Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"The best 3 days of my ride", or "The worst 2 miles of my ride", or "Buck, The Light Fantastic"

So Nick and I were riding along late one afternoon, having just ascended and descended Mt. Rogers in rural western Virginia, and beginning the ascent of another hill, the name of which I cannot remember. It was getting late in the day as we passed a horse camp and we decided that we may not make it to the next small town before dark so we'd be better off getting a campsite at the horse camp and finishing the hill the next morning. We paid our $5 site fee and claimed our space. I saw there were three other people camping in this fairly large campground, all with large trucks, horse trailers, and at least a couple of horses. Two of the groups had several dogs as well.

I ambled over to our nearest neighbor, wanting to just be friendly and have a quick chat. The guy was a real woodsman, dressed in full camouflage from head to toe. We started chatting and within about a minute, I heard a rustle in the weeds to my left and saw a little puppy running straight for me. The adorable little pup came right up to my leg and was rubbing up all over me. I told the guy that his dog was really cute and asked how old it was. He said "that ain't MY dog. I don't want nuttin' to do with that thing. 'S been runnin' 'round here for a day or so and I jus' keep tryin' to 'gnore the damn thing." We continued to talk about other things for the next five minutes or so, and all the while I thought the guy had been just kidding around about the dog. When I was about to walk back to my campsite, I said "well, thanks for letting me pet your dog. He's really cute." The guy repeated his denials about owning the dog so I scooped the puppy up and took him with me, telling the guy that I was going to go over to the other campers to see if one of them had lost the poor little thing. I figured for sure someone had to be going crazy looking for their missing little puppy.

How wrong I was. The first other group of people were friendly enough but said it wasn't their dog, even though they did pet him and say he was a "cute little bugger". They had two dogs of their own with them and they didn't want to take another puppy. They simply said "I guess he's yours now. Good luck riding across the country with him." The next group of people I approached didn't even let me get within 20 feet of their camper; they saw me coming and yelled out loudly and rudely "don't bring that thing over here! We don't want that dog anywheres near ours!! That thing's been runnin' around here for a day or two now and we don't want it!" I was shocked. That second group was actually the campground HOSTS; you'd think that at least if the hosts saw a stray puppy, they'd call someone or protect the little guy until someone came to get him.

So, I walked with Nick back to our site, holding the puppy and wondering what to do. He sure was a sweet and adorable little thing and there was no way I was going leave him out in the remote wilderness to die like all those other people seemed perfectly content doing. "But, I'm on a cross-country bike trip", I said to myself. "I can't take a dog with me!"

I decided to see if the little guy was hungry. I tossed some bits of my energy bar onto the ground and he voraciously attacked it, as if he were starving to death. I made up some peaches and cream oatmeal from my foodbag and he chowed that down too. He didn't like the nut and dried fruit bar I tried to give him, but he mowed down on a cheese and peanut butter cracker I tossed him. I then made my dinner and and set up my tent. Under the rain fly, in the tent vestibule, I set up a little bed for him consisting of a plastic groundcloth to keep him dry, a small dirty laundry bag for some cushion, and, to keep him warm, the 'Sweet Treats: Lick It Up' t-shirt that the nice ice cream shop folks had given me in Lexington, VA. I put some water in the lid of my camping pot and set it nearby. Before I was done getting ready for bed myself, the little pup was sound asleep on the makeshift bed I'd created for him.

That night, as I expected, he tried to get into my tent several times, his little claws shredding but not puncturing the netting. He was determined, but after I firmly told him "no" a few times he'd just curl up against the black laundry bag and go back to sleep, right next to my head. Every so often, I'd wake up and unzip the tent and reach out and pet him a little bit for reassurance. In the morning, I discovered to my surprise that not only was he still curled up right next to my head, but he had also gotten up from his bed and left the tent vestibule to go potty. Smart little guy doesn't poop where he sleeps.

In the morning, I fed him some milk and some puppy food that the camp host (who must've been feeling guilty) had dropped off for me. He attacked it like he'd never seen a real meal before. The pup wouldn't leave my side for long, and if he did, he was hovering around Nick. I decided that the only way to deal with him would be to take him into the nearest town and see if I could find him a vet to check him out, and perhaps find someone to take him. I cleared out my handlebar bag and put his new bedding, the Sweet Treats t-shirt, inside for cushioning. After I packed up camp and was ready to leave, the moment of truth came. I picked the puppy up and put him into the handlebar bag. I was surprised that he fit, as well as that he didn't try to jump out. I partially zipped the top of the bag shut so that he could move around a little, but couldn't really jump out. He was trapped, but as comfortable as possible, I supposed.

For the first couple of miles, he struggled to get out and I had to keep petting him to reassure him that it was ok, but after a while, as you can see in the picture (yes, it was taken when I was going 15 mph), he just settled right in and went for the ride. I got into the next town of size, which was about 20 miles away, around lunch time. I went and got a sandwich, which I shared bits of with him, and we parked under a shade tree. By this time, I swear he was becoming my dog. He'd hang out in the handlebar bag contently when I walked away, and then when I'd come back to the bike and take him out, he'd run around in the grass and explore but he'd always return to me. I noticed he'd even come to me when I called him. People at the restaurant fawned all over him and were amazed at how well-behaved he was and how he came to me when I called him. They wanted to know how old he was and what breed he was; each time I had to respond with "I don't know. I just found him abandoned in the wilderness and picked him up last night." Someone asked me what his name was and, at that moment, he became known as 'Buck'.

After lunch, I inquired and learned that there was a veterinary clinic about 3 miles off my route, out of town, in a little white house by the side of the road. At that point, I said goodbye to Nick because I didn't know how things would turn out with Buck and I didn't want to hold Nick up from a day of riding. Buck and I found the clinic right where I'd been told it was and inside we found Heather, the vet's assistant, ready and willing to help. Heather was Angel #1 for Buck. She took one look at him and said his little potbelly indicated that he had roundworms and she then gave him some medicine for free. She gave me a second dose, also for free, in a little syringe that I was to squirt into his mouth two weeks later. The vet wasn't in, but figuring that the deworming was the initial step anyway, I didn't wait around until he came back. Heather gave me a lot of helpful suggestions and after posing for a photo with Buck, Buck and I hit the road.

Buck, by this time, had become quite familiar with the routine of handlebar bag bicycle travel, with occasional pit stops for food and drink. He was requiring less reassurance and less frequent petting to stay calm inside the handlebar bag so I began to give him a little more room - meaning that I was not zipping up the bag all the way and trapping him inside because he was being such good boy staying inside on his own. So, you can imagine my surprise when all of a sudden, when I was going 23 miles per hour down a steep hill, Buck suddenly and without warning literally LAUNCHED himself out of the bag, straight forward over the front wheel. To this day, I have no idea how I, a) caught him, b) didn't crash, and c) didn't hurt him. I kid you not - as he flew out of the bag and toward the ground in front of the bike, I instinctively let go of the handlebars with my right hand, reached forward and down, and somehow caught him by his back right leg before he hit the ground and/or I ran over him. I was scared to death, and even more concerned hearing him yelping and screaming out in pain as I held him dangling by one leg while trying to stop the bike one handed on a steep descent. When I managed to stop safely, I laid the bike down and set him on a small patch of grass on the side of the road. He scampered away, apparently not hurt, and immediately pooped....and (sorry for the gross detail here) it was full of big roundworms.

It dawned on me then that it was about 50 minutes before that Heather had given Buck the deworming medication. I just never expected that it would work so quickly! Of course Buck had leapt out of the bag...he didn't know it was unsafe, and he had to GO!! Fortunately, I didn't injure his leg when I grabbed him, and fortunately he forgave me for hurting him. In fact, I think that moment was a bonding moment, strangely enough.

Buck and I ended up that night in Hayter's Gap, VA....literally the middle of nowhere as there wasn't a soul in sight. I found a deserted church where someone had mowed a little grassy area down by the river and I set up our camp for the night. (See the tent in the lower right corner of the picture.)

I cooked dinner on the church steps, pasta and sauce for me, and dog food softened with warm water for Buck. He scarfed it down; in fact, he even got both feet in the food dish when he couldn't reach the other side!

I set up Buck's bed the same way, and he performed flawlessly. Sensing this time that he was not in danger of being abandoned, he didn't even try to get inside the tent this time. He just curled up on his bed and fell asleep, his little body resting only about 6 inches from my head. A couple of times during the night, I awakened to the sound of little Buck trotting outside of the tent vestibule and coming back a minute later and getting comfortable in his bed once again. In the morning, I saw that, again, he had been leaving the tent to make sure that he went potty away from where we were sleeping.

Buck was definitely teething and was chewing everything in sight: sticks, shoes, calf muscles, fingers, carpet church steps, and even cracks in the asphalt! I knew I had to get him a chew toy, not only for him and his teething, but for my sanity. Maybe if he had something he could chew on, I could take my eyes off him for more than 20 seconds!

We broke camp early that day, around 745 a.m. and I got 16 miles in by about 930 a.m., which brought us into the small little town of Rosedale, VA. There's isn't much more there than a convenience store/gas station and a few other little buildings, so I pulled into the store's parking lot to get a drink and try to figure out if there was a veterinary clinic near town. I had decided by this point that I really wanted to get a vet to examine Buck fully, so I could make sure he was ok, see if he needed other shots/medicine, and perhaps see if someone was available to adopt him. At this point, I hadn't decided yet whether or not I was going to keep Buck or adopt him out, but I wanted him to see a veterinarian, regardless.

As I stood at the convenience store preparing to go in and ask the clerk if there was a vet clinic nearby, I spotted a guy wearing a U.S. Census cap and looking rather official. I figured that if anyone would know what was in the local area, it would be 'census guy'. It turns out I was right. Bob Haydock knew immediately that there was a vet about 10 miles away in the town of Lebanon. As it also turns out, Bob had been driving down the road and had seen me on my bike so he had turned into the gas station/convenience store parking lot to talk to ME; he wanted to know if I'd stayed at the Elk Garden Church the night before (they offer free housing/food to cyclists passing through). I told him that I hadn't stayed there, but that I'd heard it was a good place. Bob seemed to be amused by Buck and was petting the little pup, so I decided to go for broke - I asked him if one of his church parishioners might be able to drive me the 10 miles to the veterinarian's office so I wouldn't have to ride my bike. To my surprise, Bob said he was done with his work for the morning and could take me himself.

Bob was Buck's Angel #2. Not only did Bob drive us 10 miles to the vet, he waited there for 2.5 hours for us until the vet was able to fit us in and finish the examination!

The vet said that Buck was in good health, but that she suspected heartworms as well as some more roundworms, so she gave him medication for both. She said he appeared old enough for his first round of shots so she gave him those. She suspected Buck's age was approximately 8 weeks, his breed to be miniature Pinscher (not a Doberman), and that his eventual weight would be about 20-25 lbs. She gave Buck the seal of approval and said he'd live to be a great, healthy dog!! (She also said he'd probably grow 1-2 lbs a week and quickly outgrow his handlebar bag bike bed.)

I have to thank Buck's Angels #'s 3 and 4, Ruth and Carney, of the veterinarian's office. Not only did they love all over Buck, but they managed to fit Buck into an otherwise VERY busy day at the clinic when they were dealing with multiple emergencies; and, additionally, they gave me a 20% discount on the costs and a free bag of Science Diet puppy food. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of these fine ladies with Buck.

After leaving the vet's clinic, I treated Bob to lunch at McDonald's. It was interesting not only because I brought Buck inside the restaurant (inside his handlebar bag bed), but because it was McDonald's GRAND OPENING. Lebanon's folks had come out in full force to experience the new Mickey D's and had filled BOTH of its drive-thru lanes, as well as the seating inside. Bob and I managed to get a seat and we didn't get kicked out even though I had a dog in my bag. :)

Bob offered to take me anywhere I needed to go before dropping me off at the store where my bike was locked. I took him up on the offer and we went to Wal-Mart, where I bought a bag of 50 rawhide chewtoys and a small red collar for Buck. After we finally made it out of Wal-Mart (Buck got a LOT of attention), we drove the 10 miles back to my bike.

Bob dropped me off and it was at that point I had to make a decision about whether or not I was going to continue riding for the day, if I was going to get a room at the motel next to the convenience store, or if I was going to go back to the Elk Garden Church - Bob's church, which was two miles back along the route I'd already come. At this time, it was about 230 p.m. and I made the decision to ride back to the church. I wanted to spend the day with Buck as I tried to decide what to do. The folks at the vet's office had told me that the following day there was scheduled an 'Adopt-A-Pet' event at Wal-Mart at 8 a.m. and I had a huge decision to make about whether to keep and ride with Buck, or to find a good home for him. I also  figured we would have more room at the church than at the motel, because the church had a large covered area with picnic tables, an expansive yard with a lot of grass for Buck to run in, and cupboards with free food! The only thing I'd be giving up was a shower and the church would be much cheaper and much more comfortable for Buck. (As it turns out, I took a cold shower with a garden hose behind the church which was painful but better than nothing!)

Buck and I spent the day playing in the yard outside the church. We had the deserted church to ourselves for a few hours until some guys showed up to work on the water supply to the building next door to the church. As we chatted and I told them the Buck's story and the large decision that was looming over me, one of the guys immediately said "well I'll take him off your hands right now." I think he could tell I was hesitant because he then said that he already had three other dogs and that Buck would be well cared for. I told him I'd think about it; not only had I not decided to give Buck away, but I wasn't sure that this was the right guy. Over the next 30 minutes, as Buck ran around and this guy that had offered to take him never once bent down to pet him, never once called him by name, and never once showed any actual interest in him, I was easily able to make the first decision: I definitely would NEVER give Buck to that hillbilly. I can just see him being thrown outside and ignored, or yelled at and hit because he did something that made the guy mad.

So as they left and the guy once again told me he'd take the dog but didn't pay any attention to Buck, rather than tell him there's no way I'd ever give him my dog, I told the guy I wasn't sure what I was going to do. He said he'd swing by in the morning before work to see what I'd decided since it was on his way. Ok, fine.

As Buck and I played and bonded some more, not long before dusk, a woman, her son, and her husband showed up randomly to move a bed out of the house next to the church. From afar, they were polite, but as they got closer, the woman asked what I had in my lap. When I said "a puppy", she instantly came over and fell in love with little Buck. Her son came over and did the same and it wasn't long before we were having discussions about all things animal-related and I learned the story of Brenda Bundy.

Brenda Bundy, though she attends the Elk Garden Church where I was camping, lives next to a different church. Apparently, occasionally people leave boxes of puppies, cats, or whatever on the porch of that church, thinking that some nice churchy soul will take care of them. Well, Brenda said that many of those animals make their way over to her property looking for food, which she gives them. She says she has found homes for over 50 abandoned animals. When I told her my story, and how I was facing a big decision about whether to take Buck along or adopt him out, she immediately said that she would have zero problem finding a great home for him, either she would keep him, or her niece (who used to work at a vet's office) or her sister (who'd adopted another dog Brenda had found) would love to take him. She gave me her number and said I could call her anytime that night or the next morning when I'd decided what I wanted to do. Watching Brenda and her son Dan play with Buck, I knew immediately that if I left him with them, he'd be in wonderful hands and I knew that that was a much better option than the Adopt-A-Pet event at Wal-Mart.

They left and I took the rest of the evening to just play with and love Buck. He ran around the yard and explored, but always came when I called him. He chewed the rawhide toys I gave him. He went potty when I took him outside. He fell asleep in the bend of my knee with his head on my leg as I sat on the ground at my cookstove.

I really, really struggled with the decision of what to do with little Buck. He was so obviously MY dog. From the first moment I picked him up, he never wanted to leave my side, he obviously wanted to please me, and he was completely devoted to me. I still can't believe he always came when I called him. He knew his name was Buck, he had learned in an hour that his rawhide toy was called his 'chew', and he was already beginning to figure out the word 'potty'. But, for all of his awesomeness and all of my selfishness in wanting to keep him, I really just figured that he ultimately would not be very comfortable on such a long bicycle trip in his early formative months. Yes, he'd be close to me always, but he'd get no sense of consistency of place or purpose, and it would be very difficult to keep him cool on hot days, warm on cold days, comfortable as the bike sways side to side as I climb difficult hills, and dry when it's pouring rain. Add to that the fact that he may start out at 2.75 lbs and easily fit into the handlebar bag, but would probably grow to 20 lbs by the time I get home, and it just seemed to be the right thing to do to give him to Brenda Bundy.

Brenda Bundy became Buck's Angel #5. I called her the next morning and she met me at the Rosedale gas station/store. She even brought a cat carrier that Buck would fit in and that I could strap to my back bike rack if I wanted...you know, in case I'd had second thoughts about adopting him out...but I didn't see a good way to keep Buck comfortable, cool, and dry in it, and I'd already decided that it was better for Buck if he stayed in Virginia with Brenda.

I never thought I could shed so many tears over a puppy that was in my care for three days, but that two mile ride to the convenience store to meet Brenda was the longest two miles of my trip so far. It crushed my soul to give that sweet little puppy away, and the only reason I could do it was because I knew he'd found a perfect home. As if to make me feel better and make it easier to live with my decision, as soon as I handed Buck over to Brenda, he immediately fell asleep in her arms, and when she put him into the crate on her front seat, he appeared completely content and relaxed. When I gave her the Sweet Treats t-shirt that had been part of his bed, she put it in the crate and he immediately balled up and fell asleep on it.

I stole a quick hug from Brenda as I rode off because I was getting pretty emotional about leaving my boy. In fact, I could barely see her as her car passed me and drove off because my eyes were so blurry from the tears...

Here's Buck asleep in his handlebar bag bed for the last time, Brenda Bundy holding Buck, and Buck sleeping in the crate in Brenda's car:

Thank you Heather, Bob, Ruth, Carney, and Brenda for being there for me and Buck. Y'all really were his angels and you truly saved his life. It's been three days since I left the little pup behind, and I still miss him every minute of every day. I'm content only in knowing that he's really in a happy place. In fact, I called Brenda the other night and she told me how well he was adjusting to life in their home and that he was playful and happy, learning to get along with their other dogs, and at that moment, was nibbling on her son Dan's leg. Perfect. :)

Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that Buck's full name was 'Buck, The Light Fantastic' because he just shone with love, affection, and devotion.

Anyway, thanks for reading such a long story; I just wanted to be as complete as possible since this story has such meaning to me.

And, I hope I spelled all the words right in this blog entry...my eyes are just a little bit blurred at the moment...

How fitting...yeah?


Gabrielle said...

That is a GREAT story. It must have been so hard to give him up, but it sounds like you found him a really good home.

Brain Clots said...

Dude, if there ever was any possibility that a woman wouldn't stab her best friend in the head for a chance to be with a man like you, it SO evaporated when you wrote that story. Seriously?!? Puppies and angels?!??!? Hell, I am thinking about sleeping with you. (Sorry, Dennis' mom, it had to be said).

Once again I am amazed at your journey and the heart it reveals. Keep safe, bromine.

The G Family said...

maybe you might cross paths with YOUR angel again. Nothing says he can't be sent to you. Great story buddy. BTW, Brain Clots: the problem is that D-man is a moving target and won't sit still:)

jackie said...

Dennis babe! Thanks for making us laugh AND cry! But, we feel you have some of the story wrong... YOU were Buck's Angel #1!!! Loved the story! Keep safe and keep the adventures coming! Love ya! Jack, Frank and kiddies.

Dave said...

You are a good man. You proved it again.

The Schweickerts said...

What a great story!!! That puppy was just the cutest!!! I am enjoying your blog - half way done with the adoption!!

Sharon said...

WOW!! You ARE Buck's angel #1! You did everything you could possibly do for him ... and he for you. Who would've thought it would just be 'humans' that could make your trip such a positive one. We were very touched to read about Buck ~ AS & UJ

jbailey0 said...

Okay, by the time I was down to the end of your blog, my eyes were so watery they could barely read what you typed....

Meggan Kehrli said...

Ditto jbailey0... holy cow Dennis! You took fantastic care of the little guy! Isn't it true that the right thing is often the hardest thing to do :)

Anonymous said...

What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing. I feel for you. I was in tears at the end. Didn't you forget a certain angel of Buck's...you! :) I hope your paths cross in the future.