I love animals. Arguably, I feel like I understand animals better than I do human beings, and it’s been the same for me since I was a kid. Parents would start fighting, and I would crawl underneath my single bed, push some Star Trek plastic figurines out, pull the little cover down and hide there with my border collie. His name was Smoky. I cried, he licked my face and pressed up against me until the front door slammed, and it was safe(ish) to come out.
I’ve had many relationships with animals over the years. I was too young to really care for Smoky, and he became an “outside” dog when we moved out of downtown Toronto and to the Alliston area. As an adult, I do not believe in “outside dogs”, I believe in family time, pack mentality, and training until life inside becomes tolerable for all four-legged and two-legged critters. Pets like dogs and cats thrive on the relationship (and we benefit too, when they are in our business every day).
Today I have three dogs, and a cat. These three dogs are very special because they are mine; pet children I will see for the first time, from puppydom (and kittendom) to old age, and the last chapter of their lives. God willing anyhow.
For my baby sister Kim, Otis was her first real dog. The first one she found and adopted (even though she got yelled at by my Dad for adopting a dog when she first moved out). He used to be the kind of Dad that believed exclusively in “outside dogs” but I understand from very light details, that Otis kind of retrained him. Good dog! At the end of Otis’ life, he meant a great deal to both my Father and my Step-Mother. That makes my heart happy.
Otis was a fat, short legged grunting arrogant, sometimes gassy creature. He was the first dog I ever met that belched loudly and looked impressed; this was a good match for my sister in her early days because she did the same thing, and we used to joke that they were a match made in heaven.
She found him at a shelter and as boyfriends came and went, family came and went (my sister was an unselfish servant to two of our grandparents who were in nursing homes), Otis was a constant. A dog that could eat eight hot dogs if you let him, throw on a backpack harness and go down to walk the beach or lake with my sister.
She thinks better when she’s near water. Like someone else she knows.
Otis in his 16th year developed sores on his body. He still wanted hot dogs, and plenty of the great quality food and treats, apples and carrots my sister fed him. She spent almost a couple thousand going to one vet who, up until last week, was still convinced it was ring worm or hot spots. The new vet she consulted with took about thirty minutes to determine Otis had metastasized cancer. That was only a week ago, and in that short time, his body rapidly advanced into stage four of cancer, with sores opening up over his body and paws.
And she knew it was cancer before she was officially told. My sister, who is single, a home owner, making her way through life independently and responsibly, with one center to her universe; a fat, hilarious and loyal white dog named Otis.
I talked to Otis on messenger cam on Thursday night. I told him how awesome he was, and thanked him for taking care of my sister. I also told him to watch for Diego, whenever he gets there, because Diego likes to pick fights with other dogs, and he’ll be glad to see his old wing man is there. Somewhere in the Elysian fields, where our pets go to play, be restored and healthy again, and to wait for us. I believe that love is energy that is so strong, it binds souls together; whatever is waiting for us beyond this veil, I believe that fierce love, soul mates and close family carry on to another plane of existence. That souls stay together, and that includes our beloved fur-children.
I hope I said the right things to my sister; I was trying to hide the tears too. I loved my dog nephew too, and had hoped to see him with Diego in a month or so. But I am proud of her for being the kind of human being that sees a relationship from start to finish, as she always has been. Of being that kind of person to spare no expense to try to save him, and for being the kind of soul that was strong enough to see him through to his next chapter.
Her message this morning was that Otis slipped into sleep very quickly, a sign from the vet that he was tired, in pain and ready to rest. I know what grief is, but I am not good at helping others navigate it; I get awkward or try the “buck up!” approach typically. I am neither of those approaches this morning.
I simply told her I love her, and that I grieve with her, and that she was one of the best fur-guardians I knew. And that I was proud of her for who she was, and what she did this morning; which was the most noble, unselfish final act of love and compassion. And I hope a little bit of that got in.
There is nothing anyone can say or do to expedite grief. It is cold, and painful and a process that takes time. I know that now, but never did understand that before. But in this most perfect case of compassion, it helps to know it was the best thing for Otis. And that he was ready to go and wait somewhere peaceful and warm, for the girl he loved so much; and the family that fed him hot dogs.