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by Margie Culbertson

Jack was out of town again. This time he had left to attend a three-day course on emergency room surgical technique. I usually traveled with my husband, but I had signed up to teach the third graders. So tonight it was just me and the dog. Buford and I were a team.

Our youngest had presented Buford to her dad when she left for college, "I got him for you for when you miss me," she had said. "He's lots of trouble, wants to go out all the time, and he'll give you great hugs any time you need one, just like me." I could see the resemblance. Jenny and Buford were blondes and they both liked peanut butter sandwiches. But Buford outweighed our daughter by twenty pounds, and his hugs were a bit more, uh ... enthusiastic. Nothing subtle about Buford, his paws wrapped around your shoulders, enveloping you in a full-body, tail-wagging greeting party. We told visitors he had a greeting disorder.

Jack named the dog Buford T. D.O.G. (D.O.G. stood for "Diplomat Of Glad To See You"). Buford fulfilled all of Jenny’s promises, for he was a great companion, especially during those lonely months after Jenny left for school. And, though Jenny said Buford was Jack's dog, Buford always had time for me too, especially when my husband traveled. He was always at the back door with a smile on his enormous yellow face, telling me I mattered.

Buford slept in the back yard. I go out each and every night to check on the Buford--my husband's pride and joy--to make sure the back gate is locked. And each and every night when I check on that gate, I lean over to I scratch Buford on the head, tell him to be a good boy and give him a big bowl of chow. I like the fact that Buford was out there in the back yard, watching over me.

It was late, so I closed the back door, locked it and turned the back porch light off. I then made my way to our room at the front of the house. I was tired and that comforter felt awfully good as I settled in for the night. Then I realized someone was staring me through the sliding glass door. It was Buford. Buford had somehow gotten out of the back yard and now he stood at our glass door to make sure I saw him!

It was 1:00 a.m. and Buford wanted to play. I had the nerve to be surprised.

I heeded the call. I jumped to my feet, tripped on Jack's slippers, and called to Buford, "Buford, come back." Still scurrying, tripping and running, I grabbed the flashlight. It didn't work. I ran out into the front yard. The automatic sprinklers were on. I yelled to the dog. He kept running. "No, Buford!"

I'll never find him in the middle of the night like this. How will I tell Jack? I know I checked the gate. I'm sure it was locked. I should have it checked more carefully.

I ran back in and stood at the door, thinking of Mike Pardue. Our neighbor's voice filled my head. "Sarah, there's some dog getting into our chicken houses at night. You seen any dogs around?" I groaned. He must've thought Buford had been that dog and I wondered myself. Just in case he was right, I had been keeping an extra close eye on the Buford, watching to make sure he didn't get out. I didn't want Mike finding Buford with feathers on his fur. But now, Buford headed down the road toward the Pardue's.

I grabbed Jack’s old Army coat, his size 10 slippers, and my keys. Then I flew down the hall and jumped into our truck, making dust toward the Pardue's property. I put the truck in neutral, coasted past with the headlights off and hoped the Pardue's didn't hear me. I didn't want Mike to come out and see what a fashion statement I made: my husband's 40-year-old jacket, his size 10 slippers and my new yellow princess gown with the danty blossom sleeves.

The Pardue's chickens started making all kinds of racket as I passed and I cowered lower behind the steering wheel. But I didn't see Buford. Where, in heaven's name, is that dog? I'd never lost a dog before.

Up and down the road I drove. For over an hour I covered the four-mile distance which stretched from our house to the Pardue's. Me, the woman who wore her husband's Army coat over her nightgown and drove around all over the countryside in a 3/4 ton pickup, peeking in chicken houses in the middle of the night.

Finally I headed toward home, pulled into our driveway, parked and turned off the engine. I reached over and jerked the truck handle, slid out of the truck onto the garage floor and closed the door behind me. As I turned around to go into the house, I suddenly found myself nose to nose with a very large dog. Buford--all 120 pounds of him--stood there in the back of the truck, smiling, wagging his tail, drooling and thanking me for the fun ride.