Buster Ate What?

People have a lot of dog stories. That’s what I learned after last week’s “Your Dog Ate What?” column hit the newsstands. I heard from a reader whose dogs adore cabbage, potatoes, peppers, broccoli and cauliflower. Another told me about a stray dog who wandered into an elderly lady’s house and scarfed down dozens of Hershey’s kisses, foil wrapper and all, and then fell asleep on the couch.

My favorite story was about a beagle named Tippy who, when offered a bowl of vegetable soup, lapped up every bit of it except for the green peas. Now that’s a dog after my own heart.

But there’s never been a dog on the face of the earth who could eat like Buster could.

One of five puppies born to Molly, my black Lab, he stood out among his littermates. For one thing, he was yellow, despite the fact that both of his parents were black. He was big, blocky, boisterous and beautiful. I knew the first time I laid eyes on him that Buster was not for sale.

He was, to put it mildly, an enthusiastic nurser. First to arrive at the dinner table and last to leave. Even after his brother and sisters were gone to new homes and Buster was strong enough to romp in the woods and swim in the pond, he continued to nurse. Molly finally cut him off when he was almost as big as she was.

Not long after he started on puppy food, I became concerned about how much Buster ate. And how quickly. My vet’s advice? Anything left in the food bowl after twenty minutes should be taken away.

“Twenty minutes!” I exclaimed. “Buster’s supper is gone in twenty seconds.”

I decided that feeding him in a shallow pan might be the answer. The food would be spread out, forcing him to take smaller bites and perhaps even take time to swallow in between bites. It helped a little, but Buster could still straddle that pie plate and inhale his kibbles at record speed.

And his between-meal snacks were a constant source of amazement.

He could catch grasshoppers on the fly. Rout out a rotten deer carcass and make quick work of it. Frogs and toads? Yum! Once, George killed a huge black snake that had invaded a nest of baby barn swallows. He tromped across the pasture and flung the snake far into the woods, hoping that Buster wouldn’t find it. Wrong.

On a leash walk early one morning, Buster discovered a shrink-wrapped tuna fish sandwich on the side of the road. I wasn’t quick enough to snatch it out of his mouth before he swallowed it whole, plastic and all. Dr. Boyd’s advice this time? “If it was any dog but Buster, I’d be worried. But I bet he’ll be just fine.”

He was.

And it wasn’t just edible stuff that Buster consumed. One of his favorite delicacies was dried horse manure. No kidding. And speaking of horses, Buster ate grass on a daily basis. Lots and lots of grass. The most bizarre thing he ever ate was my four-year-old nephew’s left mitten, which had fallen out of his coat pocket on the way to the barn. Buster suffered no ill effects, but Matthew’s little bare hand was cold for the rest of the afternoon.

Not long after Buster turned eleven, his appetite suddenly fell off. He began ignoring the dry dog food in his pan. I tried every kind of canned dog food on the market. I tempted him with bologna and hot dogs and Velveeta cheese. All to no avail. Late on a hot spring afternoon, Buster crossed over to that wonderful place where the all-you-can-eat buffet never closes.

I hope they serve tuna fish sandwiches there. Without the shrink wrap.

(July 13, 2014)

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