Buttercup was a good dog. She came into our family one November. Her mom, Molly, another really great dog, got out one night a few months prior. My dad woke up the next morning and there Molly was, in the front yard, with a male friend. A male, mutt friend. I'm told he was ugly though I never saw him. My dad chased the mutt away like he probably wanted to chase any boys his human daughters brought home, and Molly was welcomed back like the prodigal daughter - we all knew what she had been doing that night.
For a solid week after that we'd use our regular, baby-talk voices to speak to her but in lieu of her name we'd use sexual slurs that I won't repeat here. She'd just wag her tail and smile at us not one bit offended because she didn't understand English but she did understand scratches behind the ear and regardless of the fact that she had lost her virtue we loved her just the same.
She got fatter. We sisters were so excited.
"Dad! She's going to have puppies! Right, dad? Puppies!!"
Dad refused to admit it. It was an ongoing joke. We'd squeal, "Puppies!" and he'd respond, "Girls, she's just putting on a few pounds - like we need more dogs in this house."
I remember her arrival distinctly because we were in the middle of a house remodel so we were staying at the Pedigo's house (otherwise known as the Cedar Grove Hotel because who hasn't spent a night or two there?), but nature knows no timing. Molly went into labor one day. It actually might have been perfect timing because the floors of the house were still plywood sheets so any birth mess wasn't going to do any permanent damage.
We set up a little pen in the would-be closet under the stairs. My dad helped Molly deliver her babies. She had four - three black, like their mom, and one yellow. The yellow one didn't last long.
I had never seen an animal and it's offspring before. Molly was the most protective mom I'd ever encountered. She would only let my dad near the puppies. The rest of us were greeted with snarls and growls if our grubby hands came anywhere near her babies. Finally, she let Julia in and slowly the rest of us were allowed to enjoy the three furballs she had produced.
I only remember two of the puppies. The boy we named Billy and the girl, Buttercup. Billy and his nameless sibling were given away to loving families. Buttercup stayed with us.
Molly and Buttercup became best friends. They would run all over the place. Buttercup would jump on Molly and Molly would nip at Buttercup's neck. They kept each other company. Buttercup didn't understand when we took Molly away - she didn't know why Molly got to go in the car but she didn't.
You wouldn't know it to look at her now but she was a muscular and active dog. She ran everywhere. She loved the water - I would take her up the backside of Del Valle and let her off her leash. She would sprint off in the direction of the stream - she couldn't get enough of the water. I would huff and puff my way up the hill and she would run circles around me to check out the cows or sniff at the brush or chase a rodent.
As she got older she got chubbier and less active. We'd take her for walks but she couldn't last very long - we'd end up tugging her most of the way home, poor girl. The walks got shorter and shorter.
While Dan and I stayed at my parents house the first half of this year I made a goal to help Butters lose weight - it was an fruitless effort but we bonded at least. One weekend Julia was home so together with my dad we took Butters for a walk at Sycamore Grove.
We stopped at the river for a few minutes to let her swim again. She tentatively got in the water with her eyes darting over to us suspiciously. She had put two feet in the water when she saw my dad walking toward another spot. Thinking he was leaving her she quickly moved out of the water and made her way to his side - she didn't want to lose him. He assured her he wasn't going anywhere and pointed to the water.
Finally trusting him to wait for her she jumped in the water and paddle around for a few minutes. She soaked in the cool water splashing around her body but we could see she was struggling to stay above water much longer so we called her out and made our way back to the car.
She had started out so excited and eager to walk but she slowed down until we were hardly moving. This was the beginning of the end for her. Or maybe, the beginning of my acknowledgement of the end.
My dad, seeing her struggle, ran to the car and pulled it up at the head of the trail so she wouldn't have to walk any further. We helped pick her up and put her in the van. I sat in the back and scratched behind her ears on the way back. She was panting hard but her tail wagged consistently and she licked my hand profusely with sticky, thankful slobber.
We've had three family dogs over the course of my childhood and Buttercup is the last. I'll never forget how she loved to jump on the trampoline with us or how little Annie used to sing her to sleep and try to sneak away careful not to wake her, which she inevitably did because the dog was never really asleep. Buttercup was a good dog and my heart breaks, yet again.
I love you, Buttercup. Sleep well.