A Half-Baked Story About a Crazy Dog and a Nutty Squirrel
I saw a little Shih Zhu the other day pulling an elderly woman along the street. She was hollering, “Go slower, Teddy, SLOWER!” Paying no attention, Teddy continued moving at warp speed, head down, nose to the ground, furiously sniffing for the perfect tree. His coat was gray and white and he was a few pounds heavier than Buster.
Ahhh, Buster. Whenever I see a Shih Zhu I think of Buster, the nine-pound, tri-colored member of our family who peed in whatever room of our house he could sneak into but usually liked company when he went outside. He wouldn’t go out in the rain, though, with or without company.
Our first view of a Shih Zhu came from a book about dogs shown to us by a friend who gifted our children with a Shih Zhu puppy called Buster. Never having heard of the breed before, my family and I looked closely at the photos. We discovered that a Shih Zhu is a small, odd-looking but beautiful dog, once known to sit regally beside the Emperor of China. The Shih Zhu’s coat, requiring daily brushing, is long and silky and a bow is often used to tie back the furry hair that would otherwise hide its eyes.
In our family, Buster’s beautiful coat – gray, white and black – was kept very short because he ventured into places that cannot be discussed here. Besides, none of us were interested in brushing him daily, including me.
Nevertheless, Buster was adored beyond measure and he adored us all back, despite the fact that we shouted at him dozens of times throughout the day: BUSTER, GET OFF THE COUCH or BUSTER, STOP THAT (he loved making whoopee to upholstered chair legs). Buster was also a howler and so, SHUT-UP, BUSTER! was often heard as well. Our beloved dog was the only *sentient being we were allowed to address in that fashion.
Buster had other awkward traits, too. He was a sissy. Or, he might have been just an old softie. At any rate, one day our daughter Stacy, who worked as a finishing super on a construction site, found and brought home three abandoned kittens.
After being fed and coddled, the kittens took up residence on Buster’s red pillow bed on the laundry room floor. There they lay in a tight kinship row and stared at him, clearly determined not to budge, while Buster, sitting about three feet away, stared back, his tongue hanging out of his mouth, a glum look on his face, and his tail occasionally swishing back and forth.
Our dear dog didn’t have an aggressive bone in his body. We cajoled, “Get up and take back your bed, Buster.” We pleaded, “It’s yours. The kittens are much smaller than you.” We encouraged, “Come on, you can do it!” Buster would wag his tail a little faster and look at us expectantly but wouldn’t move. We didn’t have the heart to move the kittens either. Only after they left our house for a more permanent home with friends did Buster regain the use of his bed.
Buster seemed within in his element, however, when he was outside chasing the squirrel. I say the squirrel because it was a specific, bushy-tailed rodent with a personality all its own. How did I know it was the same squirrel Buster always chased? Was I a squirrel whisperer? Of all the many squirrels running around our property, was there a special mark, or characteristic that I could have identified? Nope. I just knew.
So did Buster. On the days when he was too fast for us, Buster would dash out of the house without a leash and come face to face with Squirrel who was apparently waiting for him not far from our side porch. And the chase was on, with Buster in the rear, his tongue flapping in the breeze. Not surprisingly, Squirrel got the best of every race. If Buster slowed down, Squirrel would stop and sit on his hind quarters till Buster’s pace picked up again.
Squirrel was particularly adept at climbing fences and leaving poor Buster on the wrong side of the racetrack.
Buster would bark frenziedly at Squirrel scrambling over the top of our backyard fence, he’d then jump up and down in demented fashion, whine a bit, and finally give up, peeing his way back to the side porch, race over.
Squirrel also recognized the end of the race when Buster would suddenly begin to chase his tail. He never caught that either. Squirrel would soon climb a tree, sit on a branch, and watch from above, the doggy demonstration that went nowhere.
Buster is now gone and sadly missed, but the question persists: How did I know that that squirrel was our squirrel?
One morning after my speed walk, as I was nearing our side porch, a small covered area enclosed on three sides with three steps up to a concrete platform, I saw what I believed to be indisputable proof – well, almost – that our Squirrel was still hanging around.
I had read that squirrels can live ten or more years www.animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu, and it was certainly possible that Squirrel had lived long after his romps with Buster. I’m sure, as well, that he preserved his time on earth, as all smart squirrels do, by collecting food for the coming winter.
On this particular day, in a corner of our porch next to the only door that Buster was ever allowed to use, was a large bunch of acorns. It was an unexpected and astonishing sight. Who or what put those acorns there?
I had no doubt; it was Squirrel.
He hadn’t forgotten us and we never forgot him. Squirrel had patiently carried his winter cache of acorns up the steps and deposited them, one by one, next to his pal Buster’s door, safely awaiting transfer to a tree house on our front lawn. It was a reminder of a strange but real relationship that appeared valued by both dog and squirrel.
Stories abound about animal relationships. Lost dogs and cats have traveled over 100 miles in search of their owners, www.petamberalert.com . And cats have been known to adopt and nurse baby animals of other species including “. . . dogs, mice, squirrels, and pandas.” www.suite101.cm/content/do-cats-feel-love. Why not a relationship between a squirrel and a dog? I’d like to believe that.
So, Squirrel hanging around the house for years after his dog buddy, Buster, had died? It’s possible, isn’t it?
*There is controversy over whether or not animals are sentient. Click on www.wordiQ.com.
Editor: Edwin C. Goldstein