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And Then My Dog Died: The Best/Worst Year

Ollie, the best worst dog | Photo by Mary Schrott
Ollie, the best worst dog | Photo by Mary Schrott

Thump. Thump. Tikita-tikita-tikita. Two car doors slam and an automatic garage door begins to recoil.

Heavy pants steam up the lower quarter of a red door and black pancake-sized ears pulse listening to the noise beyond the barrier.

The car locks with a "bee-beep" and the sticky wet nose inches closer.

Feet crunch over snow in the driveway -- shuffling behind the car to collect bags of groceries.

Toe nails tap dance behind the red door with excitement as the snow crunching stops and the door handle slowly rotates.

"Hi Ollie," I say opening the door to the garage with one hand while balancing bags and a jug of milk in another.

Ollie, a 90-pound black dog with a rib cage comparable to my own, makes a final attempt at self control -- bouncing twice on his front two feet then jolting past me.

I assumed he wanted to check out the car when he rushed past me -- see what we got, smelled who we met, check if we brought any friends back. Two steps into the basement, however, I am stopped by a crime scene.

A five-pound, pillow-sized bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips lies empty on the cement floor.

I set my bags down and step outside. Streams of projectile vomit surge from Oliver into the white snow. Five pounds worth of chocolate chips, some still in original form, are now steaming in the driveway.

The following day Ollie buzzed around the house -- looking like he took a hit of cocaine and making frequent stops at the water bowl.

Many families might have concern that their dog consumed copious amounts of chocolate, but this was just another bender for Oliver -- the best worst dog.

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We got Ollie five years ago as a dense 30-pound puppy from a dog lady's house in a neighboring town. She told us he came from under a porch somewhere in Kentucky and we took him home.

He ate hundreds of dollars worth of shoes. Destroyed family heirlooms. Farted when we had company over. Broke into neighbor's houses to drink their toilet water. Stole thawing pork roasts. Watched you as you went to the bathroom. Swallowed whole sticks of butter. Consumed dozens of pencils and pens.

Once he even he stole a child's ice cream cone from her hand during a runaway rampage down the street as we trailed behind him.

He was the worst, but we loved him endlessly.

He was always happy to see you, lay with you on the couch or cover your toes under the table -- he had the heart of a loyal friend. Everyone who met Ollie loved him. Kids would stop and play with him in the front yard after school, our mail woman brought him special treats everyday and guests would give up their spots on the couch for him when they visited.

He watched my field hockey games, prom pictures and even was a guest star at my graduation party. He filled a hole in our house as my sisters moved away one by one and rooms became empty. He became a part of home.

This year a lot of my home has been lost. During spring break, my grandparents died together -- suddenly and in neighboring hospital rooms. I said goodbye to my grandfather as he gasped his last breaths, sedated in a reclined hospital bed, then walked over to my grandmother, covered in tubes and an oxygen mask, and repeated the phrase.

The next time I saw them was laid out in a funeral home, three days later, in adjacent coffins.

"It's kinda sweet, like 'The Notebook,'" people at the viewing told me. I nodded and watched my dad greet people at the door -- warning them that both his mother and father were laying in the front. Many didn't know this because my grandmother died a day after my grandfather and it was a quick arrangement to combine their funerals.

I returned to school with an unopened Easter card from my grandmother in the mailbox, finding it hard to answer the constant question of "How was your spring break?"

It wasn't great. During break, a student also fell to his death from the radio tower next to my department's building. A few weeks later, my off-campus neighbor fatally overdosed.

At the time, I was a news editor at the student paper, covering these events and receiving large amounts of hate for a flawed article attempting to memorialize one of the late students.

Meanwhile, my dad was cleaning out and selling his childhood home. After much pain and endless postmortem tasks to accomplish, he and my mom took some of his inheritance to go on an anniversary trip to California.

After the trip when they landed back in Pittsburgh, they drove straight to the pet hospital to put Oliver down. He injured his spinal chord when they were gone and was paralyzed from the waist down.

Photo by admin | The Miami Student
One of Schrott's many walks with Ollie | Photo by Mary Schrott

He had a good last run though. The week before he died, he managed to swipe a couple loaves of zucchini bread from the counter.

It's hard to understand the timing of things and easy to feel bad for yourself. Change is hard, but it's also linear.

This year has been the worst in so many ways with a lot of sadness and pain, but it has also been the best. I'm finishing up my time in college and now know more about myself than ever before.

I know what I love, what makes me happy and what I value because of how the bad parts of this year have pushed me.

I loved my dog so much because he was the worst, but brought out the best -- and, sometimes, that's the best kind of love.