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An Ode to Otis

July 20, 2011

Otis on canvas by Augusta Hyland Wilson

Summertime is the only time I feel sorry for Otis. It’s hot and he can’t handle it. And other than the stretch from June to August, that dog doesn’t have it so bad. Not in the slightest. But, boy, come June, you’d think he was dying from a heat stroke with the drama that ensues after he’s out back … he’ll throw himself under the ceiling fan in the living room like he’s dying, then go to our mudroom and dunk his entire face in his water dish, look up pitifully with water dripping down as if to say, “It’s so rough out there, you have no idea.”

I wanted a dog most of my life. I spent every birthday hoping for one, but it never came. When my brother (who’s the oldest) was a baby, my parents had Basset Hounds, Buck and Maggie, but they eventually had to put Buck down for violently biting my brother, and later, they gave Maggie away. I think the heartbreak from both was so devastating they never got another dog. But, that’s just my theory on the matter.

Instead we were a family who had cats. Angel, Lucy, Rose, KC, Spike, Martin, Java, Dolores, Rudy, Reagan, and Aggie have all clawed, hissed, and torn up and down the long hallway at my parent’s loft. Though Dolores and Reagan were my sisters’ cats and only there on college breaks, Aggie was mine from college, and it took several days before my father realized she was different from Spike because they looked so alike.

We got Otis through a non-profit called Atlanta Lab Rescue about a year after Spike died. ALR brought two adorable puppies to our house—well three if you count the one who was already adopted out and just slept in the back of the truck the entire time—pretty sure he was thinking, “My job is done” and didn’t even bother waking up. The litter of five boys (three black and two chocolate) born on December 9 to a black Labrador who had the extreme good fortune of breaking through the basement window of a house whose owner happened to be involved in animal rescue.

The foster first brought out a chocolate boy named Lex that I had my eye on, and next, a whimpering black puppy named Wink. As she retrieved him from the truck, I asked, “Why is he here?” about Wink, and informed the foster all I wanted to see were chocolates. Well, after about ten minutes of solid humping and pinning Wink down aggressively by Lex, I still wasn’t swayed. Figuring my husband and I were in for a long debate on chocolate versus black, I went in to get the adoption paperwork, regardless of the color, I knew one of these boys was our dog. I walked outside and saw Wink sitting next to my husband with his little head cocked as they both watched Lex attempt to dig a hole to China in our backyard.

Our licorice-colored dog chose us. Calm, goofy, curious, a lover not a fighter, a wonderful boy from day one, and our family wouldn’t be complete without him. He’s one of the best decisions we’ve made, adding him into our life, and there isn’t a day or a walk that goes by that I’m not grateful for everything he’s brought with him. In all his sweetness, this is also the same being that barfed up a pair of my underwear on the couch the first night its custom slipcover was on it, acts like the bathtub is his for Pollack-style muddy paw marking, and passes gas so foul and loud it clears a room … he’ll seriously have the nerve to look at us like that sound came from one of us and like it surprised him that it even slipped out. Or there’s the time he had an allergic reaction to his tick medicine the night before we were supposed to leave on a week’s vacation, which led to us at the vet at 8 am, postponing getting on the road for a seven-hour drive. Or when he swatted at a bee who promptly stung him on his face, or when he ate an entire bar of soap like he was punishing himself for eating all his own poop in the backyard. I won’t even mention the psychedelic mushroom trip he took himself on from the wild ‘shrooms in our backyard, or the sheetrock wall and wood crown molding he noshed on with puppy teeth, nor do I bother to keep track of how many rolls of toilet paper he’s consumed or decorated our dining room with.

In case you were wondering—Labradors eat EVERYTHING. And the joke about you and your mangy dog? Well, he was one. Though I don’t like to recall the massive bout of mange he came into our house with, forcing all his fur to come out in clumps while we nursed him for months with dips and shots to rid him of the aliment passed from his mom while nursing (as best we know).

But, I love his orneriness just before he eats dinner; his witching hour when I might see him trot out of our bedroom carrying whatever was on the laundry drying rack in his mouth. Or when he throws himself down in my office, wanting to be a little closer to me (and the vent that blows straight on him), it’s that presence I’ll never tire of. My favorite time of the day is seeing the excitement he gets waiting for my husband to come home from work; he’ll stare out the French doors in anticipation of the slightest noise of his tires rounding up the drive. I like to pretend he’d speak in a British accent if he could talk like humans, this idea coming after his allergy vet (yes, of course he’s allergic to everything) told me she thought he wasn’t a mix, but actually a British Labrador, one of the rarer versions of the breed.

Tally-ho, good chap. Otis is a good chap, indeed.

Editor’s note–The irony is not lost on me that I caught Otis fishing this piece out of the wastebasket in my office just after I’d finished editing. He ate his own article. Of course he did.