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Duchnowski: Birthday party celebrates bond between dog, man

Fred Hornbuckle drove to Iowa to pick out a German shepherd puppy, but in the end, Major picked him.

Of the four male puppies in the litter, Major was the only one who approached Hornbuckle when he sat on the floor. Major put his front paws on his soon-to-be owner’s chest and licked his face – and formed a bond that would change Hornbuckle’s priorities and help carry him through throat cancer treatments.

“He was always there,” said Hornbuckle, 72, remembering the weeks of treatments at The Cancer Center at Kishwaukee Community Hospital after he was diagnosed in 2010. “It’s just the feeling, I guess.”

The bond between dog and man was so strong that Hornbuckle planned a birthday party Sunday for his furry friend, who turned 4 years old Monday. His granddaughters Gracie and Bella helped, and three ladies from the dog park in St. Charles brought their dogs to Hornbuckle’s home on Sycamore’s northeast side. The canines played outside, and Hornbuckle presented Major with a birthday cake from Hy-Vee.

Hornbuckle and Major are almost inseparable. Hornbuckle got rid of his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, figuring his dog wasn’t meant to ride in a sidecar. He just didn’t like leaving him at home.

“It didn’t take long to tell where my love really was,” Hornbuckle said.

Now, he lets Major ride in his Jeep, placing sunglasses on his snout to attract attention from passers-by. If the weather’s agreeable, Major will wait obediently in the vehicle while Hornbuckle shops.

He has had the 100-pound dog interact with children, adult strangers, police officers and so many others to socialize him with all types of people. He’s working through the American Kennel Club’s good citizen program and hopes Major one day will be a therapy dog.

Hornbuckle remembers how comforting Major was when he was struggling with cancer. The dog often would lie with him in front of the fireplace after radiation or chemotherapy treatments, during those times that can seem lonely and uncomfortable no matter how comforting family members are.

“Family was somewhat involved, but when you walk out of that treatment, you’re on your own,” Hornbuckle said.

Hornbuckle considers dog ownership a lifetime commitment, but knows Major’s life likely will be longer than his. He’s worried about what will become of his companion after he dies, so he’s working on a list of six or so friends who might take him. Family isn’t an option, because his family members have cats.

“Cats like to run,” Hornbuckle explained. “He likes to chase.”

BlackJack chose me, too: I walked into a pet store on a whim, thinking of getting a bigger dog. BlackJack, a cocker spaniel-poodle mix, was just eight pounds. And curly.

He barked obnoxiously in the middle of the pet store when I set him down. It was obvious to everyone that the Labrador retriever puppy could just go back in his cage, because the loud little fluff ball was coming home with me.

Years later, he still usually gets what he wants when he barks, and I couldn’t be happier that a whim turned into a lifetime commitment.

• Jillian Duchnowski is the Daily Chronicle’s news editor. Reach her at 815-756-4841, ext. 2221, or email

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