In which Jill recounts the ideal final goodbye.
It was May 2015. A Friday. We were videotaping dogs at Carson shelter and I noticed a woman surrendering a black pit bull. Knowing the dog’s likely fate, I asked the woman if she would tell us a little about her dog. With permission, I would video the conversation and share it with our network. Maybe we could find him a home.
The dog’s name was Shaq. He was 10 years old, and she’d gotten him as a puppy from a friend. He was “a good dog - had all his shots!” As she spoke, Shaq stood close to the woman, occasionally looking up at her as if making sure she was still there. “We’re moving,” the woman said, answering my unasked question.
Shaq was a sweet, quiet dog. Maybe he’d be adopted, despite being a “3 strikes” dog: black, senior, pit bull. So we weren’t surprised the following week when he was still there. He was the only dog in Building 2 not barking or pacing. He just laid on his Kuranda bed, watching people pass him by, his eyes wide, his expression hopeful.
When I tried sharing Shaq’s surrender video on Facebook, it turned out I’d only recorded the first 5 seconds of it. With the video unusable, I shared his kennel card, which distinguished him about as well as a tree distinguishes a forest.
A few weeks later, we pulled Shaq. We renamed him Otis. We called Jennifer Gray of Sunny Day Acres to assess and train him. The next day, she texted me. “This dog is perfect,” she wrote. “When can I drop him off?”
This past December, we lost our beloved Coonhound, Ozzie. It was a few days before Christmas, and it broke us.
Incredibly, Otis was diagnosed two weeks later with lymphoma. The cruelty of the universe bore down hard. We were undone.
Three and half weeks later, we freed Otis from the tyranny of aggressive cancer. It was a beautiful day, the sun sparkling through the leaves of the birch tree. Lying on his favorite blanket, Otis gazed through our fence at the green meadow behind our house, his eyes occasionally searching for us, making sure we were near. Friends came by with their dogs to say goodbye. And when the time came, the dogs all stopped playing and sat quietly, a silent vigil. Otis’ lips turned up slightly—with happiness and gratitude, I hoped—before his body went still.
The gratitude is ours. Too many of us lose our loved ones unexpectedly and too soon, and for the wrong reasons. It seems so random, and it’s brutally unfair. In more sanguine moments, I hope Ozzie and Zeke met Otis at the bridge, and the meadow where they hunt for gophers is eternally green.
Thank you Jenn Aldridge for backing Otis when we pulled him, and for your hard-earned wisdom about dogs with cancer. Thank you Parker Bartlett for your care tips and support. And thank you to the woman who surrendered Otis. You gave us the unexpected privilege of knowing a perfect dog, however briefly. And Otis had the time of his life.