Otis came into our lives about a year and a half ago. He had spent many years loved by a family who no longer could give him the attention they knew he deserved and I offered to give this wonderful ten-year-old Collie/Sheltie mix a new place to call home.
The kids were so excited and proud when I surprised them with their canine brother. It didn't take long before Otis was engaging in indoor hide and seek, curling up under the piano bench while Catherine practiced and finding his way to the kitchen within 2.6 seconds of any sound possibly related to the availability of food. I loved to walk in the door from work and have him waiting eagerly with his tail wagging. I loved how he would curl up by my bed every night. I loved that when the kids were playing outside he would stare longingly out the window until we went out to join them. And I tell you, that handsome dog had an amazing smile.
On Thanksgiving morning, I took Otis for a five-minute walk up the street while the kids stayed in the warm house in front of a cartoon. Then, in an instant, our family changed.
Otis loved to bark at and chase anything with wheels -- school buses, trucks, cars, bicycles. His previous owner, a co-worker and friend of mine, said that Otis was born with this passion. His instincts drew him to the chase. He loved it and refused to let doggy training school take this passion away from him. This apparently had made for eventful walks his entire life. It always worried me, but with attention and a strong leash we were able to take long walks and stay safely clear of physical danger. At least that is what I thought.
As we walked about a block from my home, Otis stopped to sniff something of interest in my neighbor's yard. A pick up truck rounded the corner and, to my surprise, Otis didn't seem to care. Whatever had his attention in the grass was more appealing. But then, at the last second, Otis bounded full force out of the yard and right toward the street. I hit the brake button on his retractable leash, but he was not to be stopped. His speed and power broke the mechanism within the leash. He was struck and gone instantly. The whole event seemed to take a split second and two hours all at the same time. I just knelt on the street and held him. Several days later, the moment still seems surreal.
I am so sad and filled with "what ifs." What if we had gone for our walk a half hour earlier instead of after I had a cup of coffee? What if we had headed back to the house as soon as Otis was done taking care of business instead of letting him explore outside a bit? What if I had had a different leash? What if, even at his senior age, I could have somehow found a way to keep him from chasing cars? But those questions really don't do any good. I can't change what happened.
Otis was so very loved and given lots of hugs and attention. He was a beloved part of our family. His absence is palpable and I imagine it will be for a long time. Ian seems to be OK, but then I was clearing papers out of his backpack last night and found a paper on which he wrote that he was thankful for his dog. So, I know that he must miss him. Catherine has moments of tears and then a determination to remember the happy times.
First Walk -- July 2012
A good friend came over and helped me find a final resting place for Otis in the woods near our home. We will be planting flowers at his gravesite and the kids and I will visit him here. We will tell stories about him and look at pictures. I try to tell myself that he spent his last moments doing what he loved. He did not suffer. That hasn't really made it any easier yet. I tell myself that he had more than a decade surrounded by people who cared for him, and that's a good thing.
It probably will be a little while before I can consider bringing another dog into our family, although I imagine that time will come because we all loved having a dog in our lives. I just want to honor Otis for a while. I know how much Otis added to our home and I'm so glad we had the privilege of knowing him.
Otis, we love you and hope that you are running through sunny fields filled with cats and rabbits and school buses and garbage trucks and kids playing tag and chasing every one of them without harm.