There are a lot of great reasons to own a dog. But one of the best is that it keeps me active. Want proof? This is from the pedometer on my iPhone. Notice how my step counts drop precipitously after Ozzy’s death in November. Then in April they start to climb again. Walking Sunshine three times a day might have something to do with that …
Wake of the flood, laughing water, forty-nine
Get out the pans, don’t just stand there dreaming
Get out the way, get out the way
Here comes sunshine
Here comes sunshine
— Hunter/Garcia, Here Comes Sunshine, 1973
Ozzy’s death hit me hard, and it was a while before I could even consider another dog. But living for the first time in 28 years without a canine companion was more than I could stand. The search began.
I knew I wanted a rescue. I was leaning toward a hiking companion. But other than that, I was open-minded as I perused the dogs at the Friends of Shelter Dogs site as well as the Athens County Dog Shelter’s Facebook page. From there, I drifted on to Petfinder, narrowing my search to a 10-mile radius around Athens.
That’s when Sunshine broke through the clouds.
She wasn’t what I had in mind, a senior great Pyrenees who had led a tough life and found an angel named Cindy at the National Pyr Rescue to foster her. I didn’t reach out, still reeling from Ozzy’s death and worried about the commitment of a new, geriatric dog.
But I kept returning to Petfinder like a Facebook creeper until a notice popped up saying her adoption was pending. I started to move on, still creeping but comforted by the fact that she’d found a home. Then I saw the ad again, and the “pending” notification had disappeared. I sent an adoption application to the rescue organization.
The rest, as they say, is history. We now have an amazing, massive presence in our home. Like Xena, my late, great Newfie, Sunshine is very conscious of her size. She knows how to use it to her advantage, and she’s graceful for a big creature, sorta like an offensive lineman. A beast comfortable in her own skin. I had forgotten how hard a large dog, even an old one with hip pain, can pull when she decides to set course for something fascinating. We’ve been working on that, and hooking her leash to the chest ring on her harness instead of the back made it much easier to steer her. And she’s so eager to please that it’s pretty easy to use praise to get her moving in the right direction.
She’s anxious, but not obsessively so. Traffic and sirens still cause concern for this dog who lived most of her life tethered on a short chain out in the wilds of Southeast Ohio. Her progress since she was rescued has been nothing short of amazing, thanks in large part to the work her foster did with her before we adopted her. That work continues, and we’re making great strides.
The major challenge now is getting Sydney, our deranged umbrella cockatoo, to come to grips with the fact that he has another canine to contend with. The jealousy is palpable. At least from the cockatoo. The mighty Pyr largely ignores him, preferring to focus on the morsels strewn around his cage. This gets really ugly if Lara forgets and pets Sunshine before Sydney or pays too much attention to the dog. While Sydney will tolerate me whoring around with a canine, Lara must remain faithful to our avian overlord to ensure peace in the kingdom. There have been hissy fits and temper tantrums, but things are settling down.
It’s wonderful having a giant breed dog lumbering around the house again, and Sunshine’s estimated age of 7-10 might be closer to 7 based on her behavior thus far. She’s in good shape, with the hip problems I’d expect to see in a geriatric giant breed dog. Fortunately, I have a lot of experience here after raising Xena from a pup.
On the night Sunshine came to live with us, I flicked on an overhead light near Sydney to beat back the gloom of a spring rainstorm and ran downstairs to see how our new gutters were performing. All good. Then I returned to the front porch to read The New York Times and write about Sunshine.
Suddenly, the clouds parted in an almost biblical way and the sun burst out. A chorus of birds managed to be in perfect harmony as they sang their odes to spring. And that Grateful Dead song from Wake of the Flood bubbled up in my head … Here comes Sunshine … Here comes Sunshine …
He was a good dog.
No, really. A great dog. The last time I sat with tears soaking my keyboard like this, I was writing about the demise of Gilligan, the black-and-tan coonhound from hell.
But Ozzy was different. When he was bounding toward the woods, high on whatever scent had seized his canine brain, he would actually pause when I barked his name. After a moment of indecision, he’d lope back, tail wagging broadly, lazily, as he sidled up to me to see what adventure was next and why I had demanded his presence.
Not Gilly. When Gilly caught the scent of freedom, he was gone like a crack addict after a single hit. No looking back. That proved his demise in the end. And maybe it’s why Ozzy lived to the ripe old age of 14 before Lara and I made that most difficult of decisions and said goodbye to him at a vet clinic in brooding, overcast Athens, Ohio, on Nov. 19, 2016. The cancer had withered him away, leaving bones and fur where his hips had once been.
Ozzy was the sole survivor of my dog dynasty. After Gilly and Xena died in Knoxville, he and Mully joined us for the adventure to D.C., where Mully finally succumbed to his 18+ years of annoying everyone around him, particularly our umbrella cockatoo, Sydney.
I found Ozzy on a freezing New Year’s Eve in Knoxville, TN. Some piece of shit had dumped him in the parking lot of Melton Hill Park, and as I walked back to my truck with faithful Xena plodding along beside me, I thought Ozzy was a fox pacing the parking lot, until I saw him bound up to each car that pulled in, his tail wagging, hoping his human had returned.
When Xena and I reached him, the two of them hit it off immediately, playing and frolicking as I tried to load Xena into the back of my truck. I knew that I was already at my dog quota … Xena, Kesey, Crystal. It seemed unlikely I’d be able to convince Lara to up it to four.
Until she met Ozzy. Like me and Xena, she was smitten instantly. She even came up with his name, a tribute to The Osbournes reality show that was all the rage on MTV at the time.
Some of my fondest memories of Ozzy are from Melton Hill Lake, roaming those rolling, grassy hills in a pack, he and Gilligan the advance guard, Xena and I lumbering along behind. When I’d stop at one of the boat ramps to toss a stick out into the fog-shrouded water, Ozzy would drift off, searching for rabbits, possums, whatever. He’d leave the lake to the water dogs, keeping his paws planted firmly on dry land. Occasionally, out of the corner of my eye, I’d see Ozzy hitting the afterburners in pursuit of a rabbit.
As I scrolled through endless rows of my digital photo collection, embedded in Apple’s granite Photo app like coruscated memories, I started plucking out random images of Osbourne. More often that not, he is looking directly at me and my camera, always eager to win my attention and earn my praise, waiting for instructions on what to do next. He was one of the best-behaved, well-mannered dogs I’ve ever encountered. A true gentleman.
I’ll take his ashes back to Melton Hill this summer. Maybe sooner. And I’ll probably save some to spread at Rock Creek Park in D.C. next time I’m in town. After Gilly and Xena died, Lara, Mully, Sydney, Ozzy and I moved to D.C., where we lived for four fabulous years. Ozzy and I took epic hikes in Rock Creek Park on weekends, and we even strolled down to the National Mall one sunny afternoon, where he was more obsessed with the squirrels than monuments to America.
Ozzy wasn’t a natural alpha dog. It wasn’t until the pack had dwindled and disappeared that it was his turn. But he wore it well. He was my best bud and constant companion while we were in D.C. and after we moved to Athens. He was a damned good dog. One of the best. I’ll never forget him.