I was twenty-three years old and living every bit of my age in North Carolina when he came into my life. My mom told me to stay away from him – that I wasn’t ready for him, that it was a big commitment and I should really think about what I was getting into. But I took one look at that face and it was too late for things like logic and rationality. He was mine. It was meant to be.
The truth of the matter is that he was probably going to go to the shelter if I didn’t take him and I figured that if I couldn’t handle him – that’s where he’d wind up anyway, so the very least I could do is try. He fit in the palm of my hand when I carried him home.
I had a used wire crate that I used to confine him until the day he tore through the wires and made it so that it was less safe inside the crate than outside the crate. Thus began the adventure of creating a “run of the house” dog. We sacrificed a lot to the cause – shoes, blankets, and at least a half dozen of my roommate’s bras. He had a thing for bras. He was always such a ladies man.
He truly was a ladies man. He was fearful of men, for reasons that I never really knew. Possibly because I was single for most of his puppyhood/young adulthood and so he only really knew females. Maybe he had a bad experience that I wasn’t aware of. He was quirky and submissive and he’d crouch and pee whenever someone new approached him. I was asked all the time if he was a rescue dog, if he was abused? I always felt like it was a perfect testament to his character that he made me explain to people that no, I was the only owner he ever had, and I certainly never abused him. He was just sensitive. And quirky. And weird.
I often say that I’m surprised that he lived as long as he did. On at LEAST three separate occasions, it seemed that he was trying his darnedest to die. It started the day – he must have been about 2? I was driving him home from a friends house, the back window cracked for him to take in the smells. Cracked, mind you, not rolled all the way down. Less than half a block away from my apartment building, he spotted a cat and in a split second eruption of sound and motion, he was out the window and in the street. I slammed on the brakes and just sat there, parked in the middle of the street thinking “Oh. My god. My dog is dead. My dog is dead. My dog is dead…” Then, from the blackness at the back of my car came Oliver, trotting slowly, looking extremely confused. I was so mad at him. SO MAD. I put the car in gear and drove slowly into my parking lot, making him trot along beside me instead of allowing him back into the car.
The second time I was driving him to a boarding kennel (those who knew Oliver in his later years may not believe that he was ever a dog who would be kenneled, but there was a time!) before I left for a weekend with friends who were visiting. I was driving a rental car, and had Oliver in the back seat – again, with the windows cracked. Suddenly I heard a yelp and the sound of him struggling in the backseat and when I glanced behind I saw that he had stepped on the electronic window lever and closed his neck in the window. He was freaking out. You know that smell that dogs emit when they’re freaking out (No? Just me? Great.) Well that smell was all over that car. That. Rental. Car. It took us days to air that thing out.
Finally, the most infamous attempt at ending his own life was while on vacation with my family up north. My sister and I had taken the dogs for a walk. As we were walking back up the path towards the cabin we had rented, we heard a car coming up behind us. The car couldn’t have been going more than 10 miles an hour. As if in slow motion, while I tried to tug Oliver towards the side of the road, he bucked, shirked loose of his collar, and stumbled into the road JUST as the car approached. The car hit him. He fell over. He screamed. He was completely unscathed (that car was barely moving. It’s like he basically had to run into the car for it to hit him). This dog – he has taken years off my life.
He’s also given me such joy. Of course, my mom was right and I had no business taking on the responsibility of a dog when I was that young and stupid. But we survived, even if we had to learn some things the hard way (don’t give dogs pear beer. For that matter, don’t give humans pear beer). He was my best friend, getting me through some of my darkest, loneliest times. He pre-dates Todd, and traveled across the country with me to move back to Minnesota. We grew up together. He was my first baby.
He was such a loyal, good boy. He loved to snuggle and give kisses and he LIVED for a game of ball. He was single mindedly obsessed with his ball. And not all balls are created equal because he knew the difference and wasn’t interested in anything that wasn’t his. He’d play fetch until he collapsed. He’d drop that ball into the middle of whatever else was going on in the yard – raking, gardening. I can’t tell you how many times he dropped it into an enormous pile of leaves causing me to have to dig back through them to fish it out and throw it again. I always felt like the other dogs knew he was obsessed and liked to tease him about it. My parent’s old dog used to grab the ball and run around with it – playing keep away with him. Later on, Daisy would do the same thing.
He loved to swim – or more accurately, he also loved to play fetch in the water. As a young dog, if we were swimming and he was on shore, he’d swim out to check on us. He’d drape his paws over my shoulders and I’d hold him by the butt and we’d sit out in the water until he was sure I was okay, and then he’d swim back to shore. He was so, so loyal.
He was also a royal pain in the butt. I took him with me once on a second date with a man who also loved dogs and had a yellow lab of his own. We thought this would be a fun double date. Five minutes after we arrived at the apartment, Oliver peed on that man’s curtains. Needless to say, that relationship didn’t work out – although not for that reason. It is possible that Oliver knew something I didn’t know.
He went downhill so fast. At least that’s how it seemed, although as we look through old pictures and talk about the way he used to be, it occurs to us that it’s been a long time since he’d had that special Oliver “spark”.
Last night he got whatever he wanted, which wasn’t much anymore. His appetite had diminished and he looked at everything I set in front of him with a mixture of supreme suspicion and disdain. Still, he ate some hamburger, some hamburger bun, some peanut butter, and a small dish of ice cream. He got to lick all the dinner bowls. We’ve been struggling for days, trying to figure out if it was time. I guess the thing of it is, when you have to ask if it’s time, it’s probably time.
I was doing okay until I decided it was time to start saying goodbye. I lay down on the floor next to him. I stroked his bony, hollowed out face and we gave each other kisses. I sang to him. For a while during his life, he seemed to suffer from seizures. Whenever he’d have an episode, I’d lay next to him, stroking his fur and singing the song. The song is simple. It’s basically just me telling him that his mama loves him over and over again to some nursery rhyme tune. It likely comforted me more than it ever comforted him, but they are words I needed him to know anyway.
His mama loves him. She’s going to miss him so much. He’s such a good boy. Such a handsome boy.
In the end, it went peacefully. He didn’t even have to enter the building of the vet who took such amazing care of him with very little reward. Oliver was not a fan of the vet and Oliver was not the type of dog who sucked things up and dealt with it. He stayed in the car, and his last memories were of us snuggled up against him, stroking him and telling him how good he was. How handsome he was. How dumb he was. How much we’re going to miss him.
For the first time in 13 years, he wasn’t wagging his tail when I walked in the door tonight. It’s okay. We’re okay. He’s more than okay. He’s buried in a beautiful little spot in the back of my parents’ yard, near his best friend in the whole world who is probably already teasing him by playing keep away with his raggedy old red ball. He's up there being fun police of all the dogs in doggy heaven.
I carry you in my heart, little buddy.
Goodbye, sweet boy.