A living eulogy for Ollie Oops
CAMDEN, S.C. -- Eulogies, it has always seemed to me, are best delivered while the subject is living and can enjoy hearing the best version of him- or herself.
Thus, today's column is dedicated to Ollie the Blind Poodle, also affectionately known as Ollie Oops. A toy poodle born blind, Ollie sometimes bumps into things, whereupon his human (yours truly) will say, OOPS! -- and then apologize for not paying closer attention.
Now that Ollie, 17-ish, is in decline, I'm attentive to his every breath, which lately alternates between the sound of a honking goose and what I call a "sneezle." Not quite a sneeze, a sneezle is the sound I imagine a proud pig might make upon nuzzling a freshly discovered truffle.
This symphony of sickness is caused by fluid in his lungs, which medication may help, and a collapsing trachea, about which nothing can be done. His heart also may be involved, but only an MRI would tell. The risk of anesthesia at his advanced age, alas, is too great to consider.
I first met Ollie in a grocery store here. He was resting inside a soft cloth shoulder bag sported by the-one-and-only Lita "Squeaky" Wangensteen, a local horsewoman and dog lover who has rescued and found homes for thousands of abandoned dogs. She routinely had up to a dozen or so small, fluffy-white pups in her home, providing a sort of chichi dervish of plumed energy and excited expectation.
Spotting me in the store, Squeaky gestured for me to come take a peek in her bag. There was the future Ollie, then about 6 or 7 by the vet's estimate, and looking nothing like the feisty, fearless charmer he would become. Just shorn, he had a pointy nose, orange-painted toenails and, not to be redundant, had been neutered that day.
"Cute," I murmured, dragging out the vowel in hopes of sounding sincere.
Squeaky invited me to dinner that night so that I might get to know Mr. Sad Sack better. Short story: I was overserved and went home with a blind poodle.
The next day, Ollie and I set off for Washington, where I then lived, arriving on Olive Street to the full embrace of our block's cast of characters. Such was their enthusiasm that, suddenly, the previous absence of a blind poodle seemed an oversight now corrected.
Living with a blind dog presents a certain set of challenges, needless to say. Until he got used to his new circumstances, I mostly carried Ollie, whose then-5-pound body fit perfectly on my right arm. He was so content there, safe and loved -- and, importantly, properly positioned to receive admirers -- that I eventually developed "poodle elbow."