December 23 marks the third anniversary of the passing of our wonderful Golden Retriever, Odie, who will always hold a special place in our hearts. Here's a tribute I wrote for him after his passing:
"Remembering Odie: 1994-2006
He came to us at Christmas 1994 and left us just a few days before Christmas 2006. In the intervening 12 years he blessed our lives with friendship, a consistently positive attitude and unconditional love.
In writing about dogs, it’s hard to avoid the old clichés. It’s even harder when you’re writing about Golden Retrievers. Man’s best friend; yes. Faithful; absolutely! Good judge of character; impeccable! Odie was all of these and then some! He greeted the world with wide eyes, a welcoming smile and a desire to meet and get to know you. If you came over to our house, he would lead you over to the couch (sometimes taking you by the wrist) and have you sit down and get acquainted.
He was bred to the Scottish standard of Golden Retriever which meant that he had a wider head, shorter snout and lighter-colored coat than you typically see in American Goldens. As a result, he always had the look of a puppy, even when he was a senior citizen.
He had a true gift for relating to people and could size you up quicker than a New York City apparel salesman on commission. When he met you, he instinctively knew how you wanted to be greeted; whether or not you like to be kissed, whether or not you might want to play, and whether or not you might scratch his belly if he rolled over on his back. He loved meeting little kids and would stand still and smile while they hugged or petted him.
His instinct was never wrong and our first demonstration of it came at a very early age when he picked us as his new owners. When we went to the breeder to select a pup from the litter, he came right up to me. I took him over to Alice, Evie and Caitie and said “How about this one?” and our lives were changed forever.
For me, he meant a shift in the power dynamic in our household. With a wife and 2 daughters, I felt outnumbered, but finally there was another male presence in the household: someone I could burp and fart with (not that that ever really stopped me before, but he kind of legitimatize it). And I took him with me everywhere I could: kids’ soccer games, music festivals, parks, vacations, anywhere I thought I could get away with it. He never asked “Are we there yet?”,” When do we leave?” or “Do we have to?”. He was happy to go along for the ride, especially if it meant going in the convertible with the top down. He would sit up in the passenger seat and we looked like two guys on a road trip.
The Dog Park was a weekend necessity. Saturday and Sunday mornings I would get up early and get on the computer. He would sit by patiently, but by 9:00, if I wasn’t dressed and had my dog park clothes on, he would remind me that it was time to go-first by bringing me my tennis shoes, then by barking and finally by whining at the front door. He loved meeting other people and dogs, so this place had a special significance for him. Especially on days when he was able meet with other Goldens. They always seemed to find each other and would meet in the center of the park as if someone had called a Golden convention and they were comparing notes.
The highlights of our year were the Texas Highland Games and the North Texas Irish Festival. In 12 years, we didn’t miss a single one, sometimes going by ourselves, sometimes with the rest of the family. For him they were a glorious feast of people, animals, sounds, food and adventure. We developed our rituals; eating haggis at the Scottish festival and Irish Stew in bread bowls at Irish Fest. A taste of Guinness, McEwens, Tenants and a wee dram of Scotch when no one was looking. Dogs were welcome at both festivals and we couldn’t go 6 feet with out people stopping to chat and say hi. People remembered him from year to year, often greeting him by name. He even became know to many of the performers; Ed Miller and Margaret Gravatt would always stop and say hello. Alasdair Frasier would see him and make his fiddle sound like a cat (but he was smart enough to catch on after the 3rd time). Brian MacNeill would see him and go “woof” into his microphone. And if he happened to bark during one of Brian’s performances (as he did on rare occasions), Brian would incorporate it into his act (“Ladies and Gentlemen we flew that dog in from Hollywood, California at great expense…”).
Another highlight of the Scottish festival was the interdenominational worship service on Sunday morning. People of all different denominations would attend the service and many would bring their dogs (it’s not just interdenominational, it’s also inter-breed!). For me, being able to worship with my dog was the spiritual highpoint of the year, even more so than Christmas or Easter. One year, Odie decided to bark briefly during one of the hymns, but he did it in such a way, that he seemed to be singing along: “How great thou art”, [“woof, woof”] “How great Thou art [“woof, woof”].
When Odie was 8 we decided to get a second Golden. Naively, we thought that Odie would imprint his personality on the new pup. It would be like in a Disney movie and he would have a voice that sounded like John Goodman and he would say: “Come, young pup, let me teach you in the ways of dog…”. Much to our surprise, and delight, the opposite happened. Mischievous little Scoobie, who I swear must have a streak of Irish in him, rejuvenated Odie by reminding him what it was like to be a pup. They became the best and closest of friends and “partners in crime”.
Odie and Scooby handled our move from Dallas to St Louis this year well. They enjoyed the cooler climate, the change of seasons (leaves to play in) and our huge yard with squirrels and rabbits to chase.
Right before Thanksgiving, Odie developed a limp and subsequently had trouble moving his hind legs. Our vet thought it might be neurological, so we set up an appointment with a neurological specialist. We never got to keep the appointment. We came home one day and for the first time in his life he didn’t greet us at the door. He also showed no interest in eating or drinking. We took him to our local vet and then the animal emergency hospital at the University of Missouri 120 miles away. After a number of tests, the specialists there determined that he had a brain tumor as well as testicular cancer. We then made the tough decision to put him down.
We called our vet and made the appointment for Saturday, December 23 at 10:00 AM. While I originally hated the thought of putting him down right before Christmas, I realized that this gave Caitie, who is going to school in Dallas an opportunity to say goodbye. It was almost as if Odie planned it that way.
I decided it was time for one last dram, so I went to the cabinet, pulled down the bottle of Dalwhinnie 15 (a gift from my older daughter Evie’s trip to Europe) and poured a little for both of us. Even though he had shown absolutely no interest in food or drink for 48 hours, his tongue slowly came out for the Scotch. A Scottish dog until the end!
When people pass on there is always a feeling of regret over words not said or thoughts not expressed. Not so with Odie. He lived the life that he wanted and enjoyed every day of it, for he knew how much we loved him and he gave us love in return. And even though he’s gone physically, I don’t grieve for him, for there was nothing grievous in his nature. I rejoice in knowing him, think of his face and smile for I still feel his spirit with me. And sometimes when I’m feeling stressed, I’ll pause for a moment, feel the touch of a paw on my shoulder and hear a voice that sounds something like John Goodman’s say “Don’t worry buddy, I got your back!”