This image serendipitously came across my Facebook feed this week. I have been sorting my book collection. One of the books I am adding is a biography of Edward Gorey, a longtime literary favorite of mine. And I’ve been thinking a lot about dogs and how grateful I am for their company.
Our sweet German Short-Haired Pointer Ollie was unfailingly plucky and uncomplaining throughout his many health trials. This winter he took a turn for the worse. He was suffering from cancer, seizures, and autoimmune problems, but had been stoically hanging in there, cheerful as ever. We really wanted his last moments to be peaceful and cozy with us by his side, so we decided to put him to sleep a couple weeks ago rather than wait for a traumatic health event. He was 11 or so years old and had lived a good and full life on our farm since we adopted him several years ago, but as any animal lover knows…it is hard to make the decision, even when it’s the right one.
It has been a cold gray spring in Michigan but a couple weeks ago we had a glorious sunny day with warm wind. Ollie ambled happily around the yard sniffing his favorite spots. He loved to chase critters around the yard ’til he was exhausted, then find a sunny spot to melt into a puddle of dog for a nice long nap. I was so glad he got one more of these “perfect” days.
Ollie was not very smart, not at all. Luckily, he was too dumb to know this and lived blissfully unaware of his mental shortcomings. He had a very instinctive brain and could track birds and bunnies and mice and treats with unerring accuracy and focus.
Ollie loved to eat. His first night with us, he circled the table in hope of some scraps. Our other dog, Buck, had always observed dinner from a polite distance. Ollie paced and sniffed and we watched in horror as large, ropy strands of drool swung dangerously close to us and our plates. Eventually we learned that he didn’t like to be sprayed with a water bottle and having one on the table was usually deterrent enough. If Ollie forgot his manners and got too close to dinner, we could even make a pretend water bottle with our fingers and fake the sound with our mouths and he would back off.
Ollie was big and goofy and awkward but a ninja in the kitchen. One night he silently helped himself to half a Bundt cake while I sat 15 feet away in the living room. Another time he surgically removed three muffins from a plate as I walked outside to greet members of my critique group. He didn’t disturb the tablecloth and the remaining muffins looked unmolested so I made a split-second decision to rearrange them on the plate and said nothing of the matter. Ollie was never ashamed or abashed when he binged on people food, he just looked optimistically at his discoverer as if to say, “That was tasty. Is there more?”
Ollie hoovered up his food so quickly that sometimes he burped it right back out, unchanged. No worries, he’d eat it again. He wasn’t picky. He loved to steal horse hoof trimmings, even though they made him quite ill. The only thing he wouldn’t eat was pills. He would sift them out of peanut butter or gag them up if you placed them into the back of his throat. This was a hassle when he was taking seven pills twice daily for various ailments (especially because he had no body awareness and might accidentally chomp down on your hand as you were trying to maneuver a pill down the hatch). We discovered that if we cut up hotdogs and hid the pills inside, he would happily gulp them whole, even after he watched us insert the pills.
Ollie helped himself to any treats that were left unattended. One Christmas this included approximately 4 pounds of candy that I had hidden. I don’t know how he found it, this sweet dummy who couldn’t always find his way from the second floor to the basement, but he sniffed it out and ate it, wrappers and all. Luckily, his other culinary exploits had left him with an iron stomach and the only consequence was several days of foil-speckled piles in the yard.
Ollie was terrified of thunderstorms. When the first lightning or thunderclap struck, he’d leap up onto our bed and land like a ton of bricks. As soon as he knew he would be allowed to stay there, he stretched out like a bedhog and blissfully went to sleep, leaving us a small margin of mattress to sleep on.
So many things that Ollie did said, “You are my everything.” In his last years, he was never more than 3 feet away from me when I was writing or in bed, and often when I was cooking, which could be problematic for me but beneficial for him when I tripped and spilled. He was a lover and a leaner and if you were sad, he would find you and melt into you until your breathing matched his and your sadness leaked out to somewhere else and you could feel calm again. He made you peaceful.
Ollie wasn’t good at sharing toys or attention. He didn’t know how to play like a dog — nipping and growling, etc. — without going too far and ruining the whole thing. But he loved to chase a stick or ball and would do so as long as you let him. If other dogs turned him away, he just accepted it and moved on. He never barked unless you barked at him. He moaned to communicate pleasure and sighed when he was resigned to something.
When I laid out paperwork for sorting or spread a quilt on the floor for pinning, Ollie took this as an invitation to arrange his long limbs right in the middle of it. As aggravating as it was, you couldn’t help but admire his unflinching expectation that the world and we were there to provide good things for him.
I’d like to take a page out of his book and keep that in mind as I navigate meals and social groups and scary situations: the world and my people have good things in mind for me, if I can just be patient.
R.I.P. sweet Ollie.