Saying Goodbye to Odom

 

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On Sunday, February 18, 2024, I held my dear Odom in my arms as I said goodbye to him at the emergency veterinarian. Only a week or so earlier, we went for walks each day as if little was wrong, and then only a few days later, the cancer in his body had made him paralyzed to the point where he was no longer able to function. I am struggling deeply with the idea that I was cheated out of slow decline with him and having those “senior dog” walks. 

Even at 15 years old, he decided where my other dog, Cooper, and I would be stopping and starting on our walks. In dog years, he was old, but he still had extraordinary strength, and if he decided we were stopping, he would anchor his body, which was ⅓ of my weight, and we waited until he was done. I had no issue ever of succumbing to his whims. 

 

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When I was younger, I remember how much my mom loved that I was home. Not whether she would have conversations with me or that I would be doing anything in particular, but just having the comfort of knowing I was there. That is how I felt about Odom. He spent the majority of his life sleeping in different spots, and one of the most repeated things in my house when I entered a room was, “Where’s Odom?” I just needed to know in which of his 3-4 spots he was sleeping in, as it comforted me to know he was there. For a dog that slept so much and was so quiet, it is amazing how empty the house feels without feeling his presence. It will be a hole in my heart that can never be replaced.

 

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In September of 2010, I had a dog named Kobe, the first dog to enter my life as my own. I remember having to say goodbye to him, and I was devastated. After walking around like a zombie for a month, someone I knew from Twitter reached out to me and said something to the effect of, “I know you are struggling with the idea that you could never replace Kobe, and you can’t. But there are other dogs out there who need a home that will love them, so don’t close your mind to that.” I initially struggled with the idea but eventually decided to go to the Edmonton Humane Society and see what it felt like.

I remember seeing several dogs and spending time with them in their respective rooms, and although they were all sweet, I didn’t feel anything.

Then I remember walking into one room and seeing this tall, lanky dog wagging his enormous tail as he headed toward me, and I was in love. Immediately, I fell in love. I snuggled that dog hard and connected to him from that moment. But I also knew I wasn’t ready to take a dog home, and after asking the volunteers about a million questions, I decided to leave without Odom. 

 

Immediate regret.

 

The doors closed for the evening, and I knew I had made a mistake. I also realized that this dog was so impressive that there was no way he would be there the next day. I stayed up all night, plotting how to ensure he would come home with me. Before that even happened, I had named him Odom in my mind, which, in retrospect, was setting myself up for heartbreak, but something had drawn me to him.

The next day, I was at the Edmonton Humane Society about thirty minutes before the door opened and stood in line like it was the release of a new iPhone 4. When the volunteer opened the door, I ran directly to his room, but he was not there. I was devastated. 

Seconds later, he came through a small door from outside into the room and ran to me, and it was over. The adoption process had started. There was no way this dog was not coming home with me.

I had to bring my other dog, Shaq, to meet Odom before I was allowed to take him home, and she was a bit leery and immediately established dominance. Odom was good with that.

He hopped into the passenger seat, and I drove with one hand and petted him with the other as I took him to his new home.

 

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The sadness I had felt was lifted. Although I still missed Kobe, my mind was on ensuring that Odom was set up in a good space. He was about 8-12 months old when he came home with me, and he probably had some baggage, but on that first night, he slept in my bed. In the 14-plus years I had him, if I was home, he slept in my room. Sometimes, it was on the bed beside me, and sometimes, it was on a blanket nearby, but it was always close and his choice. 

Neither of us felt the same without the presence of the other.

That dog lifted me so high, even when I was at my lowest.

 

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A couple of years later, I remember going into one of the worst bouts of depression that I had gone through and needing to take several weeks off of work. I was so appreciative that my boss pushed me to do it for my well-being, even though I resisted the idea.

Every day, Odom did not leave my side and, in fact, forced me to get up on the days that were the last thing I wanted to do.

I don’t think I would be here now if he weren’t there then. He gave me a reason to get up in the morning because I felt that when you love someone the way I loved Odom, I had something to get up for. He made me feel needed.

 

He was there with me when Shaq passed when my father passed and with the birth of all three of my children. He saw me at my best and my worst. My kids were his kids, and he looked over them each day while letting them unknowingly jam fingers into every part of his body.

 

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He was diagnosed with diabetes in 2021, and I remember how sick he was. It was tough, but with treatment, he was fine, although a bit slower. As my family had decided we would move to Florida in July of 2022, I remember the months leading up to the move and praying he would make the trip. His health was getting worse, and I wasn’t sure if he would be okay.

After months of worrying about the drive from Edmonton to Orlando, not knowing if Odom would be okay with it, I started the trip. What I was terrified of became one of the best experiences of my life.

Instead of letting my dogs out each morning to go to the bathroom, I had to walk them each morning before I left, once during the middle of the drive and then at the end of the night before sleeping in a new location. Both Odom and Cooper loved the experience, and I loved that they loved the experience.

Upon arrival in Orlando, a new routine was established. 

Every morning I was here, I walked my dogs first thing in the morning and right before going to bed. It was the highlight of their day, and it brought me such joy. And because we walked at the same time each day, we often saw others with the same routine.

An older man would see us each morning and say, “Can I pet your dogs?” and they would wag their tails voraciously at the love of a stranger. If you ever entered into my house, Odom made you feel like you were the most important person there and would find where you were sitting and drop his gigantic head on your lap for pets and snuggles. He made people become “dog people” whether they wanted to or not because of his love. With a tinge of jealousy but an abundance of pride in how he made others feel, I only loved that dog more. A very good friend of mine who had met Odom only a few times said, “That dog had such a large presence.” I could not have described it better myself.

 

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Within a few weeks of moving to Orlando, his health had changed dramatically for the better, and he had more energy and less stiffness. Because of the change in climate, I was told that he received added life, and if you said to me that this was the only benefit of moving here, I still would have done it. All I wanted was more time with him because he saved me in more ways than I could ever mention.

At the end of December 2023, as I was petting him on the couch, I felt a bump in his chest and knew immediately, although small, it was something. A week later, it was confirmed that it was cancer and that his time was limited.

I could write another fifty pages on the guilt I feel about what I should have done or could have done, and I am crying profusely at this moment. All I can tell you is that I did everything to ensure that Odom had every pain-free moment in this world that I could provide. Even when I first got him, I bought him the best food possible because I know it prolongs life. If I knew something would give him a minute more of a pain-free life, I would have done it because he did that for me.

I explored every treatment possible at the end, and in some ways, I don’t know if it made it worse or better, and I am not sure that I will ever get over the idea that I could have done something more or different. I do know that I would have done whatever I could to give him the best life possible for as long as possible. And somehow, I wish I could have done more.

One of my favorite movies in the world is “My Dog Skip,” and there are two lines in it that I am paraphrasing that will always stick out to me. The first is, “We spend our entire childhood wishing that we can become adults, and then spend our entire adult lives wishing we could return to being kids.” Odom gave me the enthusiasm for life like a kid. Even at 15 years old, his trot to the door for strangers and for food was childlike, and he made my heart patter in a way that was unique to him. He was young even when he was old, and I love that about him.

The second line was, “I was an only child, and he was my only dog.” This refers to the main character being an only child and growing up with Skip in his life.  I am not an only child, and Odom was not my only dog. I will tell you that when he lay his head on my lap on the couch, I noticed nothing else in the world. It was me and him, and that was it.

 

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Since his passing, I have heard from people I haven’t heard from in years and, maybe, had purposely lost contact with for whatever reason. But when they reached out to me to give me condolences, it was a reminder from Odom, even in his passing, to give love to strangers because it was a great way to see the happiness in others. He even made people he never met better. He made me better, and I will never forget those who reached out to me during this time. It mattered tremendously.

I honestly don’t know how to end this because then it feels like there is too much finality. I felt forced to say goodbye to Odom when I was not ready to do that. We are never ready.

I hope somewhere, Odom is running around with Kobe and Shaq, laying his head on my dad’s lap. My dad was never a dog person until he met Odom. Then, he became a dog person. Odom did that.

One day, I will see them all again and feel that head on my lap as I rub his ears and hear him snore. 

Do you know what is the biggest lesson Odom taught me? The best love you can receive from someone else is that they help you love yourself. Odom brought out the best in me, even at my worst. 

Love you, Odom. I hope my kids will read this one day and know how much you saved their dad.

 

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