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Buffy, the Healing Puppy

Who knew a fluffly cockapoo could mend a woman’s broken heart?

A fluffy cockapoo playing with a tennis ball on the grass.
Credit: Getty Images

I am sixty-two years old and allergic to dogs. I never owned a dog before, much less a puppy. Yet these nights I share my lumpy mattress with a cockapoo named Buffy.

It didn’t start out that way. She slept in her crate in the kitchen until an old diesel Mercedes caught fire in a driveway six feet from my leaky windows. Fumes permeated our small house. When I returned from treatment for smoke inhalation, I brought Buffy into my room to sleep; the air was slightly better there.

Since then, she howls if she is not in bed with me. To tell the truth, I miss her too. In a misguided effort to separate dog and woman, I created a special place for her at the foot of my bed, piling items for her comfort as follows: folded top sheet, waterproof pad, late son’s old art project towel, and slightly chewed fleece bedding she had slept under in her crate. A smelly piece of braided yarn, a favorite toy, decorates her bed on a bed.

Buffy has taken over half the remaining bed, choosing to sleep parallel to, not atop, her special setup. I wrap myself around the remaining real estate like a disproportioned capital L. The top half of my body is positioned at a sharp angle from the bottom half, and important parts of me rest on a wayward spring in the mattress. If the spring pokes me, I wonder,will I need a tetanus shot? 

People who live with dogs say their appeal is the unconditional love dogs give. But to me, the opposite is true. My dog’s special appeal is her willingness to accept love from me. I have always enjoyed simple physical intimacies; a firm handshake, a casual touch on the shoulder, a quick hug from a friend.

These intimacies were taken from me when a BMW crashed into my life. No one touched me except doctors. As I became isolated at home, old friends faded away, and I had no chance to make new ones. There were no full body hugs,strokes or casual embraces given or gotten.No one welcomed my caresses.

Now I have a pup who sits on my lap on occasion. I can touch her, pet her and groom her. She rests at my feet so that I cannot move without her knowledge. She makes me burst out laughing. It feels so good. Buffy is a social butterfly.

My injuries had made me a hermit. Now, I return waves and smiles from passersby when we sit on the front porch. They’re smiling and waving at her, but she takes me with her into the social world I had missed for so long. To the amusement of folks around here, Buffy has two strollers.

They are for my benefit, not hers, I explain in vain. Balance problems have kept me close to home; stroller handles are the right height to hang onto for support. So I pile the Buffy into a stroller and take off for widening circles around the block.

Sometimes it’s a little too chilly for a dog just to sit in a stroller, so I put a red, quilted, fleece-lined jacket on her or maybe a pink turtleneck sweater with cable stitching and sequins. “Fine dress,” laughs the neighbor down the block, new to English, but able to turn a phrase or two. “Oh, so she can walk,” he said when he saw Buffy on a leash. 

His wife explains that the dog is like a family member to me, and I dispute her.  But how can I make my case while wearing an outfit that matches my dog’s?

I had some misgivings about getting a puppy, but my doctor encouraged me to try. “Everything is harder for you,” the doctor said, “and this will be too. But just think of the possible benefit.” He knew that social isolation was one of the most difficult aspects of my injury and that caring for a puppy could be just the thing to ease me back into humanity. And so I bit.

I wanted to name the pup Beautyrest, because I used my mattress money for her.  The breeder dissuaded me, saying,“Imagine calling your dog. Your neighbors will think you are calling your mattress.”

She also vetoed Gussie as old-fashioned, even though both our grandmothers shared the name and made great stuffed cabbage.  So my first-generation mix of cocker spaniel and poodle became Buffy–Buffarina Ballerina, in full.

Over the past decade of my younger son’s death–two car crashes, cancer and diabetes–I have felt my heart break. I hadn’t known people could feel hearts breaking over time, pieces detaching from the whole and floating down to who-knows-where. Amazingly, Buffy is making my heart whole again.

Sometimes I just stare at her while she sleeps, trying to be quiet so as not to wake her. I search for the mechanism she uses to reattach the pieces of my heart. I like to think she works with fuzzy multicolored yarn, threaded through a wide-eyed needle, so much like the yarn and needle my mother used to finish afghans she made for anyone with a chill.

Despite my search, I cannot find the instrument. But my heart heals. Recently, I stirred at night and became indignant when I felt Buffy too near to me. As close as we were together, she was clearly far out of bounds.I opened my eyes to move her, to whisper“place,”and to correct her for her faux pas. Much to my surprise, I found that Buffy was where she belonged. I was the one who had migrated to intimacy.

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