Opie has been gone three years. I still miss him, but I’m not sad anymore, just grateful. We all have pets and loved ones that we miss. Remembering them is the way they become immortal in our hearts. On the third anniversary of Opie’s death, I pay tribute to his memory and dig into my soul to remember his sweet life.
If you’re missing a loved one, whether a family member, friend, or furry pet, think of the good memories and why you love them so much. One of the best books on saying goodbye is Judith Viorst’s classic, The Tenth Good Thing About Barney. While the story was written for children, I recommend it for all of us. It follows a child after the death of his beloved cat, Barney. In a move to comfort her son, the mom in the story says they can have a funeral for Barney and that he can think of ten good things about Barney to tell at the funeral. It’s a sweet book and one that I return to, not only to remind me of childhood, but also as a source of comfort when I’m confounded with grief larger than I am.
I met Opie unexpectedly and unbelievably on September 1, 2008. I was working a long day over Labor Day weekend, coordinating recycling and composting and volunteers for a community celebration. In a mid-morning lull at 9:30, I took a break in the shade of the recycling truck, parked next to the Humane Society’s Adoption Mobile. I chatted with a woman who held three leashes loosely in her hands. She asked me about recycling and I asked her about the dogs. She talked enthusiastically about her volunteer work with the Humane Society. We made plans to walk a couple of the dogs in a few minutes. Two puppies, scattered among us, received movie star attention with pats and gasps of “Ahh” from passersby. The older black Lab rascal mix hung back, standing closer to us. The woman got busy with someone who wanted more information about adopting a pet, so I silently offered to take the older dog for a walk and she passed me the leash. In two minutes I fell into puppy love with Opie. He trotted next to me as if he’d been there all along, no pull on the leash, just a quick look back to see that I was coming too. We circled the park and he did his business. We returned to the shade of the truck and I handed the leash back to the woman. But when I sat down, Opie plopped down right next to my feet.
The two puppies were still getting all the attention, but I was smitten with Opie. He scooted over and shyly put his paw in my hand to hold. The woman explained that he was an older dog and a shelter transfer, meaning that he was going to be more difficult to place in an adoptive home. Opie squeezed in more closely. The woman said she hadn’t seen him do that. As if in a daze, I pulled $25 in crumpled fives out of my jeans pocket and filled out three forms and in about 12 minutes Opie was mine and I was his. I hadn’t planned to take home a dog that day and it wasn’t in my plans for that fall. What’s that saying, about life happens while you’re busy making other plans? Opie happened into my life. Opie helped me with recycling and composting duties and then we climbed in the car. I stopped to get supplies and brought him into the store with me. He picked a bone while I scooped up a new leash, a big floor pillow, bowls for food and water, a large bag of food, and several treats. In a blur we were home and my quick unplanned choices of the day hit me as I unlocked the door and unceremoniously dropped my purchases on the floor. Opie looked up at me as if to ask permission to enter the apartment.
Quickly we settled into our routines and it was hard to imagine life before him. We walked early and late and squeezed in off-the-leash trips to the trash and recycling bins. In those days, I spent time in a job where I could bring him to work, but more often I worked from home, a choice I feel lucky to have had, considering the short time I spent with Opie. Mid-day breaks included walks around the block. I coordinated meetings and phone calls and deadlines around my Opie time.
Everyone else loved Opie too. My dad, one of the least sentimental people I know, even gushed after meeting the sweet, quiet dog. Jim, the maintenance manager of the apartment complex, greeted us in the mornings on our early walk and always had a pat. Opie leaned in, always eager to meet him. My boyfriend at the time loved Opie in big and small ways. We made a little family on the weekends; he stayed at my apartment, or Opie and I headed to Boulder, treats and food and water bowl in tow. When my sister moved to Colorado, she stopped by to walk Opie or to hang out with him for a bit. As I would gush with my cute-Opie-story-of-the-day, she’d concur with exaggerated exuberance, “Yes, he’s adorable.”
Opie was smart and knew the boundaries. I didn’t let him sleep in my bed or come into the kitchen, but he sat with his paws across the threshold to be just a little closer. I loved to hear his sweet sighs in deep sleep. He never jumped on the bed or the furniture. Once though, just once, he jumped on the couch and ate three pounds of green M&Ms sitting in a grocery bag. I was sure he was going to die during the night, but he slept just fine while I spent a sleepless night waiting to hear his breath or to see if he got sick.
Opie was affectionate. He sat at my feet and moved closer and closer until he was practically on top of me. When I came home, he stepped on my foot while I patted his head. He liked for me to hold his paw, and didn’t really like it when I put it down. He sat in the front seat of the car, snapped in with a leash seat belt. He looked straight forward with his left paw out for me to hold. He would sniff loudly and look over at me, when goodness forbid I had to drop his paw to shift gears. I would sit on the couch and he’d put his face on my lap, always wanting a cuddle, a pat, a head rub. He had a happy little trot, but at the end of every walk we’d run across the grassy courtyard and his cartoon-like puppy bound which always made me smile.
For all his mellow obedience, Opie was a bit of a free spirit. I wondered about his life before meeting me. The vet thought he was about 10 years old when he came into my life, but wasn’t sure. Opie was energetic, but mellow, so I wasn’t sure if he was out of energy, or if he just possessed a calm quiet that I keep striving for. Opie was found running on the streets of Cheyenne, Wyoming and from their overcrowded shelter was sent to Boulder where they had more space and a larger population of prospective pet adopters. Opie would often show his free spirit in random and unplanned excursions off leash. He always came back and acted as if it was a normal part of the day. Once, I left him at home with the door unlocked by accident. I came home an hour later to find Opie gone and the door partially open. I went running around the neighborhood trying to find him for 30 minutes. I returned home, planning to call the shelter in case he turned up there. I was sitting on my bed trying to figure out what to do and I heard the front door creak open and the jangle of Opie’s collar as he trotted in. I heard him run around the apartment and then slowly his long black nose poked around the corner of the bedroom door. I kid you not, he sprinted back to his pillow! Free soul–thank goodness the little bugger was home–sneaking in like a teenager long after midnight!
During a bout with the flu, Opie didn’t leave my side for three days, sticking even more closely than usual. After a rough week at work, he hovered during the weekend, helping me recover my spirit and enthusiasm. After a couple of days of unexplained sadness, Opie was there and seemed to be trying to cheer me up and get me out of my funk. He anticipated my moves and my needs, always looking back to make sure I was by his side. He had eyes that drew you in with their warm reflection, full of wisdom and life. His ears were expressive, flopping up in different directions, in question, in wonder, in concern, every different way.
Like most dogs, he loved tennis balls and chasing after them. He loved running and pats on his head. He loved peanut butter and bones and began to drool as soon as I walked into the kitchen. He loved snow, but didn’t like cold pavement and refused to walk on freezing sidewalks. He never flinched when he got a shot, but he wanted me there holding his paw and the treat afterwards. He ate rawhide down to nothing and the big butcher bones never lasted long in his paws. He always had balls and bones stashed under the edge of his pillow and under the edges of furniture. Once when I took his pillow to be washed, I returned to find three bones and two balls lined up in perfect order right in front of the couch. He didn’t really seem to like other dogs, although he never barked at them. When I took him to the dog park, he’d play with me, ignoring the other dogs. Other times, he’d hang out with all the people, leaving the other dogs to their games of chase and fetch. One hot August day, I took him to the annual end-of-summer-dog-swim at the town swimming pool, after they’d cleared out the chemicals. It was like dog soup, but Opie hung back only to wade for a bit before returning to my side. I only heard him bark twice and one of those was in his sleep.
During a long night in dark and dreary January three years ago, I awoke to Opie in the middle of a seizure. He recovered, but the seizures progressed quickly, coming on in rapid time and with more severity. My sister took care of him while I tearfully went to work. After less than 24 hours, we knew it was only getting worse. My sister and I mulled over the hard decision and made an appointment with the vet. Opie wasn’t the same and didn’t even recognize me. He sat in my arms bewildered, but sheltered and safe, never growling or biting in confusion. I cried and gasped for air. I was lucky to have him for as long as I did. What had seemed like forever was only 17 1/2 months. He left my world as quietly and as quickly as he had entered it, by my side.