This past weekend, I had to say goodbye to one of my best friends and beloved family member. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.
I met Tater "Buzz" Burney-Wicke over 4 years ago when Angela and I began our relationship. I had set my jacket down on the couch and Tater hopped up, laid down in it and promptly went to sleep. Normally, very territorial, Angela was surprised Tater was so comfortable with my presence. Never once did he snap at me. He was always tolerant of guests after some initial barking and sniffs, but he instantly liked me and would nuzzle up to me. The affection was mutual. Angela once told me that Tater was a major factor in deciding to be with me. If Tater didn't like me, then I just wasn't good enough. She also told me that she thought I married her to be closer to Tater. I'm a lucky man that the both of them decided to keep me.
Over the years, we went on many travels. He would hike with us on Hunting Island, comb the beaches on Dewee's Island and Folly Beach, and James Island County Park. He loved walking through Hampton Park and Downtown Charleston and especially around our neighborhood in Riverland Terrace. We would take him to visit Angela's parents in North Carolina and my parents in Goose Creek. He wasn't the quickest dog to walk with, though. Every ten feet, he had to mark his territory. Tater would turn a 10-minute walk into an hour., but it was worth it to see his happy little tail wag back and forth.
For a man who loves the water so much, I was a little disappointed that Tater wasn't a water dog but, I think I understand. Tater was so fiercely loyal and protective, he would literally drown himself trying to rescue you from the water. Bath time wasn't his favorite, either, but he loved to be chased afterward.
We would often fall asleep and take naps together on the couch. Sometimes, he would sleep next to my face and let one rip. Oh so polite, that little guy. He loved being chased throughout the house ending with belly rubs. Sometimes, we would search the house for him only to find him curled up in our laundry. If we ever had to leave him at a family or friend's house, we would leave one of my recently worn shirts in his bed. He felt more comfortable that way.
Tater was a very punctual dog, too. Each morning at 7, he would let us know it was time to get up. At 4pm, he would be by the door, letting Angela know that I was on the way home. At 5pm, I would come home and he would be under foot, ready to greet me. 6pm was dinner time and at 9pm, it was back to bed. And if we didn't go to bed? He would get up every few minutes to let us know, "It's bedtime!".
Sometimes, if he was sick or scared, I would stay up all night with him, even on a work night. I was never angry, I only wanted him to be comforted. It worked both ways, too. He was there to comfort me on my not so great days.
In the past year, things took a turn. Tater's heart was failing. It was becoming too big for his body. It's called dilated cardiomyopathy. Pushing against his trachea, he struggled for breath sometimes. Eventually, it became a chronic cough because it was the only way he could breath, if he became too excited (which was always around me). It was hard, but he was still happy. We could still walk through the neighborhood and I could still chase him around the house.
With this past year, we added another member to our family, little Ruby. While Tater was never playful with Ruby, he didn't mind her either. And Ruby was enraptured with Tater. She wanted nothing more to pet Tater, her older "brother". Some days, he would actually let her. As she began to learn how to crawl, Tater would always stay just out of reach. Now, Ruby can race along pretty well. I think she learned faster than normal with Tater motivating her. I'd also like to think that his heart got so big because it was so full of love for our family.
This weekend, Tater lost his appetite. It was surprising because he was always a big fan of my cooking. Soon, he couldn't walk for very long. We took him to the emergency vet. It was a whirlwind of bad news. We could tell he was in pain and exhausted at this point. So, Angela and I made the decision to make his last moments as comfortable as possible with the family he loved so much. With Tater in both Angela's and my hands, we had to say goodbye to our dear family member, our "son". Four years was not enough for me and fifteen years was not enough for Angela.
I tell you Tater's story, not because I want you to be sad, but because I want you to know the love we knew by being Tater's family. It may seem ridiculous to those of you without a pet, but knowing Tater's unconditional love is important. Even as my keyboard is dotted with tears of sorrow and joy, I want you to feel at least a little of that love.
We're coming up on the holidays which is a special time of year that we spend with family, friends and loved ones. So here are a few tips for those of you who will be around your four-legged friends:
- Beware of poultry and pork bones as treats. They can splinter, become sharp and damage the esophagus, stomach and intestines of your animals. Cooked beef bones are best.
- During celebrations, loud noises and bright lights can frighten your animals. Make sure you keep track of them during the use of fireworks and such. More dogs get lost during 4th of July and New Year's than any other time of year.
- If you are planning on getting a pet for your family this holiday season, check out the local shelters, first. There are a lot of wonderful animals waiting to be loved and join you for your adventures in the next decade plus.
Thank you for listening to my story. Thank you Tater for being such a fierce warrior, loyal companion and loving brother. Thank you for being my "son" and thank you for teaching me how to be a good dad!
See You Later Tater!