In which Jill shares some regrets and celebrates a friend.
I learned about Ozzie in 2011. Friends had heard about a 1 year-old Coonhound languishing at Baldwin Park shelter for several weeks. I’d lost my first Coonhound, Colby, earlier that year and was not ready for another dog. I told my friend Sheila I’d go see him.
You could hear that distinctive Coonhound bray even before entering the kennels. When I found him, he walked to the kennel bars, locked eyes with me, and emitted an authoritative “Aaa-ROOOOO!” He bit a kid, the kennel manager told me. I can find a home for this dog, I thought. I took some pictures and shared them with my hound friends.
I returned to visit Ozzie several times, each time noticing his deterioration. The second time, he was more subdued. The third time, he was curled in a ball and when I greeted him, he didn’t lift his head. The fourth time was after the shelter called, letting me know he would be scheduled for euthanasia. When we leashed him and guided him out of his kennel, Ozzie immediately turned to the left, headed toward the shelter’s clinic. He’d watched other dogs go and not come back and figured it was his turn. When we got to my car he practically flew into the backseat. And that’s how I got my second Coonhound.
Ozzie was a rowdy, fun, disobedient, rangey hound dog. I trained him on the GPS collar and we’d go on long hikes. Eventually he’d responded to my commands and we didn’t need the collar. Ozzie, stay where I can see you!, I’d say, and he would wait for me to catch up.
Ozzie died yesterday. Or crossed the bridge. Or went wherever the best dogs go.
I usually manage my dogs’ transitions, letting them tell me when they’re ready, and bringing a trusted veterinarian to the house. The dog lays on its bed, candles are lit, friends come, stories are told, and there are smiles through the tears.
That’s not how it went last night. Ozzie had been having heart trouble. We drove him to the cardiologist, and they took him to the back for a chest tap. The vet came in and said Ozzie had stopped breathing and would we like them to keep trying?
What? What? No.
Ozzie died on a metal table, surrounded by strangers. I will always second-guess my decision to allow that tap.
Ozzie had the life we’d want for all our dogs. Hikes in the hills, and daily walks on the trails behind our house. Hiking in Santa Barbara every Christmas. Beach runs. The very best vet care. Amazing doggie siblings and friends.
And so the grief begins, and merely 15 hours later I’m confronted with that expansive void of the empty food bowl. The pit bulls looking for their brother. The absolute stillness where an 80 pound kid-friendly English Redtick Coonhound should be laying, sitting, eating, bugging me while I work. We all know it’s coming but we’re never really ready.
Ozzie, stay where I can see you!
I always tell friends who lose a dog that you never get over losing them, you just get used to missing them. Right now that feels glib. The empty dog bed and the second-guessing and the dense stillness are impermeable.
And they’re a reminder to hug your dogs.
RIP, my buddy. I hope that rainbow bridge thing is true.