For the Love of an Asshole Dog

15 May

Oliver was the best dog in the world. He was my best friend, constant companion, and impenetrable bodyguard for years. He was huge and had hair that went down to the floor. He let me put it in a little ponytail on the top of his head, a fountain of tawny fur that would stick straight into the air, mimicking his expressive black ears that turned like weather-vanes towards interesting sounds. He could fetch with the best of them, and held two tennis balls in his mouth at all times when he wasn’t eating or drinking, always ready for someone to play. You could even practice soccer with him; he’d sprint around the yard with me or my brother while we worked our best moves and fake outs, and then he’d dive in and pick up the soccer ball in his mouth. Yes, a regulation-sized soccer ball.

Oliver was a Briard. Which is French for “Awesome Dog.” (This is a fake-Ollie but real Briard.)

I did everything possible with him, and he tolerated me something amazing. He let me use him as a full body pillow while watching television sprawled on the floor with him in front of the T.V. He let me put braids in his fur that then got knotted up and needed a groomer to remove. He ate the green stems of strawberries I fed him (actually the only thing he wouldn’t eat was grapes). And he sat patiently with me when I sold lemonade and pet rocks on the corner (probably scaring away more customers than attracting them). He danced with me, standing on his hind legs with his front “arms” on my shoulders, and he was actually just about the right height.

The Fire Incident (aka Totally My Bad)

I even once lit him on fire with a friend of mine by accident. We were lighting tissues on fire, watching them disappear into a puff of smoke in a second (Great idea, kids! Try this at home! Also: Sorry, Mom & Dad.) We ran out of tissues in my bedroom and got some from the bathroom. Not realizing these were the newfangled kind that had lotion in them, my friend and I lit a tissue and it burned slowly but steadily towards my hand. Panicking, I ran to the bathroom to drop it in the toilet, but Oliver, a herding dog who was always guarding me, followed. My hand got hot as the smoldering tissue got smaller, and I freaked and dropped it and it landed right on Ollie’s back. Whoosh, his fur caught on fire the tiniest bit. My friend and I quickly patted it out, and other than the acrid smell of burnt hair, Ollie was no worse for wear, but still. I lit his fur on fire and he still thought I was the coolest, and he didn’t tell on me. That all said, Ollie did have some asshole-ish tendencies.

The Shining Incident

When I say he protected me, I mean it. And while I loved it, he sure was an asshole to anyone he deemed a threat to me. He was a herding dog and I was his sheep, and no one was going to tell him otherwise. He regularly got between me and my brother, father, or friend if we were joking around or playing a little rough. He barked warnings to strangers in a deep herding dog voice, telling them to back away from his person. Sometimes he got impressively, though somewhat dangerously, protective: just ask the family friend who thought it’d be funny to torment me by whispering “redrum” to tease me after I was scarred for life by The Shining. Oliver, who was upstairs and asleep, somehow heard this and bounded downstairs. He knocked that guy clean off his chair and onto his back on our kitchen floor. Ollie then stood on him, holding him down, barking a ferocious bark in his face until he was pulled off. That’s right; no one could mess with me when Ollie was around. And in case you couldn’t conclude this on your own, The Shining is absolutely horrifying to a ten year old.

I’m 32 and it freaks me out to even look at this.

The Tongue Issues

Then there was his whole choking on his tongue bit. He’d lie on his back, his huge legs splayed every which way, chomping on a tennis ball or sleeping. And then all of a sudden you’d hear the most Chewbaccian noises (noises Chewbacca would make are Chewbaccian. I’ve decided.) that scared everyone in hearing distance. I’d calmly walk over, reach into his huge mouth up to my elbow, and pull his tongue out of his throat. Do I think he was really choking on his tongue? No… but with Ollie you could never be sure, so I stuck my hand in that huge, hot, slimy mouth and helped my boy out whenever needed. I think he did it on purpose just to get me to gross out all my friends by getting shoulder deep in his huge throat.

The ‘You are My Sheep, Little Girl, Get That in Your Head’ Incident

His herding dog tendencies could be a problem also. When I wasn’t doing what he wanted or walking where he wanted to go, he’d bite my ankles in an effort to direct me, or he’d head-butt me behind my knees to knock me on my ass. He also didn’t understand when he couldn’t go places with me. I remember one night when I was walking out the door to go to a sleepover, sleeping bag in hand. Huge Oliver heard the door open and came bounding towards me. He grabbed the hood of my coat and pulled me backwards into the kitchen, far away from the door, and wouldn’t let go of the coat. His little sheep was going nowhere on his watch.

Where’s my person? (Note: this is also an Ollie lookalike, not the original recipe).

The Let’s Go to the Videotape Incident

Then there’s the videotape of the time baby Ollie and I were running around the yard and my dad was trying to get me to train him. Ollie was just a puppy, albeit a large puppy, and he was all over me. He was biting my ankles and legs in quick little painful nips; he was jumping up and accidentally scratching my hands. I didn’t know how to control him, and the tape shows me running and Ollie chasing, ripping my coat, biting my hands, etc. as my dad yells from behind the camera, “Tell him ‘no’! Smack him on the butt!” The video then goes dark, and comes back on a few seconds later. We are now on my deck, with a whimpering me staring into the camera with a shredded winter coat, scratched cheek, bloodied hands, and baby Ollie sitting innocently next to me. “What did you learn today?” my dad asks.

“That it’s not mean to tell him ‘no’ and that I can’t keep him unless he’s trained,” I say through tears. That was the start of Oliver taking two puppy kindergarten courses. He was not a star pupil and had to repeat a grade, but he won for class clown and most popular, by far.

And last, but not least…

The “Don’t Let Go of the Leash” Incident

As I’ve mentioned before, I had my own dog walking business for a few years when I was growing up. I was annoyed that although all of these people trusted me and paid me to walk their dogs, my parents wouldn’t let me walk Oliver alone.

“But I walk big dogs all the time! Maisie is big!” I’d plead.

“Maisie does not weigh more than you do. Oliver does.” My mother would logically and infuriatingly point out. But finally, once Ollie was more trained and I was used to commanding him to listen to me, my parents relented. I was so excited. The last thing my mother said to me on our first solo walk was “Whatever you do, DO NOT LET GO OF HIS LEASH.” Got it. Duh, Mom.

We were doing well, two best friends, sniffing the grass on a pretty spring day, not a care in the world. I chatted to Ollie as we walked, and his intelligent eyes and big, twitchy ears gave the impression that he was listening to every word I had to say. Until he saw a squirrel. A squirrel he needed to herd. He started pulling me, walking fast and then faster. I pulled back, yelling “Heel! Heel, Oliver!” in my most authoritative voice, but he was deaf to my pleas.

The actual asshole-animal of this story. Screw you, Squirrel. Are you trying to get me killed?

As much as I fought it, I had to break into a jog and then a run to keep up with him, screaming “Ollie, STOP!” as I flailed along behind him. But I was not letting go of that leash. He charged on, oblivious to the fact that I was tethered to him. He was getting that damn squirrel. And then the inevitable happened. I tripped. Bam, I face-planted on the grass and was on my stomach before I knew what happened. But I am stubborn and was still holding on to that damn leash. So Ollie, without even breaking pace, pulled me along the grass of neighbors’ pristine yards. I was flat on my stomach with my arms out in front of me, eating grass and dirt and bumping along at full excited-dog speed. I was nothing more than a mild weight to him, and we flew along, me screaming the whole way. It wasn’t until a neighbor came running out towards us that Ollie was distracted enough to stop. I don’t remember much that happened next, other than 1) I think my mom, who had been secretly watching us, came running up and 2) My neighbor, who had happened to look out his window in time to see a little girl being dragged full speed by a massive dog, was laughing so hard he couldn’t stand up straight. “Why didn’t you just let go?” he asked me.

I could write a book about my adventures with Oliver, and maybe one day I will. For now though, I’ll stop here, with the smell of grass and springs past in my mind. Sometimes when I’m falling asleep at night, I think I feel the weight of him across my legs, which was the way he used to sleep with me; my legs under him so he’d wake up if I got out of bed. Those who have known the love of a great animal will understand the relationship Oliver and I had. I cannot imagine having grown up without him, and think of him regularly to this day. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of sharing your life with a loving and infuriating animal, if you can find it in your heart, perhaps you should stop by your local shelter. You never know what shape the best friend you’ll ever have in your life will come in. He might just be covered in fur and choke on his own tongue.

The real Oliver, seeing me off to a dance. That broken arm came from soccer and was not a dog-drag related injury.

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4 Responses to “For the Love of an Asshole Dog”

  1. Dad May 15, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

    Who was lighting tissues with you in your bedroom?!

    • opheliasprozac May 16, 2012 at 11:08 am #

      I’ll give you a hint… starts with a “V” and ends with an “ikki”. 🙂

  2. Tom Kulesa May 18, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    Damn you, Gretchen! You made me cry at work. This story is adorable, hysterical, and as warm and fuzzy as I imagine Oliver was. I swear you have a memoir in this whole Animals are Assholes series. I can see it ultimately being made into a movie, like A Christmas Story.

  3. Alex May 20, 2012 at 3:52 am #

    Aw man, I miss Ollie too!! And I only met him a few times. I also had the pleasure of watching you retrieve his tongue from his throat. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.

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