The Scruffy Brothers

I lost one of my oldest friends today. Buster, my 20-year-old dog, died in his sleep last night. I went to wake him to go out to pee, and discovered he was gone.

This is truly the year that everything ends.

My family has always had an extremely close bond with our pets, frequently more so than to each other. Our animals are family, and my purest, most resonant emotional connections throughout my life have been with a variety of cats and dogs.

When he was a little more than two months old, my mother stole Buster away from his abusive owner, some punk kid renting an apartment in the complex my mother was managing. This was in 1990. He was given to my cousin Brandon, then about 6 years old. However, Buster was too scruffy and shaggy to really fit in with the image my cousin Kelly – Brandon’s mother – had for her upscale white-trash family, so he was never truly taken in.

My grandfather, Cecil, the man who raised me after my father took a powder when I was two, took Buster that Christmas. My grandfather was pretty scruffy and shaggy himself, so it was a terrific fit, and they were inseparable.

Buster was absolutely my grandfather’s best friend, and Buster had no doubt that Cecil was his father/pack leader. Wherever my grandfather went, Buster was in the car with him. They would frequently drive through McDonald’s or Taco Bell, primarily to get something for Buster as my grandfather could take or leave fast food.

My grandfather was generous, kind of heart, sarcastic and irascible. When he died in 2001, I took custody of Buster, and it was very much like having the old man with me as Buster had taken on all those same traits. I always regretted that certain people in my life never got to meet Cecil, but for those who spent time around Buster, I felt as if, in some small way, they had.

It took Buster a few weeks to decide that I was an acceptable substitute for the old man. I had stairs and cats and didn’t buy him Taco Bell nearly enough, but eventually he took custody of me as well. I have no doubt that damned dog thought he was my guardian, and that it was his job to keep an eye on me.

In the past nine years, Buster became a ubiquitous part of my life. He went to AVN with me every day, making a circuit of the building at lunch to scrounge food from the rubes. Shirley, the receptionist at the time, made bacon just for my dog. She didn’t give her family bacon; it was only for Buster.

If you watch the Behind the Scenes of nearly any movie I’ve directed over the past decade, Buster is there. In my lap. On the set. In the makeup room guarding the girls. When I shot Being Porn Again for Metro, the anonymous editor who cut the BTS in-house was so enamored of Buster in the raw footage s/he did an entire mini-feature about him.

My grandfather died peacefully in his bed, with Buster sleeping beside him. Buster has followed in the same manner, quietly, without even waking me. I’m grateful to him for saving me that tough decision.

I never knew what to do with my grandfather’s ashes until a few years ago. He made it plain when he was alive that he couldn’t care less what happened to them.

“Throw ‘em in the yard. Stick ‘em in a coffee can. I don’t care,” was a common refrain.

I’ve saved them for this day. When I get Buster’s ashes back, I’ll combine them in one urn and they will once again be inseparable. I think they would both approve.

On a lighter note, here — for no adequately explained reason — are a couple of pictures of my fantastically cantankerous 20-year-old dog.

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When suicide is out of fashion we conclude that none but madmen destroy themselves; and all the efforts of courage appear chimerical to dastardly minds … Nevertheless, how many instances are there, well attested, of men, in every other respect perfectly discreet, who, without remorse, rage, or despair, have quitted life for no other reason than because it was a burden to them, and have died with more composure than they lived? — David Hume, Essays on Suicide and the Immortality of the Soul