Buckwheat, the Singing Dog
The dog that gave Pavarotti a run for his money.
It was over twenty years ago that a lovable, golden-haired mutt named Buckwheat came into our lives. A photograph had appeared in our local paper, featuring him as “Pet of the Week.” We dashed over to the animal shelter and adopted him into our family, right in time for our oldest son Matthew’s ninth birthday.
As we sang “Happy Birthday to Matthew,” we discovered that Buckwheat had a special talent. He sang. Buckwheat didn’t howl, as other dogs might. He sort of came down on the notes, intoning an “oooh” sound. He traveled up and down his range with that “oooh.” He had a certain poise, almost spiritual, as he got involved in the song. More than just noise seemed to be coming from him.
While our three sons were in school, Buckwheat would curl up at my feet as I worked at my desk. He listened with benign tolerance to my classical music selections. But he had a passion for Pavarotti. He came to attention at the first strains of “Panis Angelicus.” With his front paws crossed, he would tilt his head back—and totally drown out Luciano. I liked “Panis Angelicus” and preferred Pavarotti’s rendition to Buckwheat’s. But Buckwheat was so soulful, so intense, I would never silence him.
“O Holy Night” was on that same Pavarotti Christmas album. Buckwheat would quietly listen to the English version. Then, as soon as Pavarotti began in French with “Minuit Chrétiens,” Buckwheat would accompany him. We never understood why this was. Someone tried to explain that perhaps Buckwheat didn’t know the words in English.
We had a friend who was quite a skeptic. He was certain we were embellishing Buckwheat’s musical ability. The first time Bill met Buckwheat, I went upstairs and turned on “Panis Angelicus.” Buckwheat didn’t let me down. Up the stairs he trotted, with Bill following. He positioned himself in front of the boom box in my studio, crossed his paws, tilted his head back...and sang with all his might. Bill was astonished. “You should put him on television,” he advised us. “He’s incredible!”
Buckwheat’s musical interest wasn’t limited to vocal pieces. Matthew loved playing the piano but detested piano lessons. How grateful he was when Buckwheat would join in during those sessions. The piano teacher, who came to our home, was not impressed with a canine accompanist, however, so I had to bribe Buckwheat into the kitchen with dog biscuits.
As the boys grew older, Buckwheat broadened his repertoire to include their guitar arrangements. He was selective in what he would perform, but he always had an appreciative audience. Everyone thought he should be on television. Were we doing him a disservice by not sharing his gift with humankind?
Buckwheat’s big chance came during a summer when the local news was as dried up as the fields. I had been interviewed for the newspaper because I was co-producing a talent show for teens.
Although he wasn’t scheduled to perform, Buckwheat sat in on the interview. I happened to mention his unique ability to the reporter. Of course, a reporter wouldn’t want to miss a chance to hear a singing dog. So, in my off-key voice, I lured Buckwheat on with his old standard, “Happy Birthday.” He followed along quite well, drowning out my part of the duet.
Buckwheat impressed the reporter so much that he wrote a two-column article that appeared on the front page. Accompanying it was a large photograph of Buckwheat with my son Michael. Folks loved it. They were grateful to read about something besides the oppressive heat, and it was a very well-written piece.
Excerpted from Phyllis Hobe's Angels in Disguise, ©2009 by Guideposts.