I’m not one to panic under adverse conditions. Nor do I fall apart. I’m very level headed when faced with emergencies as I tend to react intellectually before emotions kick in. That has been a truth for me for the entirety of my life.
And so it was Tuesday night at 10:30, when I was awakened by Ozzie howling in the darkness of my room. That’s not an unusual thing for him, as he often howls in his sleep when dreaming. It’s an eerie sound, and never fails to raise the hairs along the back of my neck, even knowing what it is. This night was different thought.
A couple minutes later, a sound like Ozzie was furiously scratching at something, which was not something he typically does in his sleep. So I reached over and switched on the bedside lamp.
I immediately recognized the signs of a seizure, and flew across the room to comfort him as best as possible. It seemed to last forever. It may have only been moments, but our brains slow time down so that we can see details we might overlook in a panic. I was afraid for him, but spoke softly and stroked his thick, luxurious fur as his body was wracked with spasm after spasm. Finally he came out of it, but it was obvious that mentally he wasn’t registering a lot. He did look at me and seemed to recognize me. For that I was thankful, for I immediately told him how much I loved him, but that it was time for him to go find his sister, Malai. Shortly after that, he went into seizure again.
By the time I was able to reach an emergency clinc, he had seized seven times. He was completely unresponsive between events, and I knew that the only way to stop his suffering was to euthanize him.
I drove through the night furiously, trying to provide comfort but not sure that he could hear me or would undestand. He seized several more times on the ride to the vet.
The staff at the ER clinic were on top of their game and met me at the door with a gurney and anti-seizure meds in a syringe, which they administered immediately. That helped me, at least, for my heart cracked open every time he went through it.
They took him in ahead of everyone else, and allowed me to say my goodbyes.
“Go find Malai, buddy. She’s looking for you out there,” I whispered, tears streaming down my face.
And then he was gone.
I knew Ozzie’s mother, Mia, a petite black Lab that lived with her humans in the deep Colorado mountains. I met him shortly after he was born, the tiniest ball of fuzz. I could hold him in two cupped hands. He came home with his sister, Denali, whose home was two doors down, belonging to another friend of mine. I often kept Denali and Ozzie in my home along with Malai while Michelle, Denali’s human, was at school. They were incredibly playmates, the three of them.
In the first three months, it was obvious that Ozzie was going to be a behemoth, and came to outweigh his siblings by nearly 60 pounds. The downside to that was that he gained weight and grew so quickly — 14 pounds a month for those first months — that all the muscles in his back legs couldn’t keep up with the growth. This was before ACL replacement surgery was common. But to leave them shredded like that would cause him to go lame, and he would have to be put down if that happened. The vet dropped a bombshell on me by stating that surgery would run $5,000 per leg. I did not make much money then and had no idea how I would be able to swing such costly measures. There were no foundations that would supply assistance then. I was on my own. So I did the only thing I could think of to do: I sold my car for $12,000. I lived in Boulder at the time, so could ostensibly take the bus if I couldn’t walk or ride my bike. But it needed to be done.
His surgeries limited his ability to walk for six months while he healed, and I learned after the fact that it’s not possible to take an animal on the public buses for any reason. This was before the Americans With Disabilities Act was put into law. So using the “he’s a service dog” excuse wouldn’t have worked. The vet was several miles away from home. So I did what needed to be done. I carried him in my arms those miles. I was young and in good shape. Still, it was such a difficult task. And totally worth it.
Ozzie didn’t get a “puppyhood” because of the surgeries. He went straight from birth to maturity, pretty much.
If I had to do it all again, I would make the same choices, because Ozzie was the kindest, sweetest, gentlest soul I’d ever met. He was everybody’s friend, and children flocked to him. He was very trainable, and I got him certified as a therapy dog for the local Children’s Hospital campus, which role he absolutely thrived in. He volunteered in the oncology ward, visiting with kids undergoing intensive treatment for various types of cancer. And he was incredibly popular. Because of his size, he was like one of those giant teddy bears one might win at a local fair. He loved hugs, and was such a serious clown. There wasn’t a day in the course of his life that the didn’t make me laugh at his antics.
Ozzie was a lover, too. He enjoyed cuddling (but only under his terms). He grew so much more affectionate in his later years.
He was a little over 10 1/2 years on the night he passed. I miss him terribly. Nights are the worst. Yaz, who bonded deeply with him, has been equally affected. I find her sniffing his bed on occasion, or going to check the bathroom, where Ozzie liked to lay on the cool tiles in the summer. Yaz has become much more needy since his passing, affection and attention which I’m more than happy to provide.
Otis looked up to him, but now he has Arya to keep him distracted, as she looks up to him completely.
So our lives move forward. I trust that Malai was there to greet Ozzie when he transitioned from this life. He led a long, and very happy life. We are blessed to have met him, that he chose to share his beautiful life with us.
I don’t expect the other pups to fill that void, as I never thought to replace him. Each of the other dogs, Yaz, Otis and Arya, are such beautiful companions in their own right, and each one exhibits incredibly individualized personalities. I would not want to dim those bright lights in my life through unnecessary expectations. I accept them as they do me: as we are.
So to Ozzie, I bid “so long.” But not goodbye, for I know we’ll meet again. Our spirits are kindred and you were the best companion a human could ever hope for.