Mark and Buster

Mark Apple and Buster riding around town. Photo by Peggy Woodcock (See photo gallery at bottom for more photos.)

When local mechanic and construction worker Mark Apple and his best friend, Buster, ride around town on Apple’s sidecar-equipped BMW motorcycle, it’s hard to not stare. Not so much because of the bike, which is painted an unremarkable black, or because they’re going particularly fast or doing wheelies.

It’s because Buster is a dog.

And when’s the last time you saw an 85-pound, fluffy-haired, half-chow, half-akita-and-Alaskan-malamute mix—or any dog, for that matter—riding shotgun in a motorcycle sidecar?

“Buster loves the attention,” says Apple, 57, who picked Buster out of a puppy pile in 2004 and within a year had trained him to enjoy the open-air thrills of motorcycle riding. “People seem to think it’s pretty cool—everyone points and laughs and pulls out their cameras.”

Apple is, obviously, a dog person. In fact, the now 8-year-old Buster is not the first dog he’s taken riding; that honor goes to Apple’s previous dog, Horton, who died several years ago. And because Apple has never married and has no children, Buster is his closest daily companion. But Apple’s connection with Buster goes beyond their shared love of motorcycles. Buster was also close with Apple’s mother, who died of cancer in 2007.

“My mom loved dogs, and although I’d moved back home to help out when she was diagnosed with lymphoma [in 2003], she needed a more constant companion,” Apple says. “Buster was very therapeutic for Mom. He helped keep her active and in good spirits until the end.”

Buster’s friendly, inquisitive nature and steady companionship have also been therapeutic for Apple, who recently lost his older brother and has seen several close friends pass away in the past few years. “The dog is sort of a link to my mom and brother and friends I’ve lost—they all knew Buster and he knew them,” Apple says. “And even though I sometimes feel down and lonely, Buster helps keep my spirits up. Whether the sun is shining or it’s cloudy, he’s always excited to begin the day and gets me out and about.”

Weather permitting, Apple and Buster take motorcycle road trips every weekend, often to Nashville in Brown County. And although Apple enjoys the novelty of riding with his dog, he has even greater appreciation for Buster’s ability to bridge gaps.

“Being single, sometimes you close yourself in and you don’t even realize it,” Apple says. “But Bloomington is such a melting pot, and thanks to Buster I get to meet rich people, poor people, black, white, all sorts, and make a connection.”