Oliver is the first deaf dog I worked with after adopting Edison and he occupies a very special place in my heart. He came into the shelter as a stray and I chose the name Oliver for two reasons: that was our second choice when naming Edison, and he just looked like an Oliver.
At the time, Edison was still a puppy and I was taking him to work with me every day. Animal welfare doesn’t offer many perks and the pay is crappy, but every day is Take Your Dog To Work Day and, for animal people, that’s worth more than dental. Meeting special dogs like Oliver is another perk, so it all balances out, if not financially, at least in all the ways that matter.
Oliver was a very sound dog. Healthy, happy and able to withstand the stresses of shelter life, he was a shining bright spot in my day. I would greet him in the morning after getting Edison settled and he always made me smile. He has that effect on people; he just makes you feel better. Once we had said hello, I would take Oliver and Edison to the park to let them play.
They became fast friends and really seemed to enjoy each other’s company. They always greeted each other with the briefest of play bows then, with a wink of a tail wag, all hell would break loose. They would run like wild fire from one end to the other, bounce, jump and then roll for their life in any spot of dirt they could find. They would rough house for a while as only two bully dogs can, but then they would settle down. As if conjoined, they would walk the perimeter in unison, smell the same blades of grass and simultaneously inspect the two sides of a single leaf. In time, they would lay down next to each other and gently paw at each other’s face. I would watch Oliver and Edison from a distance, storing away snapshots to comfort me later.
Though I loved Oliver, I knew he wasn’t our dog and I would have to let him go. That is the grift of my job: you meet them, you love them and then you send them on to the rest of their journey, hoping it is a happy one. You try and stay in touch but usually you don’t. You ask the adopters to send you updates- and some of the them do. People like John and Lida.
I’m not an adoption counselor for good reason: I don’t trust anyone. I’m also very protective of the deaf dogs at work. I don’t think that is a character flaw and I won’t apologize. I think it’s important that deaf dog newbies understand both the gifts and the challenges of life with a deaf dog, and I also think that a person with practical experience can do that more effectively than one who has only read a book or a blog.
Usually when I am talking to potential adopters, their eyes go blank. They nod as if listening, but you can tell that they have checked out. Perhaps they weren’t very sincere in their interest. Maybe they have realized that they aren’t able to meet the needs of a deaf dog. Or maybe I’ve just scared them. When that happens, I politely wrap up the conversation and suggest they keep looking.
But not John and Lida. I remember that I loved them from the get go. When I was talking, they were listening. They asked follow up questions, relevant questions, thoughtful questions. They were absorbing what I was saying. At the same time, they were watching Oliver, playing with him and smiling- especially John. I may be totally off-base, but in my gut I sensed a special connection between John and Oliver. It was going to be John & Oliver on the couch, John & Oliver in the rain, John & Oliver, well, just John & Oliver. There is a very special connection between a boy and his dog, and Oliver had found his boy.
Don’t get me wrong. Lida was very involved and loved Oliver too. I don’t doubt for one second that she has given Oliver a piece of her heart. In fact, I know that to be true. I see the love in her eyes- for both John and Oliver- in the photos that she takes; a picture always says more about the photographer than her subjects.
I’m writing this one week before I see Oliver for the first time since I said, “So long“. It’s been a year now, and I’m a little nervous. I know he’ll be healthy, I know he’ll be happy and I know he and Edison will pick up right where they left off. I’m nervous because I know my heart will break a little bit more. He’s Oliver and, well, I love him more than I should.