Monday, August 17, 2009

The Coyote Under My Coffee Table

The essay below was written by me years ago in celebration of our dog Ody. We lost Ody to oral cancer in the spring of 2008. We choose to let him go rather than put him through a a series of painful procedures with a dubious outcome. So, with the help of our wonderful vet, Ody died peacefully in our arms as we sang him home.

Ody had a good life with us for many years and we were blessed to have him. I think about him every day but it is only now that I can write about him again.

We miss you, boy. Thank you for giving us so much. Your cat still misses you and sleeps on your bed every night.

Ody was a mix of working breeds, a highly intelligent and loving guard dog, whose dedication to us was total. On the night he died, I stood under the stars, lit a candle and told him, "You are released now from duty - go play!".

This essay is for all those who are lucky enough to have animal teachers.



His name is Ody, AKA Odious, AKA Odiferous. We would often joke that his Roman name was Odious Maximus of Stinkum. His full name, in truth, is Odysseus; so called because he has traveled far and has had many adventures. We call him Ody for short. (1)

Ody is a dog. What kind of dog is anyone’s guess. He seems to be a mix of German Shepherd, Rottweiler and Mastiff. (2) This means that our Ody is a
very big boy. When he is full grown he will weigh over 100 lbs and his head will come up to my waist but right now he is just a big puppy who likes to lie underneath my coffee table and play with his squeak toy.

Ody has three legs, having lost one leg in an accident last December. Our vet says that he was lucky to be missing the back leg as dogs carry most of their weight on the front. It's amazing how well (and how cheerfully) he gets around.

Ody was, quite literally, a Yule gift. When he was younger he lived in a mountain town in California and he was four months old when some teenagers found him, abandoned and running loose in the woods on a very cold and snowy night. Thinking he might die from exposure they put him in the back of their truck intending to take him to safety but they neglected to use a safety tie and he fell out the back of their truck when they made a sudden stop. The lumber truck traveling just behind ran over his back right leg. The bones in his foot were crushed, his ankle was badly broken and his hip was knocked out of place. The boys rushed him to the town Vet, told the staff what happened and quickly disappeared.

All this happened the night of the Winter Solstice. We were in that town then visiting my folks for the holidays, and we heard about Ody from the animal control officer who was a family friend. My husband and I went to the hospital with my parents and we told the Vet that if he could save the dog, we would pay the bills. I never thought we'd keep the dog, just find him a good home. Shows you what I know.

We got Ody set up with a cast and pain medications and he came back to live with us in Silicon Valley. Soon after he arrived we took him to a brilliant veterinary surgeon for further x-rays. The doctor told us that she would need to remove his back left leg, rather close to the hip. Vet bills aside, I was glad we went to someone with her experience because she gave him a kind of kick stand-like stump so that he could sit easily and this will keep his spine well aligned throughout his lifetime. Ody adjusted very well to his new state. As far as this puppy is concerned, he is just like any other dog, wanting to play tug and chase and who's-got-the-toy with energy and joy. He takes walks with me, and his beloved tabby cat twice a day, every single day. It's our little parade. I've trained him to walk off leash and respond to voice commands, which makes it easier on us both. Watching a large, unleashed dog walk happily beside a small cat causes people who don't know us to stare and ask how on earth I'd trained a them to do that. My answer was that these two friends choose to do this all on their own. An honest answer, but it got me some odd looks as if the person was thinking I might must be some kind of witch. But truly, credit for this particular kind of magic goes to Singer, Ody's cat; he just hated to see Ody and I go off and have fun without him. This tabby (a stray who had adopted us one night after wailing under our windows for weeks) would walk several familiar blocks with us, even all around own block; sometimes following, sometimes leading, depending on his mood and the number of leaves he felt like chasing. Singer only balked at crossing a busy street or going all the way to the neighborhood park so often filled with happy noisy children who loved to pet Ody. Instead, Singer choose to wait for us under a neighbor's bush until we came back, rejoining us with happy calls and a high tail. He would then brush against Ody or my ankle and, having reclaimed us as his own, would run on ahead to show us the way home. Out of our all cats (and at the time, we had five, all rescues) the little black and grey tabby was the only one among them who would walk the dog. As a result he was the only cat in the house with sleeping privileges on Ody's big, soft, orthopedic bed, something he took full advantage of.

At the time we got Ody, we had lived in our older, quiet Northern California neighborhood for about a year. Being a friendly sort, I knew my immediate neighbors but only those few families. I love to walk, but I soon discovered that if you walk alone in suburbia without a partner, a stroller or small child in tow, people tend to wonder what you're up to. It wasn't till Ody arrived that I really became a part of our community. When you walk a dog, you tend to meet all of the other dog owners on their daily rounds and you often stop to say "Hi", share doggy stories and make cheerful conversation while your dogs to make each others acquaintance. You might even set up doggy play dates
which tends to lead to parties among the humans, as well. When you walk a dog, you have cart blanch to be pretty much anywhere at any time. You often meet people working out front in their yard and you can admire their gardens or you see them at night, working in their garage with the the light on. We met one neighbor that way; a retired Marine who lived two blocks away, he got to liking Ody so much that he kept dog cookies in a jar in his garage just for him. (Ody loved to go that way, as you can imagine, and usually pointed me in that direction. Somehow he always knew when that man would be out working in his garage, even though we could not see or hear him from our house). When you walk a dog, you meet all the people in your neighborhood who like dogs (and you try to be respectful of the ones who do not). A quiet Korean family lived just across the street and I would see the 80 year old grandmother out working in her well tended rose garden every morning. We would wave to one another and smile in a friendly way but the language barrier and shyness on both our parts kept us from getting much closer. But then we got Ody. As it happened, Mrs Kim's daughter had a small, white, fluffy dog who became Ody's best friend, and I was invited to sit on their porch, breath in the scent of her roses, and watch the two dogs play. (I swear Ody thought that little Coco was some kind of sheep; he kept trying to herd him, but I never told her that). In the process, I learned a little Korean and these people and their extended family are now friends of ours, as is the Ramiez family (two Pomeranians), big hearted, blond Nancy (Ody's human girlfriend who also comes with two black labs and lots of rescued cats) and another gardening friend, garage sale buddy and good neighbor Michelle (she of the Brittany Spaniel).

When you walk a dog and meet your neighbors you also meet their kids and, in our case, you meet anyone with questions about a gorgeous, happy dog with three legs.
It's easy to feel isolated in a suburban setting, especially in Silicon Valley, California, the land of cars and workaholic technophiles, but by walking Ody our neighborhood transformed for me into one huge block party with dogs. Right now, I know over 30 neighbors within a 6 block radius; good people I would never have met otherwise. Thanks, Ody.

Cats are roommates. Dogs are kids

Ody loves to ride in the car, especially when it took him to doggy day care where he is a favorite with the little dogs who saw him as their large and gentle friend. Like all parents, we thought our kid was the handsomest, the smartest and the best. Well, he was.
Vets see a lot of dogs, so when the one you have becomes a favorite at three different hospitals, when they know his name and not yours, and when you discover that the staff don't keep him in his cage but let him hang out with them under their desks in the reception area on his physical therapy days, well then you figure that you've got a pretty neat dog.

I say that now. Two months after we got him I was carping and moaning to friends about all the extra work and trouble Ody caused. Some of the trouble was simple timing; just after we got home with Ody, my husband came down with pneumonia and had to be hospitalized and I soon found my self caring for both my beloved and this new, very large, very needy puppy. This occurred at a time when I was exhausted by the old year and I entered the new year longing for some peace and quiet. Introducing a large puppy into a house with five cats and a person recovering from a serious illness is no easy matter. And if, like me, you haven’t had a dog in over twenty years and you’ve got no idea how to care for an injured one, well! All I can say now, is thank Goddess for our friend M-, best buddy and dog trainer par excellence. But even with her help it was hard because in the middle of all this new life there were other things that needed my attention; there was my volunteer work and my business to run (pesky thing) and the usual duties of daily life. So there were lots of days when something had to give. Usually, it was me.

Those of you who read my essays know I love to celebrate the gifts of organization and cleanliness. " Well," says Coyote, the sly and ancient Trickster, "no more!" My house, let us be frank, is a mess, My office is a joke and my garden (alas!) is sadly neglected. My "look" these days is more "malpropre" then proper. I appear to be "le dame de sac" most of the time. What is worse, I smell like "le chien". My main concern now is to keep enough chew toys in the house.
Cats, simply put, do not do this to a person.

While Ody is a wonder of a dog he is also a world of work and worry. After getting to know him and looking at a full range of x-rays, we realized that Ody was beaten and kicked by his former owner. This explains his fear of strange men. (Except my husband. Ody liked him from day one. Well, so did I.) Even with this abuse, Ody's sweet spirit remained intact and he is very loving and friendly. He really loves women, best, especially blond women like our neighbor Nancy and we think his first human mom was blond. When it comes to blond women and fair haired female dogs, Ody is a terrible flirt and it was fun to take him out in public, but his history of abuse also means that Ody needs a great deal of patience, attention and love before he was safe around men, and like any good parents, we learned to remake our lives around his needs and to teach him lessons about boundaries, manners and trust.

I’m glad to say that Ody has responded beautifully to our treatment of him. He grows happier and healthier every day. He has learn to speak both human and cat and found a best friend in the tabby stray who adopted us last year. He adores my husband who has always wanted a dog. I think by now that Ody has realized that there are more good people out there than bad, and he greets the strange men he meets with less fear and more friendliness then he had before.
If you had asked me six months ago to take on this task, I would have said "No!" very loudly and explained that I did not have the energy, the money or the time to do this work. And yet….there he sits. And here I sit. And it’s all good because I find as I write this that Ody has given me a lot more then I have given him.

Ody has forced me to slow down and take the time to be with him. Like any growing puppy he needs play time every day so I am forced, forced I tell you, to go out into the yard and play ball and hide-and-seek and tug. We talk walks, as I've said, and go out into our neighborhood twice a day. That two, precious times a day that I get away from the clutter and noise that fills my head and just enjoy being. I admire the new spring flowers in my neighbor’s gardens and note the changes in the seasons while Ody sniffs the ground and picks up his own form of information. My husband claims he's "reading his pee-mail".

We go to parks every other day so that Ody will learn how to relate to other dogs and kids and people. We take joy rides in the car so that he’ll see it as a good thing and not fear it as that evil machine that ferries him to the Vet. All this takes time out of my busy day. And thank goodness, say I, for that.
It seems that I got my break, after all. I also got a reality check. Last weekend, I set time some aside to sit out in my back garden with a new book. Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss has just come out and I had been eager to get my hands on it. So at lunchtime I took my book and a cup of coffee out to our little wooden table and I sat there reading this wonderful work. I began to get deep, deep, deep into the book, and I was enjoying the discussion on sacred archetypes when Ody came up to me, tail wagging. He wanted to play. "Go away, Ody", I said. "Mommy, will play with you later on." Ody brought me his ball. "No, Ody", I said. "Not now. Mommy is reading". Ody dropped the ball and sat at my feet. "Not now, dog, I’m reading!". Ody lay down, put his head down on his paws and looked up at me with big, sad eyes. I went back to my book and continued to read about honoring the sacred in our lives while Coyote sat at my feet. He continued to stare. I tried to read. He kept staring. I looked down at him and it was then that I realized what a complete ass I was being. Here I sat, reading about connecting with nature, while ignoring the loving creature at my feet. So, I put down the book and played with Coyote until it was time to go in. That night after dinner, I sat down on the couch and prepared to read. Ody was in his favorite spot underneath my coffee table. I opened my book and found this sentence waiting for me: "Spiritual insight is not an end in itself, but a means to transform our life on Earth from mere survival and dominance into compassion and service to others." While I read on Ody sat there at my feet, happily chewing on his favorite squeak toy. Now and then he looked up and me and grinned.


(1) I would come to regret that. I had never read Garfield and had no idea that the silly, dumbo of a dog in the cartoon was called by that name. Still, it worked out in the end. When you have a 110 pound beast, it is wise to call him by a friendly-sounding name (an "ie" sound at the end helps immensely here) and the nickname "Ody" made people smile and relax immediately

(2) Just before he died we took a sample of his blood and confirmed this mix. What surprised us was the new that he was also part beagle (?!?)

Art: Coyote the Trickster by J.W. Baker

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

aaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh. Lovely story. Mirrors a couple of my own. What lucky creatures we are when befriended and trusted by one who counts on us for their life and their joy.