When Jeff Tuttle, a friend and former Wichita Eagle photographer, showed me this photo many years ago I labeled it a “day-maker,” and one of my favorites of all times.
It means a lot more now than ever before. Buddy, the happy dog in the photo, had to be put down over the weekend.
In the photo Jeff’s nine-year-old son, Zach, is getting a drink from a fountain at a local park while his two-year-old Lab is slurping up the leftovers after a rousing, and unique, game of fetch. Jeff had taken the inseparable pair to the park and pitched tennis balls to Zach to hit with a bat to work on the boy’s swing, and to wear some steam from what seemed a nuclear-powered puppy.
Buddy came to the Tuttle family after they’d just lost another dog. It was love at first sight, lick, wiggle and pounce for boy and dog. Jeff and I used to joke that we wondered who was happier when they got together, the kid thinking “I gotta Lab puppy!” or the Lab puppy thinking “I gotta a kid!”
True “dog people,” the Tuttles thankfully let Buddy hit their household like the hurricane Lab puppies can be. Of course that included muddy footprints on the floor and furniture, an aerated lawn, missing food from the counter, chewed up clothing and keepsakes, expensive vet bills….and more love, laughter and fun than a winning Powerball ticket could ever purchase.
Zach, by the way, is now off at college and doing very well as a student, as an athlete and, more importantly, as just a good young man. That’s to be expected, of course, because I’ve never met a child raised by a fun-loving dog that hasn’t turned out to be stellar.
Having Buddy in his life surely taught Zach life lessons on responsibility, persistence, the true meaning of unconditional love, that laughter heals and that the best things in life are often the simplest things in life…you know, like the joys of a baseball bat and a tennis ball.
Though he’s gone, Buddy is still teaching Zach that it’s OK for men to cry, that love and memories never really die, and that sometimes we have to endure painful choices to ease the pain of those we love.
Tears are in high supply within the Tuttle family, but they’ll eventually be replaced by laughter. Some will be because of memories of a goofy dog now past. Many more will be from whatever puppy they next bring into their lives. While he said it’s hard to think about life without Buddy, I was happy to hear Jeff say it’s even harder to think about their lives without a dog’s love.
Somewhere out there is probably a puppy with no idea just how good his or her life is about to get. If life is fair to all, hopefully the dog will even end up with a few of its own grandkids that’ll need training, too.
Rest well, Buddy,…you set the stage for many generations of joy.