I didn’t want him. To this day, it’s hard for me to admit that because of the massive guilt I feel.
I had Ryker. I didn’t need nor want another dog. I thought introducing a young, energetic puppy into a home with a senior that was living out his best/last years was unfair to do. But it was important for my partner to get his own dog, and relationships are about compromise, so eventually, I caved.
We picked Otis because his nicknames were “Walrus” and “Winston Churchill”. He was fat, lazy, and stately and if I had to bring a puppy into a household with a senior dog, I at least wanted one like that. Turns out, initial perceptions were quite deceiving.
At 12 weeks old he learned how to open the doors in our home. At 14 weeks old he let himself out of the house because of this newly acquired skill. At 6 months old he learned how to get out of his crate "with all latches intact"… and then let the other 2 dogs out of theirs too. Otis was smart. Really smart. And he was energetic. And incredibly sensitive. He would follow the rules when being watched but he’d test every boundary possible as soon as you took your eyes off him.
He was all the things I didn’t want. So I put up a wall around my heart. Sure, I played with him and took him for walks, and said he was my dog. But my heart didn’t "actually" feel that. Because Ryker was my dog. And I didn’t trust this squirrely little dude who could open doors and was wild and non-conformist and sensitive. He was my partner’s dog. I just helped fill in the gaps.
The thing about divorce is that you don’t just divorce your spouse. To some extent, you divorce their family and friends too.
The gut-wrenching loss I felt having to separate from all these amazing people was horrible. But I wasn’t the only one feeling it. Otis was too. He lost Ryker. Then he lost the person he loved most, while also losing other important humans in his life. Then he lost Cheyenne. All within a 5 month period and at just 1-year-old.
As he struggled mentally and emotionally his behavior followed. He got kicked out of AHS’s training classes, where he was previously working his way towards therapy dog certification. He got kicked out of doggie daycare, where he previously had made and played with tons of dog friends. As the next year went on his behavior worsened and my trust in him lessened. I felt in over my head.
I talked about returning him to the rescue. I was drowning. WE were drowning.
My relationship with Ryker was so instant and natural. My relationship with Rex was slow but also natural. My relationship with Cheyenne was incredibly easy. But creating a mutually trusting relationship with this wily little dog was hard. I didn’t understand his quirks and needs. I didn’t know how to help him. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t or wouldn’t just “be good.” He wasn’t the dog I wanted. But he was the family I needed... I just didn’t know it yet.
For the last 4 years, Otis and I have done intensive work on ourselves and our relationship. I’m not going to lie; it has not been easy. It has not been natural. It has required intention and effort and time. Lots of time.
But it blossomed into something beautiful and real and that in itself…knowing how hard we worked and how far we had come… is part of what has made saying goodbye so hard. The relationship we had wasn’t just handed to us like it was with my other dogs.
We both had to work at it and want it. And we both did.
The outcome? Kasey captured it in this pic. Real, genuine connection, happiness, and love. All the images she snapped are amazing. But this single image illustrates what I love about our relationship.
The celebration of accomplishing something together; both of us smiling at one another over the journey we just took. Embracing over what we did as a team. And if our relationship needed to be summarized, this does so perfectly.
After learning of his terminal condition, a very good (and insanely insightful) friend said to me, “Sometimes the Universe teaches us incredibly intense life lessons during these crucial moments where you feel like you just can’t take one more thing. And he was there to say ‘you’re not gonna lose me but this is something you are going to have to work really fricking hard at to make beautiful.’ And may you have learned the lesson so that you never have to work fricking hard at anything beautiful ever again.”
Those words have been resonating in my soul since they were delivered.
Because they’re true… not all relationships are going to come naturally or easily. But that doesn’t lessen their value.
Otis was an amazing dog and I am proud to have gotten to call him my family. Regardless of where I traveled to, “home” always equaled his 4 paws and cold nose waiting for me. The deafening silence of his absence has been such an unwanted and stark adjustment. I will forever be grateful for the life lessons he has taught me… and I will forever have a piece of my heart missing in his absence. See you again someday, Oaty. I love you forever.
Huge, massive, enormous thank you to Kasey & Tyler with Studio Twelve:52/Twelve:52 Pets for Otis's legacy session photos. You captured our relationship and his personality perfectly. To see the gallery of photos, head here: https://galleries.page.link/KMfSz.
And thank you to Otis's trainer, Dawn with Cloud Nine Training School for Dogs for letting us have the ring to ourselves for an hour. It was so special and meaningful.
Photos are courtesy of Kasey & Tyler at Twelve:52 Pets.