My Kingdom for a Dog Butler

“Buckner, get your Coke.”

It was January 2013, and I had been building to this night—this exact moment, in fact—for several years, although you wouldn’t have known it by my sweatpants.

Long before my wife, Jenny, and I welcomed a German Shorthaired Pointer puppy into our family, I had wanted to add “dog whisperer” to my resume by being the one to train our dog, if and when we got one. Those plans became reality shortly after my part-time job started letting me work from home. My father-in-law was the one who suggested we name her Buckner.

Yes, we’re Red Sox fans. Yes, I took to YouTube in my Yaz jersey shortly after we got her, in August 2011, to say we named her this because “[Expletive] The Curse, that’s why.” And yes, given the subsequent collapse of September 2011, I am thankful we live in relative safety 900 miles from Fenway.

“Buckner, get your Coke” was the shining moment of all the work we put in together, our own 2004 ALCS that followed hard-fought wins over “sit” and “stay” and “Please, God, don’t go there.” For it was in response to this four-word, carbonated command that she would now trot to the refrigerator door, pull it open via a rope tied to the handle, stick her head in, and retrieve a can of whatever beverage I had left on the bottom shelf, bringing it to me in our family room.

Sure, I had used a dog tricks book to teach me to teach her how to do it, and she was still tentative about opening the fridge door. But at the very least, life as Jenny and I had known it would be changed forever, courtesy of our dog butler.

Except not so much.

Once Buckner and I had checked this accomplishment off our list, we succumbed to that post-championship malaise that befalls so many great teams. We got complacent. We got bored. We stopped practicing. The thrill of victory was gone, replaced by the reality of “This all seems like a lot of work.” And then later that year—shortly after the Sox won the 2013 World Series, it should be noted—Jenny gave birth to our first child, and baby whispering suddenly became a far more pressing need. Buckner’s training has since consisted largely of developing the self-assured voice Jenny and I both do for her when we imagine her talking like a person, which is basically any time we don’t have houseguests around to judge us.

That means no helping me sort lights and darks on laundry day (even though the vet keeps asking), no fetching clean diapers when my hands are full, and no pawing through Pride and Prejudice after she licks herself.

I used to feel bad about this, like a YouTube video was all we had to show for something we worked so hard at. But much like that video can’t convey that this is also the dog who consumed an entire red leather glove and digested everything but the thumb—I’ll leave how I figured that out to your imagination—our shared experience transcended aluminum cans, eventually illuminating a greater, universal truth:

Babies are basically dogs.

You can’t say this if you only have a dog. As a stay-at-home dad, however, I can tell you that if I somehow had been gifted with the most nuanced communication skills imaginable, they would still be rendered all but useless when trying to combat the dog’s instincts to play with poop, the baby’s instincts to chew the known universe (including his own shoe), or vice versa.

Rather than mastering how to bring me a drink at the end of a long day, Buckner, our would-be dog butler, was instead busy taking the edge off of becoming a parent.

And I didn’t even have to teach her how to mix a martini first.

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