the house, letting the door slam behind him. “Is Bubba okay? I called the school, but you had already left. I’ll pay the fine, whatever it is. Give me a couple of ’em. How did he get out of the house? I can’t believe he made it all the way to the high school. He’s so sick. How’d you get him in the car anyway?” Tim spoke more in that minute than I had ever heard him speak in the several years I had known him.

Before I could answer, Tim walked over to the patrol car and opened the door. Bubba was snoring loudly, sound asleep on his back covered in Froot Loop crumbs and looking very un-Bubba-like. Tim put his arms around the old dog and with a lot of effort pulled him out of the car, holding him as you would an infant. Bubba never even woke up, just grumbled a bit in his sleep.

“I, um, used Froot Loops. He followed a trail of them into the car,” I said.

Tim lifted his eyes from the sleeping dog to look at me. “Froot Loops? I didn’t know he liked Froot Loops.”

The lines in Tim’s pale face seemed deeper in the harsh sunlight. He looked tired; more than that, he looked worried. “I can’t believe he got out. I had him locked in the house with the air conditioner on.” Tim’s voice dropped, “The vet says he has cancer. They told me to take him home from the animal hospital for the weekend, you know, to say good-bye.”

I looked at Tim holding his old, fat, gray bulldog. Suddenly, I understood what I hadn’t before. All those years that had etched the premature lines on Tim’s sad face—Bubba had been there to share them. They had each other, and for them, that had been enough.

“I’m so sorry, Tim,” I said and turned to get back into the car. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“What about my tickets? I know I’m getting a few this time, right?”

I turned around to look at Tim. “Let me see what the sergeant says first, Tim. You just worry about Bubba right now, okay?”

I started to leave again, but then remembered there was something else I wanted to ask. “Tim?” I called over to him as he was carrying his dog into the house. “Why do you think he went to the high school? I don’t remember him going all the way up there before.”

Tim smiled at me, another thing I had never seen him do. “Bubba really loves kids. I used to bring him to the playground when he was a pup. Maybe he remembered that.”

I nodded and waved to them: the thin, tired man with the gray flannel shirt, carrying his twenty-year-old puppy into the house . . . perhaps for the last time.

Bubba died soon after that day. I never even wrote up a ticket for his caper at the high school. I figured Bubba had just been revisiting his youth, saying good-bye in his own Bubba way.

You think you know people and then you find out there is more to them than you ever could have imagined. It took Bubba’s last stand to show me that loving families take many forms, all of them beautiful.

Lisa Duffy-Korpics

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