losing your pet

The Cruel and Untimely Demise of Bruster Yarbrough

Originally published on 3/31 and then hidden during the investigation. The case has been closed. This is my story.

The man’s name has been withheld so as not to defame his character.

***

On Thursday afternoon, at approximately 3:59 PM, I was at work, sitting in a classroom with my new hire (a teller). She had just finished taking her knowledge assessment, so we were celebrating her passing score and discussing plans for the following day (training at a branch) when my phone rang, unexpectedly, at 4:00.

I glanced down, checking the caller’s name, and felt surprised.

“I’m so sorry,” I apologized to my new hire. “It’s my roommate — he knows not to call me when I’m at work, and he never does. It was probably an accident,” I explained, declining his call and beginning to draft a simple text message that read: “You just called — I’m in class,” but I never got to finish or send the text, because his message arrived first: “Call me RIGHT NOW.”

The urgency of his words caused my pulse to quicken while dread seeped into my gut, heavy as lead and quickly expanding its reach.

I looked up at my new hire, desperately trying to mask my anxiety with a false sense of complete calm. “Our Loss Prevention Specialist will be joining you in just a moment,” I assured her in a smooth tone, and then I excused myself from the room, closing the door behind me. I took a few quick steps away from the door and then touched Charlie’s name on my phone.

“Jace…”

“Are you okay?” I asked quickly, my voice trembling; Charlie was crying. Why was he crying???

“Jace…” he repeated, sounding miserable.

“Is it Bruster? It’s not Bruster, right?…” silence. “CHARLIE, TELL ME IT’S NOT BRUSTER!”

“It’s Bruster,” he sobbed. “He’s dead.”

 

I don’t know how I knew it, but I did… intuitively. It was like I asked myself: What is the worst possible news that a crying Charlie could deliver? “Something bad happening to Bruster,” my most honest self answered.

 

The afternoon and evening curled together like smoke, replacing the clean air in my lungs with a life-stifling heat and burying my heart underneath a grimy sheet of tar.

 

I remember walking into my manager’s office, following the phone call, and saying: “I need to leave right now.” She took one look at me and then nodded, escorting me to my car, and holding an umbrella over our heads. The rain hitting the nylon made soft thumps. She asked if I needed a ride. No.

 

I remember beginning the drive home and calling my mother.

“Hi, sweetie!” she answered. She sounded so cheerful that it hurt me even more to tell her about this impossible happening.

“Oh Sierra,” I whispered into the phone. “I’m so, so sad right now…”

Panic seized her voice. “Rose —— what’s wrong? Are you okay? What’s going on?”

 

Too soon, I was pulling onto my road. The first thing I noticed was that Charlie’s car didn’t look right — it wasn’t lined up, neatly, against the edge of the concrete, like it usually was. It looked like he had parked it in a hurry. I was trying desperately to hang onto logic, and facts, as I edged the car forward. Up ahead and to my right, I saw people, three people, huddling over an object in my neighbor’s driveway. An object. A lumpy object. A white sheet, covering the object. An object. Oh god… oh god.

 

I couldn’t get my car up my driveway. I turned it off, and then Charlie helped me out of it. He escorted me over to the murderer’s house, where Bruster’s body lay, crumpled on the concrete driveway… a white sheet, obscuring everything but his black tail; blood, soaking and oozing out from underneath the cloth. I fell to the ground with a wail, holding my German Shepherd in my arms. I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I cried, over and over and over.

 

This continued for maybe half of an hour, but it felt like I spent centuries there on the ground, my shaking hand cupping Bruster’s elbow, over the sheet; my fingers tracing the fur on his neck, over the sheet; my hands resting gently on his back, over the sheet. How could this — this — be real?

 

Then, the neighbor who shot him — a tall man with strong arms and tattoos — was awkwardly giving me a side hug, apologizing, and I was apologizing back at him, and I asked myself, why are you apologizing to this murderer?

 

Then, the murderer and his companion were depositing Bruster’s big, fat, beautiful body into the back of Charlie’s trunk. I stood dumbly beside the car, dazed and watching his blood trickle down the back of the car; someone dabbed at it with a paper towel, I can’t remember who.

 

Then, Charlie, Bruster and I were at the vet’s office. I walked into the front and realized that I couldn’t speak. The receptionist’s eyes glazed over. “I’m so sorry. Do you want to pull your car up to the side?”

 

Then, they were taking him out of the car.

 

But first, when we were still in the car, when I still had a voice and knew words, I had turned to look at Charlie. “Charlie… I can’t do it… but please; before they take him, get his collar for me. I want to keep it, and his name tag.”

 

So now, with his car pulled up to the side of the building, Charlie ran over to where I was standing as they carried my hefty baby away; it took two strong men and a stretcher.

 

“Jace,” Charlie’s voice was edged with anger, “I got his collar, but look — his name tag and rabies tag are both missing. And they didn’t just fall off; they were CUT off.” He showed me the spliced metal. I just shook my head. Why?

 

I turned to look at the receptionist, who was awkwardly standing next to me, a familiar expression of grief on her face. I touched the pockets on either side of my leather jacket; my wallet wasn’t there. Where was it? At work, at home, in my backpack, in the car? At that moment, I honestly didn’t care.

 

“I… Charlie, do you–”

 

She understood. “We’ll take care of that later,” she whispered gently, nodding her head up and down.

 

I felt embarrassed, but I also felt like all of this was maybe just a horrible nightmare I’d wake up from soon and that I wouldn’t end up paying for my child’s cremation today after all, and that, when I did wake up, I would be crying grateful tears and hugging my dog until he began crying back at me in protest.

 

“I’ve… he’s… I have been bringing him here since he was a baby,” I croaked.

 

Then, we, Charlie and I, not Bruster, were back at home, sitting across from each other at the Dr. Pepper table. Sometimes, I cried; sometimes, I gazed at nothing for a while and then, when I looked up, I wondered how much time had passed. Charlie slowly filled me in on all of the details. He’d probably mentioned them to me earlier, on the phone, or in the car, but I hadn’t really processed them. So he repeated them, and the story goes like this.

 

3-4 months ago, Bruster was out in the front yard with Charlie when the neighbor’s daughters were in the car with their grandma — coming home, leaving home, who cares. Bruster saw the car, hauled his ass down to the street, and then barked at the car, scaring the children and grandmother inside of it. Charlie ran to retrieve Bruster and apologized profusely… and that was that.

And while Charlie and I were both at work yesterday, Bruster got out of the house, digging a hole and then squeezing his fat ass underneath the fence. And, according to the neighbor, Bruster then ran into his yard, and he shot him. “He came after my daughters before,” he had explained to Charlie (referencing the car “incident”), who was numb with shock. “I’m sorry… I had to put your dog down.”

“No you didn’t,” Charlie replied.

***

About 6 months ago, Bruster snuck out of the house and took off gallivanting down the road. Fortunately, my next door neighbor’s girlfriend spotted him, opened her car door, and he hopped right in. This was, I’ll mention, the first time they’d ever met. She kept him at her house until I was able to come retrieve him, and she remarked on how sweet and friendly a dog he was.

Around that same time (within a matter of weeks), Bruster escaped again, this time preferring to stay local. “He’s on your front porch, hanging out,” my other next door neighbor texted me. “He looked thirsty, though, so I brought him some water.”

And Bruster didn’t bite his hand off? Fascinating. Oh wait… NOT fascinating, because HE WAS NEVER A VICIOUS DOG.

 

Throughout his whole 6.5 years of life, believe it or not, he never, not even once, bit somebody. Ever. He would bark at strangers, and cars — like many dogs do — and what is absolutely infuriating to me is this: If a Pomeranian, or a Poodle, or even a Golden Fucking Retriever had gotten loose and walked up this dude’s driveway, he wouldn’t have been alarmed, but because it was a large, strapping, and drop-dead-gorgeous German Shepherd, he just went ahead and preemptively shot him. You know, for no goddamned reason. So he wouldn’t have to ever “worry” about the dog getting out. And you know what that’s called? Animal cruelty. And so is eating meat, but this is far, far, FAR worse. 

 

I called the police on the evening of the incident, as my shock began to wear off. Two officers came out to the house that night.

 

“I don’t want money, and I don’t want to get him in trouble,” I told them. “I just want there to be an official record of this happening so that he’s put in check and won’t feel like he has license to kill my OTHER German Shepherd if he happens to get out. It’s… insane,” I stammered.

 

“You need to press charges,” one of the officers replied, shaking his head. “This is animal cruelty. You don’t see a dog running around, go into your house, grab a gun and shoot it. If the dog seems dangerous, you call the authorities.”

 

“You look white,” Charlie whispered to me. “Please sit down.” I sat down and then vomited five minutes later.

I was given a case number, and then the officer said that he would be forwarding my information along to an Animal Cruelty Specialist. But here’s the devastating part: Regardless of what comes of the matter, I won’t be getting what I want out of it, because I want my baby back, and that cruel, evil, dirty bastard took something from me that I wouldn’t have sold for a million, billion dollars. He took a person, a best friend, and a beloved soul. I don’t know how or when I’ll ever be able to reconnect with Bruster’s soul, and the thought of how many years we won’t get to share together creates a somehow hollow-yet-heavy ache in my slowly decaying heart.

***

The morning of the incident, I woke up around 6:30 to get ready for work.

As I stretched my arms and legs and pried myself out of bed, I spotted Bruster, lazily sprawled out on the floor, the morning sun alighting on half of his body, and the other half cold in the shadows. I walked over, smiled at him, and reached my hands down to pet his cheeks and tummy.

I walked downstairs to feed both of the pups before hopping into the shower. I shoveled food into Bruster’s bowl first and then Silo’s, and after patting Silo on his back and beginning to walk away, I looked over at Bruce; he was chewing a mouthful of food, but had paused to look up at me. I walked over, hugged his hips affectionately (which caused his ears to go back), and then he happily returned his attention to his food bowl.

I showered, got dressed, and then shuffled the pups out into the side yard. I closed the door, grabbed my things, and then looked out the window to say goodbye to both of them, as I always do.

I said “goodbye; I love you; I’ll be home soon!” to Silo first, and then turned to Bruster. He was sitting by the gate, watching me, and looking very serious. My special boy. I mouthed “I love you” to my favorite dog in the world and then walked away.

***

The last two and a half days have been hell. People keep telling me this, and I know that things are going to get easier, as time progresses; I know this because I can finally share my memories of Bobby (my deceased brother) with people without tearing up, and I can hold a conversation with Christopher (my still-living ex-husband and best friend) without totally breaking down… but things are different when it comes to animals. When I dream about my old Holland Lop Rabbit, Hiro, for instance, I wake up to a distinctly somber and overcast day, where I cry on and off, missing his evil villain persona and worrying for his safety… wondering why the chick I gave him to never responds to my emails, where I’ve asked about him and his sister, Panda.

Things are different with animals. I’ll never love a dog the way I loved Bruster. He was my first child. I won’t rehash the whole story here, but he’s been my closest friend for the last six and a half years. He’s seen me through the very worst days of my life, and what kills me the most is, every few months, I would lean over the couch, wrap my arms around his big body, and whisper: “I’m going to take care of you until the day that you die, Brucey,” and then kiss his stupid floppy ear, but when he died Thursday afternoon, I was ten minutes down the road, entirely oblivious, and completely unable to protect him, or even be there. When Charlie pulled up to the scene, with paper bags full of groceries and three containers of motor oil, he ran over to Bruster and discovered that his body was still warm. Still warm. And when I finally arrived to the scene, grief-stricken and numb, I could have sworn that – without expecting to see it – Bruster raised his head just a little, from underneath the sheet, when I petted him, and Charlie told me that he saw the same thing, later on, before I even told him about what I’d witnessed. It was almost like he waited for me to get there before leaving.

We were just miles and minutes away from saving him. That’s what’s really killing me.

 

And now, with him gone, every room in the house whispers his name. I walk down the hallway, picturing him gazing at me from the top of the stairs. I peek into my bedroom, expecting to see his strikingly gorgeous form lying comfortably on the bed. I visit and revisit the kitchen, dining, and living rooms, searching for him in all of his favorite spots, and they are all vacant, because he’s never coming back to them.

 

I poured Silo’s food this morning, looked over to the right, and saw that Charlie had thoughtfully removed Bruster’s bowl from the garage. It broke my heart a little more. A tear here, a jab there… fractured fragments of my heart are lying around everywhere, in this house, in his driveway, in those cars, and in that classroom, and everywhere.

 

It’s like he’s still here, but he’s invisible, and I can’t figure out how to feel him anymore.

 

So what happens now?

The day Bruster died, I felt completely helpless. My dog was already irretrievably gone, so I didn’t know what to do or say… I felt like a previously perfectly-functioning robot that either was crucially low on batteries or had been insidiously deprogrammed and was now slowly breaking down.

“I don’t know what to do, Charlie,” I cried over and over, wringing my hands. I remember my eyes being so puffy that they hurt constantly, open or closed. “What do I do?!”

“This is what you do now,” he answered, holding me tightly. “You breathe.”

 

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***

4/14 Update: A letter to my neighbor

 

Person’s Name (protecting his privacy),

I want to sincerely thank you for returning Bruster’s nametag. It brought me such comfort. The past two weeks have honestly been one of the most difficult and dark time periods of my life. Everyone around me – co-workers, friends, family – are pushing me to go to the magistrate and ask for your arrest, but I have decided not to, for a few reasons, and I’d like to share them with you.

 

  1. I’m not that kind of person. I don’t want you to go to jail, I don’t want money from you, and I don’t want your wife and children to have to be away from you. I am not unkind.
  2. You going to jail would be pointless. I don’t think you’re a cruel person, at heart… I think you did a terrible, cruel thing, but I hope (and believe) that you will find a way to become a better person because of it.
  3. You going to jail or paying me a million, billion dollars wouldn’t make me happy. The only thing that would make me happy would be having Bruster back, and that is impossible.

 

I have spoken with Deputy Sloan and understand that you claimed that Bruster tried to attack you. I am not going to call you, or your wife, liars, but I will tell you that I know the truth. Bruster escaped the fence multiple times – a neighbor brought him water when they found him camping out on my front porch, and one neighbor’s girlfriend even invited Bruster into her car one day when he was walking down the street… she kept him safe at her house until I was able to leave work and retrieve him. He was never vicious. He barked, like most dogs do, but he never – NOT ONCE – bit a person, or even another animal. He was the sweetest, smartest, most precious dog I’ve ever known. He was my best friend and my child… with you being a father, I’m sure you can understand the kind of love I have for him. I honestly would have done anything to protect him. If I could have been there that afternoon that you shot him, I would have gladly taken the bullet to keep him safe. Whether I sustained injuries or died wouldn’t have mattered. I loved him that much.

 

I also know what you intended to do with him.

 

I know why he was positioned the way he was in your driveway.

Why the pickup truck arrived suddenly.

Why you chopped his nametag off.

 

And realizing all of this added a fresh layer of anger to my already horrific grief. I am spending time, every single day, meditating, crying, and pouring over old pictures and memories of Bruce, trying to feel my love for him instead of my anger for you.

I am writing this letter to tell you three things:

  1. I am not pressing charges.
  2. I forgive you, and I hope that you become a better person.
  3. I am sending a copy of this letter to Deputy Sloan and keeping one on file for myself. Let me be clear: Do not come near me or my family – including Silo, my other German Shepherd – ever again. I do not want to see you or talk with you. This whole event rattled me so much that I actually considered moving, but then I remembered that I’m a kind person, that I’ve lived in this quiet old home and – heretofore – safe neighborhood for years, and that I belong here. If you want to arrange for your daughters to meet Silo, I want to stress that I would be happy to introduce them and let them play with him. Bruster wasn’t dangerous, and neither is Silo. You and your wife misunderstood him and the situation, and instead of taking his life into your hands and foolishly and cruelly killing him, you should have contacted me. There were so many other, better ways to handle the situation. Don’t make the same mistake again… with my pets, or anyone else’s.

 

Wishing you and your family the honest best,

Jace

***

In memory of Germany/ Lush/ Gorgeous Handsome/ Sheppy/ Sharkface/ Fishy/ Barracuda/ Chug/ Bruce/ Prada/ Bestest Friend in America…

Aun Aqui