Tuesday, January 27, 2015

More than...


Our family dog of 11 years, Otis, passed away this morning. And It came on fast. 

When we woke up this morning Otis was panting loudly, an 'unusually so' sort of loud. After we started our morning routine to get ready for school, we noticed he was struggling to stand. It was an easy decision to bring him with us and and head to the animal hospital after we dropped the kids off at school.

As Otis struggled more in the car on our way, we left those school plans behind. By the time we arrived at the hospital Otis had already passed away.

We all came back home, stunned I guess, and we just resigned from the busy day.

Otis was ‘more than’ a pet to us. He was family. Turns out, he was a teacher too.

It’s hard to explain, but Otis had… empathy. It was in his eyes, his expressions, and his actions. He always seemed to know… ‘what and when.’ We’ve had many laughs over the years how he responded to… sentences. You just talked to him and he'd respond in kind with the outcome you wanted. We always laughed about how he just sort of… “knew” what was going on, and what you wanted. Otis was more of a ‘person’ in our household than ‘a dog.’ Otis was… intuitive. I always marveled at how much he could learn and how fast... how incredibly smart he was for, well, a dog. There are hundreds of stories. Show him something once... and he retained it, he did it.

Otis had charisma. He was one of those dogs everyone felt the need to come over and see when we were out and about. Walks, the store, baseball games… everyone seemed to find great joy in getting closer to him and giving him a good rub. He was friendly and inviting.

I came to appreciate and thoroughly enjoy his boundless love for walks, to play, to swim, and how he was always excited to go anywhere at anytime with any of us. He never seemed content really on his own. Otis wanted to be with one of us, all the time. He was with one of us in the house… often making his rounds from person to person. If you came in the house, no matter where he was, he always made his way to greet you.

And for how many times he’d drop a tennis ball on my lap and remind me to work a little less, or come up and sit on the couch with me while I read, I’ll always be grateful.

Otis had his routines with all of us in the house.

I’ve thought many times over the years how much I loved to see Janice head out on a walk with him, seeing my daughter do an Otis photo shoot, or watch my son hit tennis balls to him to fetch in the backyard for hours on end.

I've been thinking about the times I brought him into classes to talk about 'being present', or to baseball practices with me to show players 'anticipating the ball flight before it's thrown or hit.'

Otis was there when our little kids needed to feel safer in a room or to go to bed, or when one of us, especially Janice, went out on a walk.

We had a nighttime routine he and I. He was a big sort of dog, eye level with the bed. When were were all in the house, and he’d traveled from room to room to see everyone, he’d come over and rest his head on the bed next to me and wait for me to rub his head He’d groan to get my attention if I took too long to greet him. When I did, night after night, he’d sigh as I rubbed his head and soak it in. Eventually I’d say something like “ok, buddy, time for bed,” and he’d just head over to his bed next to ours on the floor, lay down after a few turns, and take a big deep breath and sigh again. It’s like he knew everyone was in place… and he could relax. On nights when one of us was out and about, when he couldn’t complete rounds… he never did sigh. He’d be restless. He'd lay by the door. He’d perk up at every noise he'd hear, waiting for one of us to come home, waiting for everyone to be in place again.

Somehow Otis’ whole nighttime routine helped me relax too. Knowing he was looking out for everyone, and offering his support and genuine love. The best kind of friendship.

Many mornings I’d wake up because he’d breathe on me, eye level at the bedside, eyes wide, tail wagging, ready to start the day. It was always good for a laugh. Even though his dog breath wasn't always the most pleasant way to wake up, I never got sick of him doing it.

Death of those closest to our hearts, in our closest circles, is always difficult to process. It never gets easier.

It's times like this... when you wonder if you could have done something differently to help him. If you could have picked up on signs quicker that he was ill or got him some treatment that would have helped him be with us longer. Last night he was fine though. In the car to greet me after a trip, checking in on us around the house though the night, coming up to see us, hanging out with us while we decompressed from the day, moving with us from room to room until he sighed and went to sleep.

And of course, at times like this we all wish we spent more time with Otis somehow. A few more minutes, one more walk, one more rub down just to let him know how valued he was. It's also a yearning for what you've lost... fleeting wishes for a little more time... an ache for what won't be again.

Those emotions are powerful, especially when you see them in the eyes of your family.

We’ll all be restless for a good while I guess. 11 years of that kind of companionship will be sorely missed. We'll hear a noise and wish it was him coming in the room. We'll wish it was him rumbling down the stairs and plowing his head onto your lap. We'll miss him standing in the middle of the kitchen in the busy morning, just happy to be in the mix. We'll long for his companionship on a walk. WeIl miss the way he made us laugh daily.

I’m grateful for the time we had with Otis. We we were all good for each other and much richer for it. But... the house already seems much less full without him.

11 years does go by in a blink. We can take comfort as time passes in the idea that I really don't think we could have provided a better life for Otis, or that we could have enjoyed his company more in our daily and busy lives. I sincerely wish everyone would treat and value pets the same way.

Time goes faster as you get older. Perhaps an illusion... because it's easier to get tunnel vision when you get more busy. Otis was a good teacher to our family to be more present, and more thoughtful.

Such things are always a sobering reminder to enjoy our time together and to enjoy our cherished company. You never really know when you won't have the opportunity again.

We’ll miss you here, buddy. You helped remind us that companionship, that being present is the most important thing, the most rewarding thing.

Our friend, Otis. Our dog. Our family. 

So much… More than…

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