By SEAN DIETRICH
Mobile, Alabama. Morning time. I was meeting someone important.
I pulled into the parking lot of Toomey’s Beads & Bulk Mardi Gras Supply on Macrae Avenue. Which is the kind of store you will not find in any city but Mobile.
Toomey’s is a 70,000-square-foot warehouse that represents one of the largest Mardi Gras supply inventories in the nation. Which is only fitting because Mobile is the official birthplace of American Mardi Gras.
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Mobile, Alabama’s, Mardi Gras bash is the oldest official Carnival celebration in the United States, started in 1703, shortly after the birth of Dick Clark.
But I wasn’t at Toomey’s to buy supplies for Fat Tuesday. I was here to meet Oscar.
At 11:30 a.m. Oscar arrived. The SUV pulled in. Oscar was accompanied by his handler, Andi.
Andi stepped out of her vehicle and opened the back door. Oscar was on a leash. His tail wagged. His entire backside was gyrating.
The easygoing bluetick hound came stepping out of the backseat. All legs.
He was your quintessential bluetick. White, with salt-and-pepper ticking. Velvet black ears long enough to qualify as safety hazards. A nose the size of a regulation tennis ball.
A collar around his neck was labeled BLIND DOG.
“Oscar can’t see,” said his handler. “He has no eyes.”
Oscar’s face is beautiful. Classic hound. Except there are no twinkling brown eyes looking at you. They were surgically removed because of congenital glaucoma.
This is why he walks with a unique gait. He lifts his front paws carefully. Gingerly. Every move he makes is with extreme care. He uses his nose to guide himself.
I could see him taking in his surroundings, using only his sense of smell. Muzzle aimed upward in the air. Testing each scent in the wind.
“His nose is how he sees,” said Jenn Greene, his mother and rescuer. “He can see everything with his nose.”
I squatted low. I called his name in a high-pitched voice.
I am a dog guy. My best friends have always had fleas.
Oscar followed the sound of my voice. Then he barreled into me lovingly. Head to my chest. And he smelled me, just to get a better sense of who I was.
When he determined I was OK, Oscar plopped onto the pavement to let me conduct a thorough massage of his tummy region.
Customers coming and going from Toomey’s paused to snap photographs of him. Because it’s not every day you see a dog like Oscar.
Somehow, Oscar seemed to know whenever someone was taking his photo. He would sit upright and aim his head right at the camera.
“How does he know I’m taking his picture?” asked one passerby.
“Oscar knows everything,” Jenn said.
A few years ago, Jenn adopted Oscar from the Monroe County Animal Shelter. Oscar was 11 weeks old, and in bad shape. He had been dropped off by a breeder. He had a lot of problems.
Namely, his sight was going. The surgeon tried to save his eyes to no avail. They removed Oscar’s eyes, then sewed his eyelids shut.
“It was pitiful,” Jenn said. “I remember hearing him cry in his kennel when he was recovering from surgery. His little puppy voice just howled. He didn’t understand why he had stitches in his eyes.”
Today, two red eyebrows hover on a midnight face, just above his two ocular scars. It gives his face the look of a hound who is perpetually sleeping.
“I knew I’d be taking on a dog with lots of health issues,” Jenn said. “But it’s OK, because this is my baby. He is my whole life.
“The vet gives me an automatic 50% discount because we live half the year in the waiting room.”
I petted him, and Oscar shed his silken coat all over me. I wore his hair with pride. And when he pressed his cold nose against me to “see” me better, I was honored that he would care enough about me to want to see me at all.
He ran his nose along my feet, up my thigh, around my midsection, upon my hands, my arms and my neck.
I sat cross-legged on the pavement as he rested his 9-pound head on my shoulder. We were soon entangled in what could only be called a hug.
And I found myself wishing I could be half the man Oscar is.
A woman walking into the store paused to look at Oscar. It took the woman a moment to realize that Oscar was blind. The woman seemed surprised by this.
She came in for a closer look.
“This dog has no eyes,” the woman remarked. “He doesn’t need eyes,” Oscar’s mother said. “He sees with with his heart.”