It never ceases to amaze me the affect that our pets can have on us. The range of emotions and feelings that they can inspire or provoke from the people that they have chosen to live with. And face it, in most cases the choice is just as much theirs as it is ours for taking them in in the first place.
This week we lost an important member of our family and one of the best dogs I have ever had the joy of knowing.
Oskar came to us about twelve years ago, at a point in my wife and my life when we were feeling a little down and needed something to cheer us up.
It was about this time that we had decided to try to have a child. But after failed attempts, had finally gone to the doctor and was told that it just was not going to happen for us. This was a bit of a blow for us and we walked away from the experience somewhat dismayed. And it was about this time, when we were at my wife’s parents house that this little ratty puppy came onto the property.
The puppy was cute, but barked incessantly, anything and everything would set it off on a tirade of barking at whomever it seemed that might have caused him some distress. In fact, at one point, the only way that my father-in-law and his son could shut the dog up was to sick him in a garbage can. Strangely enough, the dog seemed to like that and actually fell asleep in the trash can.
When they decided that they just could not take a dog in, they asked us if we wanted it. My wife, without my agreement at the time, said yes. And thus we had a dog and what would turn out to be a very fun companion.
We could not decide on a name for him for some time. We thought about the old stand-by names that people give their dogs, but we were never into the cliche names for our pets. We never had a cat named Fluffy, Mittens, Socks, etc… Our cats had names like Smuckers (my wife names ALL black cats “Smuckers”), Clearance, Clara, Harvey, Sally… We did have one cat named Critter-Bug, but that was not mine, nor her, fault. Oddly enough, our inspiration for Oskar’s name came from two sources that matched something from his past and from a work of fiction.
We decided on the name for this dog because of two things. Whenever we would take the dog for a walk, he had this habit of running ahead of us a bit and then, out of nowhere, would do a 360 degree circle. I jokingly said once that he was “Clearing his baffles”, and since I am an avid reader, and I, at the time had been going back through my Tom Clancy books, I mentioned calling him Oscar, after the Russian subs. We then thought about it more, and saw the name worked for another reason. Oscar the Grouch, from Sesame Street.
We opted for a different spelling in the name so that he would be a little different, so it would be something that stood out from other dogs. And over the years, it was not just the name that would stand out. It would be everything about him.
Oskar bonded with my wife more than me. Everywhere that she would go, he would need to be right there. He became known as her little shadow because there would be times she would walk through the house and stop, and he would bump into her because he was following so closely. This is something that he never did to me, but he would come to me if he was hurting, or something was wrong. He also listened to me when I told him to stop doing something, like barking.
Oskar loved to play, and he would, for the most part, play harder than most dogs twice his size. Add to this that the dog did not have an “off-switch” and we would have to hide his toys to get him to stop so that he could do things like, oh… I don’t know… drink water, eat food… REST. He was also the first and only dog that I have ever met that would have been diagnosed as Obsessive Compulsive. He knew the locations of all his toys and there was no hoping he forgot that he left a toy someplace.
There was a time when one of his toys rolled under the couch. We forgot about it and we thought that he too had as well. About a week later we are in the livingroom and he is sitting there, grumbling at the couch. We asked him what was wrong and he would look at us, shift his body around and then look at the edge of the couch. This would go on until one of us, I think it was her, looked under the couch and saw his toy. When she pulled it out and handed it to him, he was happy.
When we brought in our second dog, Eliza, Oskar was the best big brother that a dog could have. Even if, as in this case, she did not want a big brother. Eliza, as you may know if you are a regular reader, is a special needs dog. She has had health issues her entire life and we have always had to keep a watch on her. When we brought her home, Oskar was very curious about her and when we introduced them, the first thing he wanted to do was play with her, and would bring his toys to her. Her, only being a few weeks old, and suffering a sever infection as a result of Mange, she was not interested in anything but sleeping.
As she grew, Oskar would defend her and protect her, even though when we were at home, she would treat him like dirt. While he was the Alpha, of their little pack, she was certainly the one that wore the pants, so to day. One of the funniest things about their relationship is that there would be times that she would cause a problem, or get into trouble, then go and hide with Oskar when there was heck to pay for it. And as always, he would step in.
One of our other names for Oskar was “Our Rough and Tumble Dog.” It did not matter how big the other dogs were or, within reason, how hard you played with him, he would keep up with you. Even though he would be panting so hard that his whole body would be heaving, he would not want to give up the game. In fact, he would be so insistent on playing that he would bring you the toy and grumble at you… if you STILL did not play, he would cry… if you STILL would not play, he would pick the toy up and set it on you, usually your arm, or if you happen to be laying down, your head.
Age did not slow him down any at all. All the way to the end, playing was his primary goal in life. You could see that there was a little arthritis creeping into his walk, and he was not able to run and jump the way he used to, but he still put every effort into it.
When the time came that my wife and I proved the doctors wrong and did have our first, and only as I write this, child, Oskar accepted the child as just another person to play with. There was an incident when Gideon, our child, was only a few month old and we had him sitting on the floor in the living room. Oskar walked over to him with a toy and set it down and started to grumble at him.
Gideon had not, at this point, even mastered control over his own toys, yet here is Oskar trying to get him to play with him. Meanwhile Gideon would reach for the toy, because it seemed interesting to him, and Oskar would snatch it away, always careful not to hurt or nip Gideon.
In 2006 we found another dog at the place where we board our pets when we travel, a great little place called Fur and Feathers. They had a Cairn terrier mix that had been in and out of a few homes and in need of a new one. We decided to take him in and when we got him home, there was a little conflict between him and Oskar, but over time, Oskar accepted him and they would play, though Oskar seemed more interested in dominating him, for you dog owners, you know what I mean.
The first sign that there was a problem was a couple weeks ago… Oskar developed a little cough. It would kick in and he would cough for a while, then it would go away. For the most part it was so small an issue that we did not worry about it, and then, it would go away for a while. Then Monday night, October 7th, he started coughing continuously, barely able to stand. That night I slept in the living room with him on my lap.
Every time the coughing would start again, I would talk to him until he would lay his head down. At this point I knew the time was coming and he would not be with us much longer. And several hours later, at 1:24pm, October 8th, he took his last breaths in my lap and with my wife petting him. You really could tell that he did not want to go and was hanging on for as long as he could. We just kept petting him and telling him it was ok to let go. And finally he did.
I know that dogs and humans do not live life the same way. I understand that we are not both emotional creatures in the same way. But there is a connection made between an person and their dog, or dogs. There is a connection that goes beyond the traditional “Man’s best friend” mantra that has always been there. Oskar, and our other dogs, know when we are sad, hurt, angry or just need someone. Oskar would come to us when we needed the cheering up and try to help when we were hurt.
He was, and in a way still is, a very HUMAN part of our family. The loss of him is one that hurts and will hurt for some time.
On that note, I would like to encourage everyone reading this to donate to the Humane Society or to organizations like Hearts United for Animals, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, or any other, documented and reputable, No-Kill animal shelter. The best pets you can get are the ones that in those placed and they need homes. All three of our dogs are rescues, and we could not have hoped for better. I have included some links below.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Hearts United for Animals
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary