Avett Otis

Last month, I ran into a friend who recently had a dog of theirs pass away unexpectedly. It was the first time her son had experienced death on any level. Her son was taking it okay, but my friend was having a hard time with it all. In passing, I mentioned that it may be a cool idea to make a thoughtful obituary, filled with collages of pictures, factoids, and memories. You know, something she and her son could work on creatively and together before framing it to hang in the house to remember the great times they had together. She agreed that it was a good idea and went on her way.

This past week, my family experienced a big change in our household dynamic. We didn’t have a death in the family, but it was a BIG energy change. We had a family member move out and move on. It was perfect timing for all involved, well beyond the signs on the surface.

This is my Oh’ Pit-uary: a humble ode to our good friend Remus.

On Sunday, August 18th, 2013, well before we had Avett Otis in our life, one year after opening the bookstore, and while Emily was on a weekend trip to a Florida beach with some close friends we are gonna meet with this holiday/anniversary weekend actually, I went for a morning jog with my buddy, bearKat. If you know bearKat, then you love her. If you don’t know her, then let me explain a few things. She is a yellow labrador mix who has lived with me since she was 4 weeks old. She will turn 12 this November. She is the sole survivor of a litter of 4 (the rest passed away from parvo). She experienced motherhood one time, giving birth to 11 puppies that later went to great homes and were part of the coolest dog calendar I’ve ever seen. That said, she believes she is human … always has. She’s believed she was human since day one. Around other dogs, all dogs, regardless of size or age, she is the ultimate ALPHA. She has never enjoyed the company of other animals getting in the way of her realizing that she is the same as everyone walking around on two feet. But I digress.

On Sunday, August, 18th, 2013, I was enjoying the beginning of a long jog in the sun while bearKat led the way. We passed by the Old Timers Baseball Field with Shelby Bottoms Greenway in sight. That was when we saw bearKat’s shadow in full effect. Appearing out of the blue, left field, the river, nowhere I could see on the move, a s/medium mix of one half black labrador and other half pit bull pitter-pattered one step behind bearKat. I told him to “GET” and he followed my instructions for five seconds, before picking up his pace and either jogging beside bearKat in stride or trying to casually hump her on the go. Unlike every other time a dog got within ten feet of bearKat’s personal space, this time she pretended like this new friend was a fly buzzing around her ears. Point being, she persisted. Within the next mile loop around Shelby Bottoms, I must have casually yelled “GET” at least twenty times. My new best friend also persisted. He was as harmless and as cute as any puppy I’ve been around before, and I wasn’t just going to leave him out in the wild. He looked like he needed us as much as we needed something more in our lives too. He didn’t have a collar or name tag, but he did have manners. He had my respect.

The three of us jogged around the duck condos and random fishermen back to the Vinny Links main offices. I asked the teenager working behind the desk if anyone was missing my new friend or if he could call animal control. He told me he’d never seen the dog, and also that animal control was closed on Sundays. With my wife still on the road home and visions of our fenced in backyard, I let our shadow follow us home so we could figure things out later.

bearKat and her shadow had an absolute blast running circles around each other and tackling one another all afternoon long. Emily returned that night and instantly fell in love with the guy. Actually, truth be told, her first response on the phone when I informed her about the new addition was for me to get him out of our house. When Emily did make it home, it was dark outside. As we both stood in the backyard in the moonlight, Emily laughed hysterically as our new friend attempted to hump bearKat like a teenager jean-jamming at a house party. This was our new house party.

We spent the next two weeks searching for this guy’s family. Surely a dog this cute and obedient and nice was being missed. I took him to the vet and he had no chip. As seen below, Emily made literary posters that we spread all over the internet and our neighborhood. With no updates or requests flooding in, we fostered this guy and made it a point to take him to the adoption center to get fixed with our fostering discount. There were less humps immediately.

The weekend of our anniversary on September 5, we had two couples over for dinner, partly to catch up and celebrate friendship and the other part to see if this new dog would be a good fit at either of their homes. It was evident that our plan backfired when halfway through dinner – and seeing the way this guy was loving on bearKat in a best friend kind of way – this guy was staying put with us … he became an anniversary gift to our family and to each other.

We named him Remus. We didn’t name him after Roman mythology and the twins Romulus and Remus. We named him after one of the biggest musical and storytelling influences who can’t be seen on video these days despite being a star for Disney when we were kids. I’m talking about the “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah” Uncle Remus. See here- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bWyhj7siEY

But real life isn’t a Disney movie, is it? Now that you heard the introduction of Remus, let me skip to the heart of the story. Again, the heart of this story is Remus. He was always all heart. In fact, it quickly became part of his motto. “All heart, no brain.” On more than three occasions in the first two months, Remus thought he had the dog door down pact. You could see it coming. We watched on as he picked up speed while circling bearKat as she calmly sat in the grass and Remus turned into a bull charging a red cape. I’m not sure if Remus thought he was going to do his version of the disappearing man act for bearKat, but he definitely didn’t think he was going to smack right into the closed door behind the dog door screen like it was an anvil on the other side of the red cape. He shook it off every time. bearKat didn’t pretend to care. Emily couldn’t stop laughing … because he wasn’t hurt, of course.

If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry … right? Back to the real life isn’t a Disney movie thing, Remus appeared in our lives and marriage at exactly the perfect time for our family. For bearKat, she had experienced a growing number of seizures before Remus appeared on the scene. After his arrival, I can count less than a handful in 4 years. I attribute the friendship and constant attention Remus gave to bearKat as her natural medicine. Remember, bearKat is like a human. We all need companionship as we grow old in order to stay healthy and sane. For me and Emily, Remus made his way into our world as we were already two years into trying to have a child. During the course of the time we spent with Remus, he helped us both stay sane as we experienced another handful of miscarriages. During those tragic and difficult times, it was as if Remus naturally knew that no words could comfort the situation or our pain. More than once, he would leave bearKat’s side to snuggle up to Emily and look into her eyes to somehow magically connect on a soul level. Remember, he was all heart. Seriously, he was the perfect medicine to get us to feel normal again, on top of a few weeklong adventures out of town and country. But in all sincerity, it’s like Remus didn’t even have to try to help us. It was his gift.

Speaking of snuggling, we were recently reminded by another friend who witnessed that Remus was a shape-shifter like the best of X-Men. He would not only contort his body to match any square foot of available snuggle space with Emily or me, he would also fall asleep at the darndest of angles. There were many a movie nights where Remus fell asleep before the ending and would have his head slip off the side of the couch and land on the floor with his body still hanging on top of the couch and never miss a snore or wake up at all. He was such a special being, giving up his comfort for the sake of helping others all of the time

Look. I could talk for days about various memories of Remus whimpering all of the way to Bowling Green and back (he hated car rides), slowly trying to climb into my lap while I was driving (any time he was in the car), him never giving up on the chance to be our cat’s best friend despite the fact that she was friends with nobody, or any other instance where Remus inevitably became every stranger’s best friend they never knew they had. He was everyone’s best friend. He was the opposite of bearKat’s ALPHA image. He was a lowercase beta to the max.

Remus was more than a beta though. He was a protector. He was constantly beside Emily’s side – often nuzzling beside her belly – when she was pregnant, and later he sat by her side every moment she cared for Avett on the couch after we brought him home from the hospital. In fact, aside from being extremely close to bearKat every second outside, Remus rarely left Avett or Emily or my side once he got inside our family. I think Remus’ biggest fear, like most people, was to be alone. I wish I knew where he came from or what happened before we met him, but maybe we are all better for not knowing. The thing is, we made the most of our time together while we had it. Isn’t that all we can ask of life?

Remus was truly a gift (worth repeating infinite times). Both Emily and I have had many pets in our lifetime (together and before marriage), but Remus was the first animal to enter our lives directly from the universe instead of from a friend or a parent. I understood that there was no real beginning to our relationship or defined ending either. This brings me to what happened this past week. After many transitions in our house and life as of late (bookstore closing and immediate family moving out of the house after an extended time, etc), it felt like the timing was right to help Remus find a new home. As mentioned before, bearKat is no spring chicken. She turns 12 years young (an estimated 84 dog years) in November. That said, we felt like it was perfect timing for us to find Remus a new home via friends that would have another animal companion or two and would be younger than bearKat so he can pay forward the love and energy he has given to our family since day one.

After spreading the word via a few close friends, we had several bites after one cast. The first couple who responded with interest was friends with one of the couples we had dinner with 4 years ago when we decided to keep Remus. They stopped by the house one night to take Remus around the neighborhood for a walk with their other dog and absolutely fell in love with him. We were not shocked, but we were thankful that their other dog didn’t get jealous or dislike Remus for being so awesome. They ended up taking him home for the night to do a trial test of how the new duo would do at the homestead. Emily and I went to sleep happy and hoping that Remus was happy too.

The next morning, before I texted to ask if the new couple had a great experience with Remus and would like to keep him in their family going forward for good, I checked Facebook. Wouldn’t you know, and you can ask Emily too to fact check me if you don’t believe it, Facebook memories flashed on my homepage and it said that this day, Friday, August 18, 2017, was four years ago to the exact date when bearKat and I first met Remus in the park and took the picture above. Talk about crazy timing and eclipse magic stuff going on for transitions. Anyways, I texted the new couple, and they gave a glowing review of Remus and were over-the-moon happy that they would have the honor and chance to make Remus part of their family. There was only one thing off. They had already agreed to house sit for another friend and couldn’t take Remus for a few days. Because we were not in an emergency hurry, we said that would be totally fine by us.

In the course of spending one final weekend together, Remus and bearKat spent most of the time in the backyard – where they always felt most at home. We went on a few family walks together, and I purposefully took them both down memory lane and full circle to where it all began when on the final day we spent together (4 years and 5 days after we met), I did the infamous loop around Shelby Bottoms and took a picture of the best friends together at pretty much the exact spot I had previously (see below and above). You can tell that the leash has become more intertwined over the final walk than it was in the beginning, because Remus didn’t have a leash the first round but also because they always weaved back and forth and together constantly every time they went out together. Also, you can easily see that Remus never let bearKat out of arm’s length at any time. He was a giver, a protector, friend, lover, and ultimate companion, that guy was.

In a lot of ways, Remus was the best of who I strive to be. I maybe have more brains than him, but you never could pin Remus down. One moment he would run into closed doors, and the next he would find a way out of the child-proof living room while crossing over several barricades with seemingly no free access point and be standing right next to you at the front door when you got home or outside of the bathroom upstairs when you got out of the shower. He was either the smartest dog alive or pure magic. I prefer to believe in the latter. Like my personal motto with Emily that I told her about myself when we first began dating, Remus was “sometimes annoying, never boring.”

To be clear, Emily and I are not sad about Remus. We feel blessed to have known him, and we feel even better that he is going to universally pay forward the love and energy and positive memories to his new family and friends. Also, we kinda feel like we have an open adoption because we get to keep getting pictures of Remus and we know we can always visit if we want to on his new family’s schedule.

The family transition results so far are perfectly reflected in the two photos, 1) Remus with his new best bud, and 2) Avett and bearKat finding their new roles in each other’s lives.

photo 1 = “new friends and life is good”

photo 2 = “dog stool and life is good”

Emily and I can’t thank Remus enough for sharing his gifts with us. We are better people because of him. I hope this Oh-Pit-uary gives you a glimpse into the happiness and timing of this dog’s relationship, and maybe it will inspire you to do the same … love a stranger, adopt an animal, or just remind yourself that there is so much love still out there in the world that needs a home to reciprocate.

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