I usually don't get so attached to clients that they get an obituary, but Oscar was different.
When I first got the call that an other-dog-agressive pit bull mix named Oscar needed a walker, I told Stacy (our virtual assistant) to turn it down flat. I couldn't even recommend a colleague to take what sounded like an insurance liability, as most would-be clients usually downplay their companion animals' potential flaws.
A few days later, Oscar's mom called back practically in tears. "He's a really good boy and all he needs is someone to let him out in the yard. He doesn't have to have a walk." The voicemail tugged at my heart strings and we booked a consult.
At the consult, Oscar was bouncing around, thrilled that a new friend came to visit. As difficult as it was for me, I ignored him entirely until he calmed down. Meanwhile, I chatted with his really cool parents.
To my very pleasant surprise, Oscar was exuberant, but not conventionally "bad." He relaxed and I gave him a kibble treat from my pocket. Looking into his twinkling brown eyes, we made a nonverbal agreement that I would spoil him rotten if he behaved. That sealed the deal, we were officially BFF's. Oscar continued to believe that the kibble from my bag was actually the best treat in the whole world.
By the end of our first week as besties, our back yard visits were getting a little boring. Oscar and I ventured out on a pre-approved route with few opportunities for dog-to-dog contact. He did great! We simply crossed the street if we saw someone, and collected loads of compliments on what a gorgeous dog he was.
From that day forward, I always got what we call the "Publisher's Clearing House" greeting from Oscar. You know the surprised, ecstatic reaction we have when someone shows up with cameras, a giant check, and balloons. That's pretty much what walking days were like for Oscar, and come to think of it all the other pit bull mixes we walk. I got a new nickname from his parents, "Aunt Kelly," which got an excited reaction from Oscar every time it was mentioned.
In warm weather, we got better at walking past a particular house with two little barkers. We would cross the street and Oscar learned to enjoy the sights and smells instead of reacting. One time a new neighbor's Vizsla came running out to greet us and the street was too busy to cross. "Hey, get your dog please!" I pleaded and they called him back inside before anything could happen. That street was now off the pre-approved route list!
-- Folks, don't be that person. Just because your dog is friendly doesn't mean mine is. Thanks. --
If a dog ever came up behind us, we would jog for a block, Oscar believing we were simply celebrating the beautiful day. We wouldn't run too far because Oscar was actually 12 years old. He had a tendency to get too excited and throw his back out. I witnessed this once and stayed with him, kissing his nose, until his pain meds kicked in. By the end of the summer, Oscar's parents courageously took him out for an easy hike. They couldn't believe how much Oscar's manners had improved!
Oscar had an autoimmune disorder, so when his kidneys failed a few weeks ago, he went fast. At first he tried to hide his symptoms from me, putting on a brave face so we could still go for walks. His parents left notes about his dwindling energy and appetite, and a blood test confirmed their worst fears. We prepared ourselves, making sure not to get upset in front of Oscar as he was so sensitive and already a little blue. On our last visit together, he perked up for the first time all week. He wagged his tail, got up to greet me, and did his little bum scratch dance. I gave him some of Aunt Kelly's magic treats and he ate a whole bowl. Finally he got up on the couch and I sat with him, petting him gently. Ok, a few tears fell but I'm pretty sure Oscar didn't notice. His mom came home and we chatted and hugged. Oscar walked me to the door and gave me a kiss goodbye.
Each relationship your animals have with their sitter is unique and special. I know I'm not the only person whom Oscar made to feel like a million bucks. He had friends from all walks of life: cats, a vet tech, a housekeeper, and a grandma I often competed with for his time! What gets me is that I almost said no to having this amazing dog in my life. I am so grateful that, out of all the dogs in the shelter, Oscar's parents picked the rotten pitty mix. Oscar's legacy is for us all not to judge by breed or perceived flaws, but by heart. He would want us to always take a second look at the pit bull you were considering walking or even adopting.
The Cat Lady donated in Oscar's memory to Baltimore Bully Crew. This amazing nonprofit personally responded with thanks and condolences, which is quite impressive. If you can't adopt a pit bull, please consider donating so another one can find a home as good as Oscar's.