Jack was out of town again. This time he had left to attend a three–day course on emergency room surgical technique. I usually traveled with my husband, but I had signed up to teach the third graders. So tonight it was just me and Buford.
Our youngest daughter had presented Buford to her dad when she left for college. "I got him for you, for when you miss me," she had said. "Heís lots of trouble, wants to go out all the time, and heíll give you great big hugs any time you need one. Just like me."
I could see the resemblance. Jenny and Buford were both blondes and they both liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But Buford outweighed our daughter by forty pounds, and his hugs were a bit more, uhÖenthusiastic. There was nothing subtle about Buford. His paws wrapped around your shoulders, enveloping you in a full–body, tail–wagging greeting party. We told visitors he had a greeting disorder.
Jack named him "Buford T.D.O.G." (which stood for The Diplomat of Glad.) Buford fulfilled all of Jennyís promises. He was a great companion, especially during those lonely months after she left for school. And, though Buford was technically Jackís dog, that dog always had time for me too, especially when Jack traveled. Buford was always at the back door with a smile on his enormous yellow face, telling me I mattered.
Buford slept in our back yard. Iíd go out each and every night to check on that dog — he was my husbandís pride and joy. I always made sure the back gate was locked. And each and every night when Iíd check on that gate, Iíd lean over to scratch Buford on his snout, give him a big bowl of chow, and tell him to be a good boy. I liked the fact that Buford was out there in the back yard, watching over me.
It was late that night when I made my rounds. So, after I closed the back door, locked it, and turned the back porch light off, I then made my way to our master bedroom at the front of the house. I was tired, and so my comforter felt awfully good as I settled in for the night.
Then I realized someone was staring at me through the sliding glass door. It was Buford. He had somehow gotten out of the back yard, and now he stood at our glass door with great anticipation on his face.
It was 2:00 a.m., Buford wanted to play, and I had the nerve to be surprised.
Heeding the call, I jumped to my feet, tripping on Jackís slippers. I wound up face to muzzle with our Buford — with only the glass separating us. Buford started running in circles. Before I could get to my feet, out of the yard he bounded.
"Buford, come back." Still scurrying, tripping and running, I grabbed the flashlight. The flashlight didnít work. I ran back into the yard. The automatic sprinklers turned on. I yelled to the dog. He kept running. "No, Buford! No. Come back."
My mind started whirling. Iíll never find him in the middle of the night like this. How will I tell Jack? I know I checked the gate. Iím sure it was locked. It was, wasnít it? But I should have checked more carefully. Now, Buford was gone. Oh, my gosh. Iíve lost Jackís dog. Iíve never lost a whole dog before. But I guess you canít lose just part of a dog, can you?
I ran back inside and, dripping from head to toe, began thinking of Mike Pardue, our neighbor. The chicken rancher. Mikeís voice began to fill my head. "Sarah, thereís some dog getting into our chicken houses at night," he had said only last week. "You seen any stray dogs around?" I knew that he knew that I knew it could be Buford. Yup, it was an real possibility, but I just looked away. "No, Mike. Canít help you there."
Just in case his (our) fears were correct, I had been keeping an extra close eye on the Buford, watching to make sure he never left our yard. I didnít want to go out one day and find that dog with a goofy grin on his face, chicken feathers sticking out of his nose.
However, at that moment there was little doubt that Buford was headed down the road toward the Pardueís.
I had to find that dog.
I grabbed Jackís old Army coat, his size 12 leather slippers and his truck keys. Then I ran down the hall, flung open the kitchen door that lead to the carport, hiked myself up into the seat of our truck, and headed across the field. When I got to the Pardueís property I put the truck into neutral. Silently I coasted past the chicken coops with the headlights off and hoped the Pardues didnít see or hear me. I made quite a fashion statement: my husbandís size forty Army jacket and his immense leather slippers — all of this nicely accessorizing my nightgown, a floor length, pale yellow, chiffon number. To complement the ensemble, my hair was soggy and stuck to my face. The way I look will make a nice mug shot when I am arrested for trespassing, I thought to myself.
The Pardueís chickens started making all kinds of racket as I passed. So I cowered lower and lower in the driverís seat as I crept along the dirt road, eventually peeking through the steering wheel. Where, in heavenís name, is that dog?
Up and down the road I drove. For over an hour I covered the four–mile distance that stretched from our house to the Pardueís. Me, the woman who would eventually be caught and arrested for sneaking up and down dirt roads, peeking into chicken houses in the middle of the night, while wearing her husbandís immense Army coat and her husbandís immense slippers over her dainty little yellow nightgown.
Buford was not to be found. Time to head home. As I pulled into our carport, parked the truck, and turned off the engine, I heaved a heavy sigh. I had failed.
I mustíve sat there for fifteen minutes before I finally reached down and jerked the emergency brake into place. I slid out of the truck, down onto the ground, quietly shut the door behind me, rested my head against it, and closed my eyes.
As I opened my eyes and turned to go into the house, I found myself nose to snout with a dog. Yes. The Buford — all 170 pounds of him — stood there in the back of the truck, drooling, smiling, head–to–toe vibrating with pure joy, and thanking me for the fun ride.
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