Heart of Treasure Valley

A Boise man and his basset hound (or is it the other way around?)

Turns out there’s about eight basset hounds in the neighborhood patrolled by Buster, with his self-described old pappy, Walt Appel, at the other end of the leash. It’s a good-sized neighborhood, given their multiple-times-a-day walks, with its epicenter the dog treat jar at Roosevelt Market in Boise’s East End; and it would be a pretty good sample size, what with the pair’s penchant for making friends.

Walt: “Buster says, ‘Pop, I make a lot more friends than you do.’ He knows five or six hundred people in this town and he’s only been here three years. …

“And I tell you, I would not have met 500 people here in town if it were not for Buster.”

And so, of those eight neighborhood bassets, there’s only one — let’s let that be indisputable — who is an author.

Walt wrote a self-published book recounting how a certain basset came into the lives of Walt and his wife, Christina. The sequel, when Walt moved to “Boiseeee, Idyhoe” after the death of his wife, is told by Buster.

Walt: “He’s a big talker, but he can’t speak, so I do all the talking.”

And typing. Walt does the typing.

“I’m his only typist. It’s me or nothing. … (And) since I’m his chief typist, he says I can add a few things.”

The result is part commentary, part memoir and part legacy — a humorous homage to Walt and Christina’s marriage, to the relatively “normal” pets they had before Buster showed up (by way of contrast); and to the adventures they had once Buster became a non-returnable part of the family.

“We got him from a basset rescue. My wife — well, we had him for less than six months and had to pay for two surgeries to remove foreign objects from his stomach; he’d eat anything. At that point, my wife said, ‘Why don’t you write all this down? Nobody will believe it.’ …

“When we had that second surgery, I said to my wife, geez, you know, that rescue outfit, they said they’d take him back happily. She said, ‘Oh my goodness, we can’t take him back. He was in three foster homes before we got him.’”

That was 10 years ago. From the outside, Buster looks like a classic basset, giving little hint of his obsession for food (or anything he thinks might be food) or his very vocal demands to, say, have his bed fluffed up, dinner served early or to go on a walk.

“Believe me, there are lots of people who love basset hounds, but I tell you, if anybody ever offers to give you a basset hound, I think your best answer would be, ‘Thank you. But no thanks.’ They are not an easy dog to live with.”

Walt says that with all seriousness. Equally as seriously, he reaches down to pet Buster, snoring at his feet, and Buster’s tail whacks the floor.

“He’s a good egg. He’s very loveable. Aren’t you, Bus?”

• • • 

Walt just celebrated his “snowman” birthday, which he illustrates by making two circles with his fingers and stacking them on top of each other.

“Because you don’t want to say that number. Whether you have to put it on your golf card or your birthday card, you don’t want to have to say it. …”

Buster, for his part, stands the requisite 14 inches at the shoulder, sports long silky ears that drag on the wet grass and then in the dust (necessitating daily washings); has short legs, splayed feet and a low center of gravity. As they make their neighborhood rounds, they’re hardly known one without the other.

“When you walk out the door, (he) looks at you: ‘You’re going to leave me again? I can’t believe you’re going to do this.’ Since I’m all he’s got, it makes me think, well, I shouldn’t leave him too often. So he goes with me almost everywhere. …”

They have their routine: Buster wakes up Walt every morning for breakfast. Sometimes at 5 a.m. and sometimes at 3 a.m.

“Whenever he wants something, he barks — mainly when he wants me to do something. … And if I don’t wake up when he wakes up, he’ll go out back and start barking. Because he knows that will disturb the next door neighbor, Karen, and she’ll holler at me.”

Walt laughs.

“He’s a very bright dog, believe me. But difficult would be the nicest thing you could say.”

Dinnertime is supposed to be at 5 p.m.

“He starts bugging me around 3 p.m. and then I’ll take him for a walk; that will keep him occupied — usually — then I just sort of ignore him for another hour. He winds up eating around 4 or 4:30. I keep trying to push it back, but he’s very insistent.

“Aren’t you, bud? You say, ‘Daddy — but Daddy, I’m hungry! I’m a basset hound and we’re always hungry.’

“He’s a character.”

Walt is a good storyteller. And Buster is a good story-maker. In his younger days, Buster had quite the long reach, making the most of his short legs and long nose. Anything set on a counter was subject to the “8-inch rule” — 8 inches from the edge — to be out of Buster’s reach.

“He’s unbelievable with what he considers food.”

Buster’s elderly legs can’t quite do the stretch these days, but he’s still pretty quick on the draw. The two hadn’t been in Boise for three hours when they made their first trip to Roosevelt Market. Two girls, one of whom had just bought a cupcake, wanted to pet Buster.

“We warned them about his foodie tendency. And the little girl, she’s petting him, holding her cupcake way out there — and he leapt up and got that cupcake. Poor kid, (all she had was) the paper in her hand. … They thought it was funny. We offered to buy them another, but they said no, that was OK. They got a good laugh out of it.”

• • • 

As Walt grows older, his thoughts about the future become more pronounced.

“At 80 years of age, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. … I’ve seen a lot of people wishing they could get out of this world, but of course, they had no way of doing it because if anybody helped them, they’d go to jail.

“I like that at least a couple of places like Oregon are trying to make exiting a little easier. It’s just horrible to be old and not enjoy it and not be able to do anything about it. I mean, I’m not there yet. …”

Walt is concerned about the future of the world, too, and Buster has him typing a blog, he says, about “politics, economics and beer,” a political commentary on the state of the world. They started writing about economics, since that was Walt’s world (he was a “bean counter” and retired as president of Martin Marietta Magnesia Specialties), and they’ve since moved on to commentary about health care and the elections.

“The blog is about two years old now. That was mainly my idea, but I called it ‘Buster’s Two Cents.’ … That started … because I could see where the economy and all that was going — especially the 2008 big crash and all that terrible stuff.

“It didn’t affect me that much because I’m retired, but I started thinking about it and I realized, boy, if we don’t change something in this country — and the world — we’re going to be in deep trouble. …”

What Walt hopes for most is that the candidates, particularly on the Democratic side, will fire up enough people to stay involved and make significant change in the political and economic systems. Buster’s commentaries are quite detailed. Walt’s, too.

“We have some ideas. …

“And all these young kids, maybe they can start an alternative for independent folks, a real third party. That’s what we’re hoping for, right, Bus?”

The blog keeps Walt’s mind active, politics keeps him fired up — and walking around the neighborhood, visiting his granddaughter (and taking care of his basset hound) keep Walt busy and happy and healthy. (Watch Walt carefully prepare Buster’s three- or four-step dinner. He jokes: “And you wonder what I do with my time.”)

“(What gives life meaning is) family and friends. All the friends you make.”

And together, that’s what they make, Walt and Buster — a family, no matter what they say when they joke. Walt reaches down to Buster again, who raises his head and gives him that certain basset look.

“Does he ever look happy? Well, you could say placid. Or disinterested. Right now, he’s more skeptical than usual; he’s saying, ‘Pop, (I’m) watching the clock.’

“I feed him (in the morning) and then I’ve got to come in and rub his neck and scratch his head for him before I can have my breakfast.

“These dogs have a way of encouraging you to do things that you normally wouldn’t do. (Like) sitting in the chair before breakfast, scratching the old doggie. Right, Buster?”

Walt shakes his head and his hand runs down Buster’s ears.

“Yeah. You’re my buddy, no question about that. I’m going to keep you around as long as possible.”