Dogs are intelligent. They show us what kind of human beings we are.
December 10, 1991. Perhaps not a memorable date for most, only those who had a reason to remember. My wife and I did. Odie died.
He had been going to the vet for daily treatment, and I had decided to stay with him on this particular day. He seemed to be holding his own, and the vet felt I could leave for lunch at home which was close by. No sooner had I walked in the door before there was a phone call with the news. I guess there’s a point in all animals and humans where the heart ceases to function anymore.
I wish I had been there to rub his head, stroke his back, tell him we loved him again. I could have only talked to him, because he was in a plastic tube breathing apparatus to get as much oxygen as possible. Somehow I had let him down, but death doesn’t make allowances, and I only had my last words I said to him. “Hang in there Odie, Momma and Daddy love you.” Words you might say to a person, not an animal. After a while they become almost human, and you don’t make a great effort to draw the line.
We never knew the exact breed of Odie. Maybe Shih Tzu. Almost a Pekingese face, standing slightly taller than one. Brown and white, very soft, fine hair.
Distinguished ancestry has never been a criteria to live in our home. For this reason, what he was mattered not at all. He had the special talent so many dogs have. He loved those who loved him without reservations. Perhaps that’s the greatest gift an animal can bestow upon anyone.
Our daughter and son-in-law lived in an apartment when Odie came into their lives. Odie being the name our daughter chose. She had seen him cowering on a porch periodically, hidden from the seen and unseen, the fear with no escape. Odie wouldn’t allow her to pet him, even though she tried on innumerable occasions. This didn’t stop Odie from peeping out far enough to learn where her apartment was when she walked home.
He lived with some men who fed him infrequently, more akin to when the notion struck them, and left him outside in the weather, be it ten degrees or a hundred. After having gone without food for what must have been two or three days, the pangs of hunger drove him beyond his limited boundaries.
When our daughter opened her apartment door one morning, he was sitting there, not barking, just waiting. He had come up the steps to the second floor. She picked him up, and took him inside.
Dogs were theoretically not allowed in the complex, and because our daughter and son-in-law had no dog, they had no dog food. She gave him some water, which he lapped up graciously, and then she started searching for anything Odie might eat. The only candidate was baloney. He devoured the first piece, and three more, which happened to match the exact number she had.
They spent the day getting acquainting, although Odie was a little reluctant to accept the kindness, maybe thinking it might be withdrawn. When our son-in-law came home, they discussed the matter, and although neither one had standing as a professional dog snatcher, they brought Odie to us. They figured he had graduated magna cum laude from the school of uncertainty, and his post graduate work would consist of love and food.
Odie didn’t take long to adjust to us and our other dogs, which was a pleasant surprise. He soon identified my wife as Momma, and followed her around everywhere. When she was cooking, he would station himself by the kitchen door to avoid being under her feet. When she took a bath, he would lay by the bathroom door, and wait for her, no matter how long. At night he had a place on the bed by her head, a pillow, and the appropriate cover, even during the summer he seemed to get cold when the air conditioner was running, presumably the result of past exposure.
Whenever my wife was away, I’d only have to say, “There’s Momma”, and he’d make a frantic run to the sofa in the living room, stretch as far as he could, look out the windows, focus on the car coming up the driveway, dash to the front door, and back to the sofa repeatedly, and welcome her as though she had been gone for a year or two. His greeting for her was always enthusiastic, because he considered her the most important person in the world. He’d meet me at the door, but no more than a human son or daughter would.
Odie liked to eat at least four times a day, no doubt the by-product of days of bygone hunger. Once when I had taken a twenty or twenty-five pound bag of Come-N-Get-It dry dog food out of the cabinet, forgot it, and left it sitting on the floor, he went into the kitchen while everyone was in another portion of the house, tipped over the sack, worked the rolled up top open, and devoured some unknown amount of the contents before we discovered him, with his back legs and wagging tail the only anatomy not in the sack. Strangely enough, after his nighttime ten-thirty constitutional, when he came in, he still barked for his snack, as was his custom, and ate it as though he’d had nothing to eat all day. Considering the top weight he ever attained was six or seven pounds, I marveled at his storage capacity.
When Odie graced our lives for the first time, the vet estimated his age at seven or eight, years we forever will wish we had been allowed to spend with him. We tried to surmise his previous existence, and came to the conclusion that before his just ended unpleasant experience, based on the traits he exhibited in our household, he belonged to a lady who loved him very much, and must have died. She would never have given him up under any other circumstances.
Odie had a characteristic none of our other dogs had ever shown. He could smile.
At first we attributed it to our mind’s creativity, nonetheless something to his liking did produce an upward movement of his lips and a kind showing of his teeth, without the snarl that accompanies a dog who is angered.
We still had doubts until one day when he convinced us. We fed our dogs a few items from the table such as biscuits and cornbread. He loved biscuits. The day he frowned at some cornbread, we accepted he indeed was capable of facial expressions, and no longer had to ask him if he liked anything. If cod liver oil were ever your medicine as a child, you can picture Odie’s frown.
Odie became seriously ill about six and a half years after he came to live with us. The vet hooked him up to the proper IVs in an effort to neutralize the toxicity in his system. He gave little hope Odie would survive.
How often do logic and medicine take different paths? Or can love produce a will strong enough to overcome severe physical adversity? Though there might be several definitions of a miracle, we experienced one, whatever the vernacular. Odie pulled through.
He had borrowed some time, and we were aware of it. We treasured every second he had from then, an extra rubbing of his head and ears, a light hand down his back, “We love you, Big O,” ad infinitum.
Six months later the vet tried to prolong his life. It was not to be. Call it heart failure, uremic poisoning. The cause matters little. There is a point where a conglomeration takes over, as there is sometimes in humans. The important factor was Odie let us know he had given everything inside of him, and he knew we had given everything inside of us.
We can look out the dining room window at his grave, Odie’s Place, the perimeter covered with moss rock, the surface visible with white marble chips, and a tiny vase with occasional flowers close to the large rock headstone.
A strange thing happened on the second night he was in Odie’s Place. I turned on the back light to take the other dogs to the pen for their nightly habits. I’m sure it’s a reflection; logic tells me. On the side of the vase was a form that very much resembled the shape of two eyes, the color was rich, liquid yellow, the same as Odie’s eyes.
The winters and summers have come and gone, and the vase over time, subjected to weather, especially the freezing temperatures, cracked, but Odie’s eyes are still there, and remained there until weather had done too much damage.
One night I had taken Andy, Brownie and Shadow out for their normal nightly habits, and had returned them to the safety of our home. For some unknown reason, I turned toward Odie’s Place. I walked to it with only the light from the back porch. There was a single flower growing in the middle of his Place, like the ones we had planted around the border in the summer. The ones that last a year and do not return.
Slowly as I retraced my steps to the porch, and glanced over my shoulder, for the last time, I noticed Odie’s eyes from a vase that was now in pieces. How could that be? Surely, it must have been my imagination.
December 10, 1991. It wasn’t a particularly cold day. We buried Odie in his favorite jacket and a box. My wife cried. I cried.