Buford was not as dumb as his name might imply. Well, sometimes he wasn't, anyway. For a while, he ran with a bad crowd – the dogs from down the road that took to killing the sheep across the river. We knew that our dog was just scavenging what the others had killed; we also knew the sheeps' owner would have every reason and right to rid himself of any canine scourge, even ours.
So we started chaining Buford up when we weren't home. It was a long chain, but still: cooped up all day in the driveway with only three trees to play with. And one to play in. It was nearly dead, with a hollow at the top of the trunk that filled with rain on a regular basis. Buford would sometimes scramble up, to stand and drool amid the few large, lopped-off branches before skittering down to wave his long feathery tail at us as we cheered.
That beautiful tail, longer than my forearm is now. At least it was for awhile. One bright fall day as my stepdad was splitting firewood on the porch, Buford came to watch. Chop went the ax. Wag went the tail. Then a chop and a wag and a FLOP. Half the tail laid on the porch. The dog didn't make a sound, only looked up beseechingly, trying to figure out how he'd deserved this terrible blow.
Then there was the kitten. Those days, we always had around a dozen barn cats, in various stages of ferality and disrepair. One litter contained an addled, fragile, runty thing that we knew wouldn't last a week with its brethren. Evidently Buford thought so, too. I can't remember the kitten's name, or if it even had one, but it did have a fine foster parent. They were always curled up together or playing somewhere. Their favorite game was catch: Buford often carried the kitten around in his mouth – the little thing lying luxuriously across the dog's bottom jaw; then he'd stop and flip it gently into the air and catch it again. The kitten, dizzy as it got, seemed to love it. Then Buford would set it down, amazingly gently for such a big dog. Once back on land, the kitten would dance drunkenly for a moment before pressing up against Buford's leg in mewly affection.
One day, a game of catch went wrong. The kitten's neck was broken; it died in an instant. Buford laid it softly underneath the tree where we'd been playing. He howled and cried, in that awful primeval way that makes the hairs on your arms stand up. We buried the kitten under the tree, where Buford sat for weeks, every day, rain or shine.
Eventually he recovered, and put new energy into another favorite game: chasing our truck. The house sat far back from the highway, on the trailing edge of a blind corner. The driveway was long enough to have its own streetlight. In the winter, the snow would fall and Buford would jump and twist and bite at the snowflakes' shadows.
After a couple of years at our rented farmlet, we moved back to town. Buford stayed with an uncle in the country, where his car-chasing habit finally did him in. But there is a dog heaven, isn't there? For certain kittens, too.