Oz. Ozzie. Ozzelah. Ozzums. Ozzy Osbourne. My Blond Shadow. My Boyfriend. Mr. Stink-ums. Il Garbaggio. You mean so much to me and I am eternally grateful for the 8+ years you’ve spent with David and me.
I used to tease David relentlessly about getting a second dog. One day I saw that he was on Gogo's breeder’s website, looking for a new home. I left the website on the computer for David to see at breakfast. I made a point of saying how sad it was that he had been returned to the breeder at age four. I was expecting David to say “No way” but I think something about Oz’s sad eyes got to David and he said “Let’s try him out.”
Oz came to us at four years old. He was named Isaac, but it seemed odd to give a dog the name of a Bible patriarch, so we gave him a new name.
Our breeder, Renee, said that there was nothing wrong with Oz. She said she kept forgetting that he was in the house because he would slink around in the back, not disturbing anyone. She said he wasn’t showing much sign of a personality. In hindsight, we think he was just terribly sad at the time - whether to be given up at the age of four or whether from neglect, we will never really know. His previous owners were apparently not good people though I am grateful to them that they inadvertently gave us Oz. They were an engaged couple and when their engagement broke off, apparently neither of them wanted to be a single dog owner. So they returned him to Renee. We got Oz around his fourth birthday.
The first night involved a lot of crying and I slept on the floor to try to comfort him. Within two weeks he was attached to my hip. He would bound around the house when we came home like a bunny rabbit. David and I joked that Renee had warned us that he may not have much personality - because he was full of energy and charm. He often had a sad look in his eyes - especially when he was sitting by himself. I think a lot of people see that in rescue dogs - it takes a while for them to believe that they’ve found a permanent gig - as if their luck will run out any minute. But after two years of living with us, the sadness seemed to dissipate.
Within a couple of months he started doing something new when we would come home: he would come up to us with his teeth bared. At first, we were quite put off by it. We asked Renee about it and she said “He’s just smiling because he’s happy to see you!” We weren’t quite sure it was smiling, but once we got used to it, there was nothing else it could be. People that would get the “smiling” treatment for the first time were always a bit unnerved because his front teeth looked like the xenomorph in Aliens, but it was a greeting reserved for only his favorite people. I tried to catch it on camera several times, but I always just wanted to experience it.
We got Oz around the time that Gogo’s knees started to become a problem, and he kept me company through Gogo’s knee surgeries. I will never forget the first day without Gogo - I took Oz for a walk along the Hudson River on a beautiful late-summer day. I unexpectedly ran into a friend from Chicago along the Hudson and we talked. Oz discovered the grass and had a doggie freakout. He kept pouncing and flipping around and running circles in the grass. I kept apologizing for his bad behavior and my friend just said “What’s the point of being a dog if you don’t disobey the rules?”
Oz was not very friendly with people when we first got him. He would stand back when we would see people that we knew on the street and was quite wary of them. I saw that he would see how friendly Gogo was with people, and eventually decided that people could be trusted. He always loved little dogs and puppies. He would have been a great dad. The only drawback on that was that he would be quite content to get close to small dogs and say hi. Then Gogo would growl and Oz would decide that this dog can’t be trusted and would defend his sister’s honor. It took him a while to realize that Gogo just doesn’t like other dogs.
Some of Ozzie’s favorite people were Kevin and Jeff. Oz often ran up to other gay couples in Chelsea thinking it was Kevin and Jeff, then see that he had made a mistake. I thought it was interesting that dogs apparently do have gay-dar.
Gogo and Oz always got along. There have only been a couple of times in which Gogo has told Oz to get lost when he went for her food. The first week I had them, I was worried that they would want some time with just me, so I would walk them separately. I would walk Oz first and then Gogo. On the third day, I took Gogo out and we got two houses down the block when we heard Oz crying. She stopped, looked back at the house, looked at me, and then turned to go home. We got Oz and went for a walk, all three of us, which I did from then on out.
David used to travel a lot and Oz was my primary company while he was gone. If friends were over, I would talk about how Oz and I were “boyfriends” and now that David was out of town, we were going to go see a Reese Witherspoon movie, go for drinks at Splash, go out for sushi, and get pedicures together because we were boyfriends. As I would look at Oz and say this, he would start wildly kissing me in the face. My friends took me quite seriously - I think because our love was so complete that it bordered on creepy - and they were concerned that Oz and I were too attached. I was just kidding, but we were madly in love and I was very happy just to walk him all weekend. It was around this time that I discovered you could “Hollywood Kiss” Oz - meaning that if you put your arm around him, tilted your head, closed your eyes, and slowly came into his face - like an old Hollywood kiss - he would helplessly widen his eyes and start licking you. I tried it with friends that would visit and it always worked.
Oz is one of those dogs that wants today to be just like yesterday. And he wants tomorrow to be just like today. He loved his routine. He loved walks. There was one morning that we were out on a morning walk on trash day. He seemed to get more and more excited with each new bag of garbage to pee on it. I started singing to the tune of “Walking on Sunshine” - “I’m peeing on garbage! Yeah! And don’t it feel GOOD!”
It was around then that we gave him his nickname of “Il Garbaggio” and imagined him speaking in an Italian accent about the quality of good garbage. “I love-a to pee on-a da garbage! I’m Il Garbaggio!"
He also occasionally went for vomit. There was one Halloween in which he found a bit of vomit on the sidewalk and I didn’t catch him in time. He was happily lapping it up. At the end of the walk I noticed that he was a little wobbly on his feet and more jovial than usual. I think it was because the vomit still had some alcohol in it. He kept trying to drunkenly kiss me afterwards. I imagined him at some Chelsea party, trying to drunkenly make conversation with a group of gay men: “Has anyone tried that vomit in the hallway? I’m not usually a fan of vomit, but that stuff really packs a punch!”
In the past year, he developed a cute habit of barking when we opened the door. It started off with him sometimes barking at a dog that was passing by the minute I opened to door for our morning walk. It turned into a grand announcement on his part. As soon as I would open the front door, he would step out and give a few barks to no one in particular - just to announce his presence - as if to say "Look out, world! Here comes Oz!"
Oz always waited up for me if I had been out late. Usually this was on Tuesday nights when I would go to Drink N Draw in Brooklyn. I would come home late. David and Gogo would be asleep in their bedroom. Oz would be waiting by the front door or resting in the living room. I would sit down on the steps and he would give me a few kisses, then find his bed for the night. Usually that meant sleeping in the library on the top floor.
He was a big talker. We never trained him to talk, he just naturally started to do it one day when he wanted food. A few times he sounded exactly like Chewbacca. I found the whole thing adorable and would give him a treat whenever he started “asking” for food. David would respond “If you keep giving him treats, he’ll keep doing it.” And I would respond: “exactly” - and wait for him to do it again. Sometimes we could have whole conversations. He would hold his side head to the side and not look at me, as if he was thinking of just the right thing to say, and then look at me seriously and say “rowr-ROWR-rowr”.
He was a big licker. At least when it came to me. Much to David’s chagrin, if I spent the day with Oz and David came home for dinner, Oz would run to David, give a play bow, and then come hopping over to ME and start smothering me with kisses for some reason. David would then demand “pity licks”. David and I would put our cheeks together to transfer Oz’s kisses from me to him. Oz would give David exactly two kisses and then come back to me for endless kisses. There was one day several years ago that I was lying down on the floor stretching and Oz came over to lick my face. I decided it wouldn’t hurt to let him keep licking and see how long he would go before getting tired of it. After 5 minutes, his tail was still happily wagging away and he kept licking. If anything, he seemed to get more excited with each passing minute. He even moved one paw to my chest to make sure I didn’t get up to escape. After about 10 minutes, I said enough and rolled over.
He loved Fire Island. I didn’t necessarily love having him out on Fire Island because he was incredibly demanding. He would break loose of the fence and end up in a yard three houses over, covered in muck. Or he would simply run away and return when he felt like it.
He loved his walker, Ruben, and his best friend, Rodrigo, who would stay at the house when we went out of town. He loved our house cleaner, Betty. And everyone loved Oz. He was one of the most lovable dogs I've ever met.
The last month was not pleasant. It seemed to come on rather suddenly - especially considering he was always such a healthy dog. We never found out exactly what it was. His blood work was normal, the ultrasound was fine, and the x-rays showed that he was actually in good skeletal shape for his age. Unfortunately, he was in a lot of pain. When the episodes hit, he would bolt up from a lying position as if he was just zapped with a cattle prod. It started happening every five minutes. He would rush to my side - usually shaking. Sleep was impossible because he would bolt up from a laying position every five minutes. We tried medications, but that didn’t really help the problem. I would take him on walks when the episodes would flare up because he seemed completely normal on walks. In fact, it was near impossible to convince anyone that there was something wrong with him. But as soon as we would get home, the “bolting” would start again. Sometimes he would stand and cry. It was awful to watch. We started seeing him lose the use of his hind legs. We assume that it was a tumor pressing his spine or disc problems because he never got better after a month of symptoms. The medication didn't seem to be controlling the pain that much. We decided to stop torturing him with vet visits because the likelihood that it would be anything treatable was too small and he hated the vet more than anything - shaking like a broken washing machine. It was a terrible decision to have to make - but I am relieved that we had the option to end his suffering and that we can do it at home where he is comfortable. I wish I could exit the world in such a way. And I suppose I prefer the fact that he was healthy up until the last month and went relatively quickly - though the last month was quite a roller coaster.
The last good day we had together was oddly the day that his symptoms returned in full force. There was no relief from the pain other than to go on walk after walk. We went on 6 long walks that day. It happened to be the day a snowstorm hit New York. It was a bitter-sweet combination of New York City, snow, Oz and me. Everything combined for me to just be calm, and enjoy the peace of the snow while trudging around New York with my dog.
Oh my god, I'm going to miss that guy.
The final moments were quite good. A vet came to the home to put him down. She gave him an injection. Oz gave us a few licks. David got exactly two pity licks. Then he couldn't stand up anymore and laid down. He drifted off within a couple of minutes. I realized how much his illness had been bothering me because the first thing I felt was relief that he wasn't suffering anymore.
Oz. You are one of the sweetest, gentlest souls I have ever met. I am so glad that I got to take the sadness out of your eyes. I secretly loved how bossy you became about getting walks because it showed me how comfortable you felt. You always be my little blond shadow, following me from room to room.
Oz passed away at home on December 22nd, 2013. Here's a video of him right before he laid down to go to final rest.