Otis was a bribe. On the day they moved to New York City, Bud and his daughters showed up on my East 5th Street doorstep with the Yorkie puppy. To convince the girls to leave their Michigan home, my future husband had promised them a dog. It’s the same bribe President Obama made when he moved his daughters to Washington, when Malika and Sasha were about the same age as Karlie and Kenda. It’s apparently the going rate for a Midwest to East Coast move: one puppy.
Honestly I was pissed at first. It was hard enough to imagine how four of us and my two cats were going to squeeze into my one-bedroom railroad apartment. But Mister Otis, or Odie as we called him for short, quickly won me over. He was an incredible dog: faithful, smart, generous, independent, loving, adventurous. We very rarely used a leash with Otis: He could walk with us anywhere, through crowded Saint Mark’s Place or the Michigan woods. “Let a dog use his brain and he’ll have one,” Bud always said. And to all those nags who told us he was going to get hurt, or lost, or cost us a fine – Odie walked with his head held high for almost 15 years and never caused us any trouble.
He wasn’t a father himself (that we know of), but Otis had incredible paternal instincts. He would always protect the youngest person around. For the first years of his life, that was Kenda. We’d be throwing a football around, and he would chase her across the field, barking. When we brought Cole home from the midwife, Otis promptly crawled under the bassinet. For a month he wouldn’t leave the house unless we brought our son with us. And pretty much for the rest of his life, he mostly slept in Cole’s bed or room. Lately, it was Kenda’s son Shine that he clung to whenever they visited. He was amazing with kittens. Every feral litter we rescued, he took care of their personal hygiene, licking their butts for them just like their mother would have, when they were too young to do it themselves. He never really took to any of the cats that were raised with him, but he had a special bond with one of those abandoned kittens, which our neighbors adopted.
Otis loved to romp and play. Our favorite early memory of him is Odie chasing Bud and I on bikes down a dirt road in Michigan: That sweet little pure-bred barreled straight through the puddles in the tire tracks, delighting in getting soaked. He would jump right off the deck of our sailboat into the ocean. He could follow Cole around in our Miami pool for hours. You could lift him out of the water and he wouldn’t stop the swimming motion as you held him in the air. Sometimes, he would actually nip Cole as he jumped into the pool, apparently trying to save him.
No one appreciated a gift like Otis. He would tear open the package himself then parade around with the toy all day, like it was just what he always wanted.
Though he was very active, Otis was a bit of a metrosexual. Like many Yorkies, he had skin allergies, and was particularly sensitive to fleas. So especially as he got older, he would insist on walking on pavement, not dirt or grass. In New York, we performed a marriage ceremony for him and a little Chihuahua, darling Carlos. In Miami, Otis once disappeared for a week. After we flyered the neighborhood, someone two blocks away reported that he was shacking up with a neighbor’s dog, who was old, disheveled, and blind, but in heat. She was ugly, but she was his. That’s when we got Odie fixed.
I can think of only two other times Otis seriously misbehaved. Once, when he was a puppy, he got into a box of chocolates then got sick around our entire Manhattan apartment. Bud cleaned that up. Another time, Bud accidentally left him in the backyard with Kenda’s bunny, and he chased the poor thing into a state of collapse and eventual death.
Otis was a big dog in a little dog’s body. That’s what people said about him.
We had to have our baby put down January 18. What had started as seemingly minor breathing problems became suddenly acute – collapsing trachea, or maybe a tumor. By that time he was mostly blind and deaf. But whenever I walked him, he still insisted on climbing the fifty stairs next to our house. He had his routine, his path of familiar odors – sniffing the same old spots was like reading the morning newspaper for him, a log telling him what dogs had been out already that morning. There’s a huge hole in our hearts, and our beds, where Otis used to reside. We miss you little guy.