Monday, December 29, 2008

Merry Otis?

Well, the old dog is hanging in there. He gave us one more Christmas. A white one, in fact. The tumor seems to be growing again, and Otis seems to have slowed a bit, but I'm hoping it's simply the snow and cold temps that have him a bit...disinterested, shall we say. I'm reminded of a funny story my friend Seamus told me the other day about his dog, Jack. Jack is a West Highland Terrier who spent his long life in the comforts of Santa Monica, CA before recently moving with Seamus and his family to Minneapolis, MN. Seamus is married to one of Dustin Hoffman's daughters, and on Dustin's way east to do press for his upcoming movie he stopped for a visit. Seamus and his wife usually give Dustin a few funny stories about the grandkids so he has something to talk about other than the same ol' responses about the movie. This time Seamus told him how Jack is so offended by the sub freezing temps that when he or his wife open the front door to let him go pee, instead of going out, Jack walks up to the threshold, lifts his leg and pees on the door jam. I laughed so hard. And then, just like that, there's Dustin on Regis and Kelly relaying the story.  I just wonder where Jack goes poo.

Back to's a video and some snaps. Oh, yeah, one upside to the snow covered ground is that Otis has had no desire to trudge down the street and ransack his favorite dumpster. Well, it's an upside for me. It's more likely the reason he's seemingly down.

Ok, take the picture already and let me back in.

I'm not one for dressing a dog up or down, but you have to admit that Otis looks pretty damn good in a scarf.

So this is what they mean!

Cat, this is BS.

A coke and a smile, my ass.

Friday, December 19, 2008

My Little Dumpster Diver

I know Otis has the Big C now and I'm supposed to be spoiling him rotten, but my goodness, the little guy sure can get on my nerves. I just don't think I can let him out on his own anymore. The coyote is one deterrent, but minor compared to his current obsession with the 3/4-full dumpster at the home construction site on the end of the block. Otis will walk to our front door and give me his "I gotta pee" look he's given me a million times, but I'm convinced now it's just a front for an opportunity to high-tail it down the street to harvest for gold. Two early evenings in a row now I've had to trudge down there in the slushy snow to spook him out of that damn collection of filth. Believe me, it ain't gold.

He crawls under the temporary barbed-wire fence that surrounds the property and he leaps up into the opened end of the dumpster. It's filled with lath and plaster, rusty nails, dry rot, wires and cables, all sorts of other debris, and discarded scraps from the workers lunches, which is what Otis is actually digging for. I literally found him burrowed beneath the lath and plaster chowing down on something buried underneath. And to make matters worse - and I don't know if I've mentioned this or not - he's gone completely deaf over the past three months! He never listened before, but now he has a built in excuse when he doesn't acknowledge my call. So imagine me there attempting to get his attention from the other side of the barbed wire fence. It's dark, he's buried, and I'm so steaming mad that I'm melting the snow beneath my feet. To boot, I'm standing in a neighbors garden which allows me the slope I need to get high enough to look down into the dumpster positioned in the driveway next door. I have to reach down with my hand to roll a snowball solid enough to throw towards Otis to get his attention, but not hard enough that it would mame him should I accidentally strike the bugger with it.

Fortunately, my toss hit in front of him and splattered debris and snow into his face. He looked up and spotted me and knew immediately he was in deep doo-doo. He climbed his way out of the hole, licked his chops, jumped out of the dumpster, ducked under the fence, and scampered away from me just in time to allude my right foot to his butt. He runs all the way home, barks at the front door hoping Nicole or Sam will open it up before I get there myself, then goes and takes refuge behind them. This does not delay his detention for long, and it's off to his bed in the kitchen where he must stay until I deem whatever he scavenged in the dumpster digested. I don't want it coming up on the shag rug in the living room, after all.

It just chaps me that he knows what he's doing is wrong. And he knows there are consequences, yet he does it every chance he gets, and sometimes, like today, he's even creating those chances. Man, if he hangs in here long enough that Stella starts crawling on the same floors he's walking on I don't know what I'm gonna do. After romps like in his video and what I've witnessed tonight, well, it's disgusting. Maybe I'll get him a pair of booties for Christmas.

What also chaps me is that I've been feeding Otis like a damn King for the past six years and he still feels a need to go hunt for cat poop in flower beds and lunch scraps in dumpsters. I began feeding Otis raw meat and organic vegetables over six years ago. It was the after the first bout with cancer that Dr. Judkins suggested I get Otis off of processed dog food and start him on raw meat. When I asked if he'd be able to handle it, he pointed out to me that dogs are carnivores and they've only been eating crappy dog food for 60 years. His point was that their system could more than handle it. And on top of that, Otis would be a lot more satisfied. Dr. J's feeling was that there's something that's causing all of these unexplained cancers and illnesses in dogs and cats, and he figured a lot of it probably had to do with processed pet foods. So, I bought into it. I figured it could only help. I also figured it wasn't going to be a long-term commitment. We'd already removed twelve little tumors for Otis and I figured there were more to come. But here we are six years and gobs of money and effort later and only now has the cancer returned.

I remember the first time I fed him the raw meat and veggies. He absolutely devoured it. Just like a carnivore, in fact. And when he was finished he looked up at me and I swear it was as if to say, "Geez, what the hell have you been feeding me all these years?"

Otis' coat took on an immediate shine. He's eyes literally sparkled. He suddenly had a ton more energy. And his poops were so perfect and firm that you could have played football with them. Ok, that's gross, but it's true. He was a whole new dog. And what was best was that he didn't grow a single new tumor.

So what I'm going to do now is take you through the process by posting some pictures of the lengths I go to keep this puppy alive and kicking. And by the end hopefully you too will feel my pain when it comes to his little scavenger hunts.

The preparation begins with a trip to New Seasons grocery store. When I first put Otis on the raw meat diet I used to have to go to the meat department in the back of the store and ask if they had any of their pet food in the freezer. Usually they did. It wasn't a mainstream item of day but they tried to keep stock in the back for the few like me who desired the carnivore route. Instead of tossing the meat scraps into the trash, someone had the bright idea of using them for profit, and believe me, I've contributed a lot of profit! My good money is paying for chicken gizzards, hearts, livers, backs and necks. Yeah, not many humans would want to eat this over a thigh or a breast, but dogs don't discriminate when it comes to raw meat, which is why cat and squirrel would be on most of their menus, too! Anyway, this meat has become so popular with owners that New Seasons built a cooler in the pets aisle and they've been stocking it for a couple of years now.

Carrots, yum. Maybe it's true what they say about carrots and eyesight. Otis can spot a table scrap from three houses away. Too bad they don't make a veggie for hearing.

I switch back and forth between green and red cabbage. Green is cheaper by the pound, but red seems to be more dense and last longer, both in shelf life and in the fridge itself. I suppose it's a wash. Either way, Otis eats both. He'll even eat cabbage by a la carte! One funny thing I like to do is feed Otis a piece of cabbage then take a picture of him while he's chewing it. Makes it look like he's talking. Hilarious.

I don't often feed him beets, I more just got them for this photo-op because they're pretty. He eats them too, though. There's not much he won't eat.

Again, the radish were more for the pretty picture. I don't often use "wet" veggies in his food because they tend to make the end result a bit too, well...wet. But again, Otis love a radish. He'll eat these a la carte as well.

Broccoli is a HUGE favorite of Otis'. Unlike President Bush(41), he LOVES broccoli.

I stick about a week supply of veggies into the Cuisinart and chop them all up. The photo above is not a weeks supply, I just thought it was pretty so I took the photo.

This is almost a weeks supply of veggies. I find that a weeks supply is about the distance the veggies can go in the fridge without getting a little too stinky by the time they're gone. So basically, I go through the shopping and Cuisinart process about once a week. You add that up over six years and perhaps you will appreciate my disdain for Otis when I find him rifling through a dumpster.

Green Alternative is the bomb. It provides all the vitamin and mineral goodness the meat and veggies might not. This includes Organic Flax Seed Meal, Spirulina(grown without chemicals), Organic Pumpkin Seed and Organic Garlic - as if Otis needs any help making his breath any worse.

This is what it looks like when it's ready to serve. And as you can see, Otis is always ready to go.

And go.

And go.

And this is what I mean by licking his chops.

You'll never believe this, but Otis just barked at the front door. He wants out. Damn him.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Whose Territory Is It Anyway?

Tonight I let Otis out to relieve himself. Normally I go back to doing my thing and wait for Otis to bark once to alert me he wants back in. But this time I stayed at the front door and waited. I figured he'd be quick since there's still snow on the ground and it's so cold outside. He's a fair weather dog. But tonight he took a little longer than I expected. He sniffed around a bit. Peed. Pooped. Then for some reason he continued to loiter about. So I decided I better go out and check on him. And thank goodness I did because right there in my front yard stood Otis and a freaking coyote. A coyote! Right here in Northeast Portland! Sent chills right up my spine. I have no idea what his intentions were, and neither did Otis, obviously because he just stood there and looked at the coyote as indifferently as every other dog he's ever met. I think it kind of caught the coyote off guard. The whole scene caught me off guard. I shouted "Arrghhh" like some sort of drunk pirate, which startled the coyote and set him to moving on. I tried to get a shot of it with my iphone, but the coyote was too quick and disappeared into the night.  

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Herbal Otis

Time for a long awaited Otis update. The old guy has made an unrivaled comeback. We went to spend some more money at the vet this week and were told that the way Otis is responding to treatment, he might just hang around for years to come. There is still no sense in doing surgery on the primary tumor since we have conclusive evidence that the cancer has spread about his body, but there's no telling how long his body will continue to function properly as long as the herbs keep doing the trick. And also, as I was lectured in a very nice way, the power of positive thinking goes a very long way. Doc told me that there's a huge difference in the health of the pets of people with a positive outlook versus the crabapples who whine, moan, worry and complain. His point to me was to stop fretting over whether Otis had two days, two weeks or two years and just be happy with the time we got. I told you Dr. J was a straight shooter.  Then he brought out his camera and took our picture for a case study! 

Anywho, here are some snaps and a breakdown of what all these herbs are all about. I'm no doctor, and I don't even play one on TV, so don't hold me to the facts, but I believe what I'm about to explain to be true. 

NATURAL HYDROCORTISONE aka, Steroids. Natural steroids, not anabolic, which means Otis won't be gunning for the Tour De France this year, after all. I think this particular steroid comes from the adrenal glands of cows. There is nothing synthetic, which means Otis' head won't grow even bigger than it already is, and he won't be prone to temper tantrums and questionings on Capitol Hill. Natural Hydrocortisone is credited with stabilizing and breaking down the Mast Cell Tumor, and preventing the histamines from having their way with poor Otis. Without this miracle pill, Otis would already be marking territory in dog heaven.

Neoplasene combats swelling and histamines, which were the cause of all the swelling in the first place. It wasn't the tumor itself that caused Otis' 3am visit to the emergency room, it was the histamines that were being fired out of the tumor that caused it. Most likely, it was the needle biopsy of the tumor that angered it and caused it to react. For Otis, it was akin to having an allergic reaction to a bee sting. In hindsight, it would have been wise to start Otis on the steroids immediately after the biopsy, just in case the histamines went on a tear, which they did, and is why Otie woke me up in the middle of the night as if to say, "Uh, WTF, daddio?"

Also, Neoplasene slows growth of cancer. As it was explained to me, normal cells die off and are replaced by new ones. A tumor is basically a cell that won't die. That's a bad thing. So Neoplasene works to break the tumor down and possibly die.

Lotus is like newly fallen snow on a mountain the night before the skiers arrive - it's fresh powdery goodness. It's also the Chinese herb formula that Dr. Judkins concocted about six years ago after Otis' first go 'round with these pesky Mast Cell Tumors. We had Otis on Lotus for about a year before we decided he could survive without. Now that the cancer is back, he's back on and will stay on for the duration. This particular concoction is derived from old Chinese formulas,  and prepared specific for Otis' pattern of symptoms, so says the good doctor. Again, tumors are stagnant, and this formula is meant to create energy in the tumor in order to treat the stagnation and possibly break it down, even. 

This one is no fun but very important. It's no fun because twice a day I have to stick two dropperfuls into Otis' mouth completely against his will. It was easier when he had no energy to object, but now that he does I usually end up squirting it on the floor, my pants, the back of my hand, the wall, or in his eye. Anywhere but his mouth, it seems. The tincture is detox in case the tumor is actually breaking down. It cleans out toxins and makes him feel better. Of course, that's just my side of the story. Based on the whole experience of injecting it, he might tell you otherwise.

Next post we will cover Otis' diet and how he eats like a freaking king.

Woof. Out.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Meow Kitty

Update on Otis. At this moment he is resting comfortably at my feet. I'm sitting at my desk and heard some purring and rustling behind me. I turned around to see Olav the cat using Otis' melon as a rubbing post. I grabbed my handy little Flip Mino and shot the scene. Here it is. (P.S. - I'll be posting later today to give a more detailed update on Otis' remarkable recovery. Gotta love the Chinese and their herbal ways!)

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Secret Life Of Otis

I probably don't pray enough in my life. I'm not a church going guy, but I do believe in the power of prayer. I'm not sure who answers them, but I think somebody is listening. How else could you explain Otis' remarkable comeback? I guess you could also explain it as the power of steroids and mysterious Chinese herbs, but I suspect it's a combination of all of it. 

So, when Otis got so sick, I was disappointed in myself that I never went through with my plan to rig my video camera onto him so that I could see where the hell he goes and what the hell he does when I let him roam free. All I know is that he disappears into the neighborhood and reappears sometime later. I've had a sneaky suspicion that he hits the usual dumping grounds of the neighborhood cats, and I know he loves sneaking into the construction site down the street on the corner where all the workers set their lunches down in pinchable positions. The construction has been going on for the entire summer and now into winter. It's a haven for Otis, and it's a miracle that a backhoe or a rusty nail hasn't already claimed him. 

Anyway, Otis has somehow gone from deathbed to marching to the beat of his own drum in a matter of 48 hours. I woulda bet a healthy sum of money that Otis wasn't going to wake up on Tuesday morning based on his condition on Monday night. He wasn't eating, drinking or able to walk. I couldn't even touch him because he was in too much pain. And now, as you'll see in the video, he's back to being Otis - the most famous and lovable dog in the hood, with nary a sign that cancer is on it's own march.

I don't want to give too much away in the video, but I will say that the 11 or so minutes pretty much sums up who he is. As I suspected, he looks into a couple hot spots in the neighbor's yards, but he also finds people to approach, some are strangers, and some are longtime fans. The first group he encounters are four Comcast workers who were just standing around outside their vans, which is why, I suspect, we are all waiting for them from anytime between 8 and noon. Then there are some old girlfriends who spot him and their dog barks at him. Otis, of course, pays no mind. Then he heads for the construction site where you see they're obviously familiar with him, and he is obviously familiar with their surroundings. Then I think he finally finds some kitty roca. Then he discovers something under plastic but I'm not sure what, and I'm not sure he knows either.

Then, as always, he makes his way home. 

And now, when the prayers and herbs stop working, I can always take this walk with him.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It's A Matter Of Life And Death

I was talking to my friend Peter today about the experience of life and death and how one begets the other. When Otis got sick I couldn't help but remember when my Mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor. We found out only weeks after it was learned Alice was pregnant and I was going to be a dad for the first time. My mom was given 3 to 18 months to live. Our goal was to get Sam born before she passed on. Thankfully, we made it and my mom was able to hold Sam in her arms for the first couple months of his life. I remember it feeling like a sort of hand off, as if my mom was saying, "your turn." Peter's point to me was that one life replaces another. Now, I realize Otis isn't a human. Yes, he's a dog. But he is a life. An extremely important life. He is family. In fact, in these past heavy days, Sam has referred to Otis as his only brother. So I find it not so surprising that Otis is getting ready to say goodbye now that Stella has arrived. And it's probably pretty obvious to him that it's "Stella's turn." 

A little story about Monday night when we thought Otis was leaving us. He was lying in his spot at the end of Sam's bed. He was laboring to breath. His eyes were heavy and rolling back in his head. Sam was certain Otis was dying and gave him permission to "let go." He was distraught. Then, alarmingly, he said to me, "Daddy who's that? Who's that?!" He was pointing toward the wall to the right of his bed. 

"Where," I asked from my position to his left.

"Right there," he pointed, "Who is that sparkly man? Is he coming to take Otis?"

I saw nothing before he disappeared from Sam's sight too. But Sam quickly grabbed his drawing pad and feverishly drew the figure pictured above. It was truly amazing to watch it take shape. It was almost as if it drew itself. The man was holding a staff which turned out to be a harp. And then there was the leash that wrapped it's way up his arm. The man's eyes were closed. 

Now hear me out. I actually think Sam saw something. Just before my mom passed away I saw something very similar. She was lying in her bed at the hospice house. It was 6am and my dad was sleeping in a reclining chair next to her. One of my brother's was asleep on the floor, and I was lying in the window sill on top of an air conditioning vent. We'd been at my mom's bedside for two or three days. We'd all given her permission to leave but she held on a little longer than they thought she might. Suddenly, I shot up out of my sleep and looked across the dark room towards the open door to where I saw a beautiful flowing feminine figure floating in the hallway looking toward me. After a beat, she gracefully floated away. I jumped down from my position and raced to the door. I looked down the long, dimly lit corridor to see absolutely nothing. As I stood there wondering what I saw, my dad softly spoke the words, "She's leaving us."

My dad and brother got up and we all gathered around her bedside. She took three more breaths and stopped. At once, there was this palpable presence hovering above us. It was one of the coolest things I've ever experienced. And to this day I 100% believe that the figure I saw was either my mom giving us one last look, or some type of angel coming to take her away. You'll never convince me otherwise. 

And so when Sam saw this sparkly man, I couldn't doubt that what he saw was true. All signs pointed to Otis leaving in that moment, but Sam prayed hard for "just one more day." I think both that angel and Otis(and maybe the steroid) conspired to answer Sam's prayer. 

Otis has given Sam two days now and he's seeming to gain more and more strength. When I got home from work tonight he even wagged his tail. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

You Can Take The Dog Out Of The Fight, But...

I took Otis to see the good doctor this morning. Dr. Judkins is the greatest. He has my full endorsement. He's a straight-shooter, puts the animals health and well-being first, and always seems to have an optimistic outlook and mindful game plan.

I was certain that Otis wasn't going to make it through the night. Once he did, I felt a little more hope. Still, when I left for the vet's office, I wasn't sure he'd be coming home with me. But then I watched him put his nose to the door(see photo above) and I realized he still had some fight. That door is the only way out.  

Dr. J didn't sugarcoat it when he told me Otis could shut down anytime because the cancer has spread. Furthermore, the main tumor is firing off histamines at will. As I understand it, the histamines are what are causing most of Otis' discomfort. So he came up with an assortment of Chinese herbs and tinctures to fight against the histamines and ease his pain. And the steroids he prescribed yesterday have obviously already done wonders in getting him back on his feet. I'm thinking next stop, Tour De France.

I kid. But I would relish the opportunity for one more Christmas. That would be the greatest gift. Dr. Judkins thinks it's totally possible. For now, we take it day by day. Otis will let me know when it's time, but in the meantime, we'll try to get back to a sense of normalcy, although I do plan to spoil him rotten in the process. Maybe that is all the incentive he needs. 

Prayers Answered

It was another long one, but Otis made it through the night. He even got to his feet this morning and accepted the leftover turkey in which I hid his meds. Now we're off to the vet to see if we can't buy some more time and comfort. Now that we got him through the night, all we're asking for is one more Christmas. Then we'll take it from there. 

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Livin' on Borrowed Time" - John Lennon

As I feared, last night was not without drama. Otis woke us up in great distress and I found myself at the Dove Lewis Pet Hospital at 3:45 in the morning. They stabilized poor Otis before an ultrasound revealed the cancer has spread to Otis' spleen and beyond. Surgery would not even be an option. My next step, if we make it through this night, is to take Otis to see Dr. Judkins and determine if steroids might buy our boy some comfort and time. Presently, Otis is resting peacefully at the foot of Sam's bed, where he has rested countless nights before. Only this night it's different. Sam and I tearfully said our goodbyes to Otis, just in case he needs to move on. Sam, bless his heart, told Otis all on his own that it is ok for him to let go. I can guarantee that it was the single most difficult thing he has ever done. But it didn't stop us from saying a night time prayer where we asked for at least one more day. Is there anything more gut-wrenching than losing a longtime pet? Where does this emotion come from? As I said in the previous post, I thought I'd been preparing myself for this. Trust me, you can't prepare. Throw in a distraught ten-year-old son who speaks to his dog some of the most honest and poignant words you'll ever hear and you see the injustice of the brief lifespan placed on such a wonderful creature. 

Anyway... is one of my favorite poems:

by Billy Collins

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to his doghouse
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance--
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Gandhi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Off he goes into the material world
with nothing but his brown coat
and his modest black collar,
following his wet nose,
the twin portals of his steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of his tail.

If only he did not shove the cat aside
every morning
and eat all her food
what a model of self-containment he
would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only he were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in his welcomes,
if only I were not his god.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cancer's Return

I named this blog Wednesdays With Otis because I felt like I was on borrowed time with my dear dog. I think I already wrote about that. I know I at least mentioned the cancer he had: those pesky Mast Cell Tumors. Well, it was this past Wednesday in fact, that I noticed a rather large bump on Otis' belly underneath his rear left leg. It was alarming to me because it came out of nowhere and it was about the size of a baseball and just as hard. I immediately called Dr. Judkins' office to see if they could get me in. The best they could do was early Friday morning. The Thanksgiving Day Feast came and went and I was sure to give Otis a proper amount of bird, just in case the news in the morning was bad. And it was. So bad. Dr. Judkins stuck a needle into the mass and came back moments later to inform me that the mast cell tumor had returned with a vengeance. The good doctor laid out my options. First and foremost we would need to operate. Otis is an otherwise very healthy 13-year-old dog so we both agreed it would be worth it to operate. He mentioned radiation and chemo, but both he and I ruled it out based on the diminishing quality of life versus his current age. That, and I just don't want to put Otis through it. So the plan would be to put Otis on some chinese herbs which seemed to do the trick the last time we went through this six years ago. Dr. Judkins does surgeries on Thursdays but his schedule was all booked up so he told me he'd come in on Wednesday to do it. I was very appreciative of that, but now, two days later, I'm wondering if Otis is going to make it that long. He seemed fine enough yesterday, but today he showed behaviors I'd never seen from him before. For one, he wouldn't come to me when I asked him to. He walked away very very slow and gingerly, I think because he didn't want me to touch him due to the pain. The second thing he did was refused his dinner. That's when it all crashed in on me.  The tumor seems to have grown since Friday and the redness is getting darker and spreading. Also, I should note, Olav the cat walked up to him yesterday and sniffed at his right hind leg. I went to investigate and found what seems to be yet another tumor. I was amazed that Olav did that, and sad about Otis' prospects. So tonight I built him a fire. He lay right down in front of it, delicately positioning himself so that the tumor was out of his own way. I tried to take a few photos of him but I couldn't see through my viewfinder because of my tears. He looked so sad and done. And I swear to God I saw a tear under his eye. That's when I really lost it. The thought of losing him hit me like a Mack truck. I'm just not ready for it. Yes, I feel like we've been living on borrowed time, but even so, it's not enough. And lying there with him I realized I could be so much better to him. I couldn't help but whisper, "I'm sorry" over and over again. I was petting him gently and I could feel him appreciating it, but as I was doing it I was realizing that I never do it when all is well. Sure, I give him little rubs and scratches behind the ears, but never for a long enough period to where I could actually say I was generous with my time. That's what's fucked. I'm always on the go, doing this or that. Sure, he's often there beside me, but is that good enough?Lying there next to him tonight I sure as shit felt like it wasn't. I felt like I'd totally failed him. I suppose it's a good lesson to apply to others in my life, but I want more time to apply it to Otis.

I'll be calling Dr. Judkins office first thing in the morning if Otis makes it through the night. I'm not so sure he will. If he does, I will ask if it's possible to schedule the operation sooner, whether it's with Dr. J or someone else. I fear it cannot wait. Here are a few photos I took of Otis after I regrouped. His life has been one long picture book. I intend to tell his life's story through those pictures here on this blog.

One more Christmas, please.

You can see the tumor there on his belly. I don't want my boy to die.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Love Video

I've come to the end of a month-long paternity leave from work. It has been sooooooooo great. The primary purpose of my paternity leave was to be a daddy to my newborn, Stella, but it's also been a great opportunity to spend countless hours with Otis, who I've already described as in the twilight of his days. Today I shot a video to show some visual evidence of our relationship. I'd call it unique, but I suppose many others can relate. I won't wax on about it because I kind of narrate it as I go. I'll just say that Otis is going to miss me on Monday. Or maybe he won't. Maybe my temporary absence will be a sense of relief. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Blessed Otis

It was a little more than nine years ago that Otis reached the pinnacle of his life. He of course didn't know it at the time. I had taken him on a 17,000 mile journey around America with my BFF Seamus Culligan. I was making a book called Dog Bless America and it was my intention to photograph at least one dog from every state. Before it was all said and done, Otis had marked territory in 48 states. Here is a journal entry from our time in New York City, which was just about the very middle of our trip.


And God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky." So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. (1:20-25)

Well, the epiphany has happened. I half expected that it would sometime along this trip. And it did today. At the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine during the Feast of Saint Francis – an annual "party" to which all creation is invited, including the animals. Much like many of the people we’ve met on our journey, Saint Francis was a man of profound hospitality and broad welcoming spirit, and it is because of these fundamental qualities he is celebrated as this party’s host. As is the good timing of most of our trip, this celebration fell on the weekend we just so happened to be passing through. We heard it was quite an amazing sight and one we’d be sinners to miss.

When we arrived at the church – the massive and beautiful church – the people and the pets were proceeding their way in. My first job was to get tickets to get in and Seamus’ was to capture the insanity of the moment on tape. There were dogs everywhere. There were cats too. And iguanas. And Pythons. And birds. And ferrets. But mostly there were dogs. Hundreds of them. I heard someone counted one thousand of them. And they all peacefully filed into the church, one right after the other. If it wasn’t God that was orchestrating this peaceful procession of animals, then I don’t know who it could have been.

Seamus fired away while I received the disturbing news that they had just run out of tickets. Before I had time to panic, the kind ticket-master told us to wait at the roped off area at the bottom of the church steps and we would probably make our way into a standing room only scenario. This was good enough for me as long as we could get in.

And get in we did. There were approximately 5000 people, 1000 dogs and numerous other creatures as a result of God’s blessing to be fruitful. We walked into this magnificent church with all the animals behaving so well and my jaw just dropped. It was easily one of the coolest sights I'd ever seen. The service began with Seamus nowhere to be found. The ceremony opened with a welcome from the Dean of the church and next thing we new we were witnessing something I would have paid very good money to see. And I’m talking more than the two bucks I dropped in the hat when it came by. The mission statement for the Church of Saint John the Divine says that in the spirit of Christ, it is chartered as a house of prayer for all people and a unifying center of intellectual light and leadership. The Cathedral serves the many people of their City, Nation and World through an array of liturgical, cultural and civic events. Their theology supports the values of community, hospitality, witness and stewardship, which undergird this mission. Don’t ask me what all of this really means, but if I knew a religion like this growing up, I wouldn’t have been kicking and screaming all the way to Sunday school.

There was singing and dancing and pleas for help for the homosexuals of Uganda who face life in prison if it is discovered that they are gay or lesbian. There was live music that I swear could be number 1 on the Billboard charts if they wanted to release a CD. It was so damn good. There were African American dancers and men in masks parading up and down the aisle on stilts no less! There were ballerina dancers who seemed as if they were floating in air. And there were prayers that actually made sense! Where was Seamus? Was he capturing this? No one would believe me if I just wrote it in an e-mail, I thought. He had to be getting this. He’d better be getting this.

At one point the man spoke of Jesus Christ. He said Jesus was born and his mission was one of love. He wanted to gather people. He wanted everyone to get along. He wanted to give love and be loved. As I listened to these words I looked around for Otis. I couldn’t see him. I looked behind me and there he was, on the lap of this total stranger – a man legally blind, and he was licking him all over his face. Here was the epiphany. The celebration of the animals. The celebration of Otis. Everything the man was saying about Jesus Christ could also be said about Otis. Mind you, please don’t think I am taking anything away from Jesus, but just look at this dog of mine. He’s a loyal dog, I guess, but he’s more interested in making other people happy, making other people smile. He gathers people. They look at him and say, "My what an interesting dog." He snorts and they laugh. He wags his tail and they pet him. I’m pretty sure I could have walked away from Otis at that moment and he would have continued to find love and happiness and give love and happiness for the rest of his life. I like to think that he would miss me, but I’m pretty sure he would survive. For Otis, like Jesus, it’s all about the love.

As for me, I would just love to know where Seamus was. After communion it was time for the blessing of the animals. What we were about to see next was something I hope everyone that’s reading this gets to see once in their life. If you’re an animal lover, you’d die with glee. Down the aisle walks an elephant. Following the elephant is a camel. Following the camel a Lama. Then an ox. Then a pony. Then a duck. And on and on and on. They just kept coming. It was Noah’s Ark only in single file. "Please, Lord, let Seamus be capturing this," I prayed. At this point I went to the front of the church where before the communion there had been more security. Polaroid in hand, I walked with purpose right past three usher men. Next thing I knew I was right up front, standing directly behind a very small group of people with cameras on a raised platform designated specifically for them. I then looked up and my prayers were answered. There was Seamus, front and center, capturing it all. "Hallelujah," I exclaimed. I would ask questions later. No need to bother him now. He was in a zone.

So I started firing away with my Polaroid. The light inside was a little funky so I asked the guy next to me for a reading off of his meter.

"If you want to expose for the elephant go 4.5 at a 30th. The camel 4.5 at a 60th. And be sure to get my boss in the shot," he said.

"Who’s your boss," I ask.

"Bruce Weber," he states.

"Holy shit," I scream in my own mind.

Here was Seamus Culligan capturing it all and right next to him is Bruce freakin’ Weber. For those who may not know, Bruce Weber is huge in the field of photography. He’s also pretty huge in real life, but that’s another story. Anyway, the guy was firing away like nobody’s business and I made sure to get him in one of my shots. Perhaps one day I will reach his stature. Not his size, hopefully, but his stature. You should have seen him work. He would take a picture, lift the camera up in the air, his assistant would take it out of his hands while another assistant would replace it with another camera. He must have had four assistants working around him like clockwork. All the while Mr. Weber would maintain his focus on the subjects in front of him. It was a beautiful thing. Had I not been in so much awe I probably would have got a couple more shots of the animals. Still, I managed to get a couple of good ones – including one of "the man" himself.

At this point one of the ushers at the church instructed everyone on the platform that if they wanted a shot of the animals coming out of the church they would have to go now. I stayed behind because I was more interested in dogs, but Seamus and Bruce and his crew bolted out of there as quick as lighting. It was perhaps the funniest sight I’ve seen on the trip: Seamus, in all his glory, being escorted to yet another platform outside with Bruce Weber and other members of the press. Later, I asked Seamus how he pulled it off. He said he went in and just walked up like he knew what he was doing. When the woman asked him for his press-pass Seamus responded simply, "I’m doing the documentary." No questions asked, from then on it was cart blanche.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the little park adjacent to the church where a number of priests blessed the animals one by one. What with only being about halfway done with our trip I figured it would be a good idea to get young Otis blessed for at least the duration of the journey, if not the rest of his life. Before the day was over Otis had been blessed by three different priests. I figure in Dog blessing’s that’s twenty-one times, which I think should cover him for the duration of the trip, if not his entire life’s journey. All in all it was an unforgettable day. And as the Dean himself spoke, "Only in New York."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Happy 13th Birthday Otis!

Otis turned 13 today. I put this hat on him because I thought it brought him a little dignity. I doubt he agrees, but one thing about Otis is he's always been a good sport. Side note about this hat, a friend gave it to me to give to my son, Sam. He told me Fergie wore it in a music video he produced. I wonder if it looked as good on her. Otie is one stylin' pup. Anyway, we celebrated with some raw meat and table scraps. Now he's laying in his bed snoring like he's 13 x 7. Happy Birthday, you old dog.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Beginning

The only reason Otis came along to us was because he had a fault. A tiny little pink spot on his nose. If you look, you wouldn't even see it. But you're probably not a judge with a discerning eye. Otis' daddy was a show dog champion. So was his granddaddy. And there were high hopes for Otis, too, but one little pink spot made all the difference. I met his breeder at a dog show at the expo center in Portland. I was in the market for a dog that would be good with kids. Alice and I were planning on a child one day and we didn't want to fall in love with a dog who didn't want to share the attention and space. We went to the show because word had it there would be every type of breed known to man there. And it seemed there was. But there was one breed in particular that struck us peculiar: The Staffordshire Bull Terrier. There was a line-up of 'em. About twelve in all, each sitting there contentedly, as if they were actually smiling up at you. And they had the cutest little snort as though they were trying to say something, like "take me home with you, please!" But these Staffys were show dogs without imperfections. I asked the breeder for his card, but he was sure not to give me much hope. His dogs were highly sought after and people were willing to pay top dollar with hopes of bringing home a Best in Show.

On a whim, I called him a few months later. He informed me that one pup of his latest litter was born with a tiny fault and that he might consider selling him to me if the fault didn't correct itself over the coming days. He lived in Long Beach, California and I informed him I'd be down there the following week and I'd give him a call. Lo and behold, Otie remained imperfect, which isn't to say he came cheap! I gave the fellow $500 and off I went to the airport. The fella's last words to me were, "Hey, if you think you're going to neuter him, please don't. I will give you your money back." Realizing I'd paid him cash and he didn't have my phone number, I assured him I wouldn't. Six months later, Otis would lose his ability to sire a show dog champ. He had officially become domesticated.  

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Dying Dog

I feel like Otis has been dying for nearly six years now. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2002. His vet removed twelve Mast Cell Tumors under the guise that left untouched, the cancer would spread into his bloodstream and he would die. We did two rounds of surgery on him. After the second surgery he looked like the Staffordshire Bull Terrier version of Frankenstein. I counted 120 stables in his body, keeping his multiple incisions closed and protected from infection. The vet told me that the tumors would most likely continue to grow, blaming it on the breed itself. I was led to believe that Otis was doomed because "his kind" was susceptible to MCTs.  

Not only did Otis look like a version of Frankenstein, worse yet, he was depressed as hell. He didn't sign up for this, and I, his devoted human, was determined to not make him go throw another surgery. I had already decided that I would rather just let nature take its course than put him through more pain and grief.

It was at this point I sought out Dr. Judkins, a veterenarian with a holistic approach and a healthy disdain for the makers of processed dog foods.  

"The first thing you gotta do," he told me, "is get Otis off of whatever dog food you're feeding him." 

When I replied that I only feed him the highest quality dog food he basically informed me that there is no such thing.  He told me that dogs are carnivores and they've only been eating "dog food" for 60 years or so. He was convinced that dog food is the culprit for most of the unexplained cancers and health issues in dogs these days. "So it's not that it's his breed that's susceptible," I asked.  To which he replied, "I don't see why Otis couldn't live a happy 14 or 15 years on the right diet."

That's all I needed to hear. He told me where to go and what to get. And before I left he prescribed some chinese herbs with instructions to sprinkle a little over each meal. I don't have a clue what the herbs were, but I went with it. I was desparate.

Otis never grew another tumor. Going on 13 now, Dr. Judkins told me recently that Otis has the healthiest blood-work he's ever seen in a dog his age. Still, he is 13, and that's old. After the surgeries I never imagined Otis would make it this long. As far as I'm concerned, he's been living on borrowed time since I first discovered the Mast Cell Tumors. I believe the book on his breed says his life expectancy is 12-14 years. That gives him one more year, but I feel like I've already had him for five one more years.

I remember when he healed from the surgery. I figured his time was running out so I started spoiling him rotten. I let him beg for scraps. I let him have the run of the house when I was out. I let him sleep at the bottom of my bed at night...UNDER THE COVERS! Then I noticed something wasn't happening. I noticed Otis wasn't dying. In fact, I noticed light in his eyes, a shininess in his coat, and a pep in his step. I remember the first time I fed him the raw meat and veggies. He took one bite, stopped, and looked up to me as if to say, "What in the hell have you been feeding me all these years?"

This blog is going to document the final year of Otie's life. It is my highest hope that his final year will turn into one and two and three more. If his blood work is so healthy, why can't he live til he's 16? The blog will be a biography of Otis' life. It will recount his trip around America, when he marked trees in the 48 contiguous states. It will have weird little tidbits about Otis, like how he waits for me to get out of the shower so he can lick my shins and feet dry every morning. And it will be a form of cookbook for other humans out there who might be interested in improving the health and extending the lives of their own dogs.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tails From Katrina!

Hi there. Welcome! Welcome! Welcome! At this blog site you will eventually learn everything there is to know about my dog Otis. But you're probably here right now because you heard me on the radio this morning with Mikel Chase. If you're interested in buying a copy of Tails From Katrina, please feel free to email me at The book is $35 and all of the money goes to the Oregon Humane Society. All of it! I'm attaching a picture of the cover of the book. I'm very proud of the book itself. It's full of beautiful dogs and cats. To think what these animals had to endure before their rescuers arrived, it can break your heart. But they survived. They are survivors in every since of the word, which makes for a very hopeful and inspiring experience as you flip through their pages.