“Animal Nature.” Celebrating a Local Character

Everyone in Sitka has a story about our town veterinarian, Burgess Bauder.  He is our town character.   I mean when people come to town they wonder why our cars have bumper stickers reading “What Would Burgess Do?”  On Saturday Sitka celebrated Burgess.   The occasion was the publication of a new book by Sitka Author John Straley, “Animal Nature,” a profile of Burgess.

John says he did not want to write this book.  He did it at the dying request of Barry Burger, a friend of Burgess.  It’s hard to deny a dying man’s last request so John wrote the book.  All the proceeds from the book go to help spay and neuter animals.  This is appropriate because Burgess believes in a kind of socialized veterinary care.  In other words Burgess often “forgets” to charge for his services and supports his veterinary habit by diving for sea creatures from his boat “Death Barge 4.”  Everyone in Sitka has his Burgess story and that makes it hard to write a book about Burgess because everyone thinks his or her story should be in the book and everyone has an opinion of Burgess.

But John persevered and wrote an entertaining book that answers one of the lasting questions I had about Burgess, what happened to his pet imu?  The imu was one of the first things we noticed when we moved to Sitka almost 40 years ago, an imu walking along the side of the road as we drove into town from our trailer home in Sollers Court.  Brian would watch out the school bus window to try to spy the big bird every day.  One day it wasn’t there.  It met a tragic end that John describes in the book and it was not a collision with a car, truck or the school bus.

We celebrated Burgess by eating hot dogs and listening to music from Sitka’s ‘whatnot’ band “Fishing for Cats.  Ashia from the bookstore sold books while John, Ellen Frankenstein, who took the pictures, and Burgess autographed them.  Burgess used a pink sharpie that matched his shirt.  The proceeds went, as I said, to spay and neuter animals.

But the highlight of the event was the dog obstacle course.  There was a chute made of snow fence.  Along the side of the chute bowls were set full of hotdogs.  Someone would release a dog at one end of the chute while at the other end its person would call.  The dog that made it across the finish line first, in timed trials, won a basket full of dog treats and a Frisbee.  The dog that took the longest time to navigate the chute, which meant that the dog stopped to sample hotdogs as stops along the way, won a bag full of dog poop pick up bags.  With all the hot dogs consumed, the owner would need them.

A couple of dogs made the run straight through, ignoring the hotdogs and going to their person.  Once dog, once across the line, tagging in with his person, immediately turned around and devoured the nearest bowl of hotdogs.  But that dog was a winner because he crossed the line first.  One dog just made it up to, but not over the line, nosed the hand if it’s person, wheeled around and consumed the hotdogs.  The dog didn’t cross the line so lost.  Some dogs stopped at only some of the bowls, some stopped at every one.  Some dogs zigged and zagged, taking a piece of hot dog from one bowl, moving on to another, and then back to the first, savoring a piece of sausage at each stop.

The Sitka Press corps were out in force to cover the event and Emily Kwong form Raven Radio had a recording station for people to record their memories and tributes to Burgess.

At the end Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tompkins presented Burgess with a legislative proclamation honoring him.  So the legislature did actually get some work done this session.


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