This is not a story about sewing on buttons.  That is something I’m totally incapable of doing, thanks to my mother and her own lack of such skills. This is a tale — actually, if I choose to be witty, a tail — of a major player in our lifelong collection of amazing dogs, Buttons, nicknamed Bubba for no obvious reason. She was neither a grandmother nor even a mother. But somehow names stick, and when I recall Buttons, it’s really Bubba, and she was probably one of the most brilliant animals in the world, despite her humble origins and total lack of yichus.

You would never find Bubba at a dog show prancing around elegantly, showing off and winning medals. More likely you’d find her under the table during meal time, understanding that when food fell to the floor, the victor got the spoils.

We babysat for Bubba for about 12 years. That’s quite a long time, so you can forgive me for feeling proprietorial.  She was a loaner from one of our children, who thought that a second dog was just what we, heading toward early retirement, needed. Our other dog was Laila, a black mongrel, also with no yichus, and not the sharpest canine in history. Laila was good natured, easygoing, happy to spend her days on whichever couch was readily available and to subsist on the simplest bag of dog food that ShopRite had on sale. She would never position herself under the table because she didn’t have the intellect to understand that food — good, unbagged, freshly cooked meat — could, in a second, land at her eager lips, tongue, and teeth. But, not being obsessed by food like her stepsister, Bubba, she could tolerate having extra couch time in lieu of steak or chicken.

Laila was calm and easygoing until Bubba taught her the doggy equivalent of Krav Maga, a form of self defense that Laila needed to survive. When you pair one genius, a character who was always plotting her next move, an opportunist who never missed anything anywhere, with one docile mutt from the streets, who counted her lucky stars for having creature comforts and lots of love, a battle line is drawn.  The genius has to be constantly in charge, always plotting and planning ahead. One acts. The other reacts. Occasionally.

At least that’s how their relationship began. And since this piece is about Bubba, I want to tell you that Bubba made a bit of a killer out of Laila.  Laila had to survive, and Bubba taught her how. At first she would walk away from the aggression, but eventually she did learn that survival of the fittest was more than theoretical. And since she was physically larger than Bubba, she evened things out, even as unintelligent as she really was.

But Bubba — she was a thinker. I know you won’t believe me, but I could often see her plotting her moves. She was like a chess player, always several steps ahead of everyone else. Truth be told, she could understand my thinking too. And she wasn’t totally evil. Sometimes she was caring and kind and loving too.

There was one night, for example, when I was home alone with both dogs.  My husband was off somewhere on a business trip, and the kids, four of them, were at their various locations. I’m the parent, by the way, who the 10 p.m. news on Channel 5 is speaking to when they say, “It’s 10 o’clock. Do you know where your children are?” When they were little, I loved to be able to answer, yes, I do. They’re all upstairs, fast asleep, having sweet dreams. They’re safe and sound!  But then, as they grew older and did dangerous things like driving cars, I was never again that sanguine.

Thus, that one night, no kids were home, but at least I had spoken with three of them at their various ports of call. One was still not heard from. As the clock ticked and I realized the late hour, I started to torture myself. I wouldn’t be able to honestly answer the Channel 5 question. I did NOT know where one of my children was. My anguish became apparent to one other member of the household. And it wasn’t Laila, who snored peacefully, obviously having a lovely dream about chasing a rabbit, grunting occasionally, but totally ignoring me — fretful, unhappy me!

Bubba, on the other hand, was by my side, and she got me through that long and tortured night. She knew I was worrying, and she just would not go to sleep until she had made sure things were okay. She came to my side of the bed and put her paws beside me, whimpering softly, fully aware that something was upsetting me. Then she paced. She paced and paced, her paws echoing on the wooden floors. She worried with me until morning, when that child phoned from the college library where she had fallen asleep, head on a table, spending an exhausting night studying for final exams. Bubba consoled me. I will always be grateful to her for that loyalty and love.

Bubba was a genius. I know I’ve already told you that, but how do I show you that? Well, her relationship with food was brilliant and passionate. She loved to eat, especially if it was cooked for humans.  She would always watch meal preparation from her vantage point under the kitchen table. Her movements toward falling scraps were fierce and furious and faster than the speed of, say, Laila. Bubba never relaxed or took a nap when food was being cooked. It wasn’t her way. She became totally alert, for a couple of reasons. One was Laila. Eventually, lethargically, Laila would get there too, so she, Bubba, had to get there first. Then there was me. I might, in a frenzy of cleaning, get to the dropped particles before she did. That couldn’t be allowed to happen.

Bubba was integrally involved with our household.  Unlike one of her predecessors, Gringo, she would never have slept through an attempted robbery because the robbers had not rung the doorbell. That night, it was I who had heard them trying to break in and luckily scared them off by turning all the lights on. When the local police arrived, they concurred that a home entry was very close to taking place and that I, not the dog, was the deterrent.  Naturally, the police did ring the doorbell. That roused Gringo to impassioned barking. Unforgivable! Bubba wouldn’t have lain there waiting for her clue. Pavlov, where were you? Bubba would have known that a screen being thrown on the ground in the middle of a dark night demanded a response. Gringo thought it required a doorbell to respond appropriately.

Then there was the chimney story. For several weeks, Bubba became fascinated, unrelentingly so, with the fireplace. For long periods, daily, she would go to the chimney and bark, loudly and angrily. We would look at the fireplace and see and hear nothing. We would reprimand her, to no avail. The barking would not stop.

And then one day someone knocked on the front door, identified himself as a neighbor, and asked if we were aware that a raccoon family had made a home in our chimney. He could see the back of our house and, whenever we lit a fire in the fireplace, the raccoons would evacuate. Those raccoons were stealthy and sneaky, but they couldn’t fool Bubba. No one could.

When Bubba got sick, the vet advised us not to offer treatment, which he said would be very expensive and probably not successful. We suffered with the decision and then went forward with the treatment, to the tune of thousands of dollars. The vet was pleasantly surprised when she survived another two years. And then her symptoms reappeared, and we faced the reality that we would have to provide her with an escape from an unbeatable illness.  My husband and Bubba visited the vet, and he told him to bring her back that afternoon.

With tears streaming down our faces, we emptied the freezer of every bit of kosher meat that was stored within. I cooked it, cut it, and served it to our loyal and truly beloved dog.  She thought she had died and gone to heaven, which she did an hour later.

Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of seven. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was! She welcomes email at rosanne.skopp@gmail.com

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