DESTIN, Fla. (AP) — Retired Coast Guard seaman Jacob Fulbright was faced with the hardest decision of his life.
As he held his best friend of 11 years in his lap and repeated the phrase, “I love you,” he chose to end Buoy’s life and lay his precious pup to rest.
“We’re just devastated,” Fulbright said as he cried during a phone interview from Texas. “He was a tremendous part of our family.”
Buoy, who was a spunky 15-year-old red Labrador retriever, was gifted to the Destin U.S. Coast Guard Station in 2002. At just 6 weeks old, Buoy quickly became the station’s beloved mascot.
“People always joked at how Buoy was a glory stealer,” Fulbright said. “The newspaper would show up to write about how we saved three people from a boat fire and the story would morph from a story about the rescue to a story about Buoy.”
Fulbright recalled his first day at the U.S. Coast Guard Station in 2006, when he spent all morning making sure his uniform was flawless before heading into work. As he stepped out of his car, however, Buoy decided his uniform needed a finishing touch.
“I got out the car and Buoy side swiped me and got hair all over by uniform,” he said. “I was mortified. I walked in to meet the executive petty officer and he said, ‘Oh, it looks like you’ve already met Buoy!'”
Fulbright said from that moment on, Buoy would never again leave his side.
“He sat with me while the petty officer laid the ground rules, he sat with me while I unpacked and he slept with me that first night,” Fulbright said. “We were close from the first day I met him.”
After others saw the bond between the seaman and the mascot, Fulbright was charged with being Buoy’s official handler.
In 2010, after spending four years in the U.S. Coast Guard, Fulbright prepared to bid Buoy farewell as he neared retirement. What he didn’t know until later was that the executive petty officer had held a secret meeting to discuss the mascot’s future.
“He told me that they had a unanimous vote and that they wanted me to take Buoy home,” he said. “I tried not to cry as hard as I could. It was the coolest thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”
After Buoy’s retirement ceremony, Fulbright loaded his belongings and Buoy into his truck and headed home to Texas. Fulbright said once in Texas, he enjoyed introducing his dog to things he had never seen, like cows, open fields and fresh water.
“Buoy met my wife the same day we had our first date,” Fulbright said. “He was there when I proposed, he was my best man on my wedding day. Buoy was here for me every single day.”
Fulbright and his wife sat in their bedroom staring at Buoy’s empty bed. The former seaman was reminded of the oath he made to the Coast Guard before retirement — to take care of Buoy to the best of his ability and to return him home when he passed away.
“I’m having him cremated and he will be buried under the anchor in the front of the station,” he said. “Taking care of Buoy was the greatest honor and privilege I’ve ever had. I don’t know what I’m going to do without him.”
Information from: Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.), http://www.nwfdailynews.com