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A community says goodbye to a beloved icon

RAPS Animal Hospital will soon offer at-home euthanasia. Buddy’s story is an extreme example of why that matters.

Twelve or 13 years ago, Tom Polich was playing a round at Musqueam Golf Course, near UBC in south Vancouver.

“I was just finishing up a round of golf and, in a grassy area which was quite deep, I saw this animal lying there,” he recalls.

He thought it was a dead dog, but when he approached, the dog was very much alive. She woke up and backed off nervously. Since Tom was a daily golfer, he saw the dog there again the next day and so he began bringing food.

“I kept coming down and she was basically in the same area, so I would drop some food for her each day,” he says. “This went on for maybe about a week or two and then we made a connection and kind of adopted each other.”

Tom named her Buddy, partly because he thought the dog was male.

“When I saw her doing her business, she lifted her leg, so I just assumed it was a male, so from then on I called her Buddy,” he laughs.

For the next dozen years or so, Tom came every single day with food for Buddy.

There are very few cases where a dog living outdoors is an ideal situation. But Buddy was, Tom says, a “wild dog.” Believed to be a Shepherd-Chow mix, Buddy was simply not comfortable with people or being confined to a home. Tom tried to take Buddy home, but with no luck.

“I tried to get her home on numerous occasions,” he says. “I think she had some kind of an issue with the vehicle. I would put something that she really wanted inside the car and she wouldn’t go in unless I backed away and then she was just in and out – grabbed it and away she would go.”

He and other golfers decided to respect Buddy’s wishes. Over time, Buddy became a local icon – but Tom really remained her main human.

“I get down there at 6 or 6:30 in the morning and she’s in the parking lot waiting for me to come in,” he says. On the rare occasions when illness, weather or something else kept Tom from coming – all the way from his East Vancouver home – he called other golfers to feed Buddy.

Through unusual happenstance, Tom was able to learn a bit of the dog’s story. A woman posted a photo of Buddy on social media and some folks in northern B.C. filled in part of the story.

“Evidently, she was adopted [from northern B.C.] by people that live around the Fraserview Golf Course. The story goes that she was able to get out of the yard and, from there, she made it down towards Musqueam Golf Course, which is quite a distance,” says Tom.

Among the information Tom gathered from the people who knew her story was that she had been subjected to an unthinkable number of pregnancies.

“In her lifetime, she had eight litters, which is amazing that she survived,” he says.

Buddy would follow Tom through 18 holes. They would also walk together through Southlands, the Musqueam Nation and along the river.

“She had probably zero road sense, but everyone on the reserve got to know the dog and were familiar with her and she would just walk down the middle-of-the-road,” Tom says, “but everybody was very cautious about going around her. Over the years, I half expected her to maybe get run down by a car or something but she was able to survive that.”

Buddy never really warmed to very many other humans.

“She was very, very gentle,” Tom says. “She would just back away from you. You couldn’t get anywhere near her. Later on in her life, she got to know a few people down there and it would be on a kind of hit-and-miss basis whether she would accept them if I wasn’t there alongside of her.”

She was also a bit put out when Tom golfed with friends.

“If there was somebody else with me, she would kind of bounce around and bark a little bit at these individuals like, ‘What are you doing here?’ type of thing. He’s mine,” Tom says with a laugh.

While she was Tom’s dog, Buddy became a local icon. Local authors Yvette Labatte and Nancy Bain wrote a book about her, called “The Dog That Was Lost in Paradise.”

While living on a golf course may not be an optimal situation for a dog, Tom insists Buddy had a lovely life. He is also straightforward about their relationship.

“It was very close, very close,” he says. “We adopted each other. We were really tight.”

Sadly, Buddy was injured about a year ago and her health was deteriorating. Her community came together. A family brought brand new (and expensive, Tom notes) bedding for her. Heat lamps were installed for Buddy’s comfort on cold nights.

Sadly, it became clear to Tom and others that Buddy was experiencing quality of life issues. Someone who knew Buddy was a client of Dr. Regan Schwartz, a veterinarian at the RAPS Animal Hospital. She shared Buddy’s story and asked Dr. Schwartz if she would consider a visit to the golf course. Dr. Schwartz was moved and volunteered to do so pro bono.

“She’s never seen a veterinarian or had medical intervention,” Dr. Schwartz says. “This past year, she was suspected to have been injured in the parking lot and by all accounts, had also suffered at least two neurological events. As a result, she was left with a head tilt and was very unsteady in her gait when she was walking. More recently, she stopped eating and was showing progressive decline. So I went with my technician and met with Tom to assess Buddy. When we arrived, she was curled up under a cedar tree outside. Tom managed to convince her to get up and come with us into the golf center.”

They had set up a big bed in the middle of the pro shop.

“She got up, with much difficulty, and slowly made her way inside and curled up on the bed,” recalls the doctor. “I was able to very cautiously do an initial assessment. She had a very loud heart murmur, the likely cause of her neurological symptoms, and based on the rest of my examination, a reactive abdomen, and pretty advanced arthritis. It was clear that there were multiple issues at play and that good quality of life was no longer present. Tom agreed and really wanted Buddy to pass while she was still relatively stable.”

“We gave her initial sedation just so I could touch her and she did really well,” says Dr. Schwartz. “I opted to move forward with humane euthanasia.  Everyone involved was prepared for it.”

Being prepared for the inevitable does not necessarily make it easier.

“It was emotional,” she recalls. “Very, emotional. They cried. I cried. My technician cried.”

Dr. Schwartz travelled to Buddy on a mission of mercy and it is not something that RAPS Animal Hospital – or most veterinarians – do. But RAPS is now working on protocols to finally be able to provide at home euthanasia services, a service that will be offered in the coming weeks.

“It was a really, really nice, peaceful goodbye,” the veterinarian says. “And it was a really powerful example of why what we hope to do more of in the future is so important.”

Buddy’s situation was unique, undoubtedly.

“She’d never been in a car before,” says Dr. Schwartz. “It would have been so stressful to uproot her from the people she loves, from the place that she knows, and to take her to a hospital environment, take her out of a car, put her in an elevator — it would have been just the most stressful situation for her. So the fact that we could go to her and make it as peaceful as possible and as loving as possible was a really special thing.”

While most animals may not be as traumatized by a final trip to the veterinarian as Buddy would have been, the simple reality is that most animals – and their people – would be more comfortable in familiar surroundings.

Dr. Schwartz recently returned from a major veterinary conference where she spent the best part of a day in sessions around end-of-life care and euthanasia.

“How a patient’s story ends is just as important as how it begins.” That was a quote that stood out for her during one of the sessions. She thinks that at-home euthanasia will not only provide less stress and more comfort to the animal and their family when the time comes, but may encourage owners to start having the end of life discussions sooner. “Making the decision to say good-bye to a loved one is very difficult. We are here to support our clients with that decision and are committed to support them every step of the way right until the end.”

“A lot of people would prefer that their beloved animals pass peacefully in their sleep,” she says. “That’s a good goal to aim for, and sometimes, it does happen that way. But sometimes a patient’s decline can happen faster than we are prepared for. At least knowing that there is an at-home euthanasia option available gives pet owners the option of pursuing humane euthanasia when quality of life is no longer present, instead of the situation forcing owners to have to go elsewhere when the pet’s condition becomes emergent.”

It may be something none of us likes to talk about, but preparing for the inevitable makes sense. Being prepared – and being able to spend the final moments in the comfort of home – can be reassuring and even a beautiful conclusion to a life.

In retrospect, and despite what people might think about a dog living outdoors for its entire life, Tom is confident Buddy was happy to the end.

“Her backyard was the golf course,” he says. “She had a very, very good life down there.”