Otis Campbell

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Sean Dietrich

By SEAN DIETRICH

Currently, as I write this, a dog is sleeping on my feet. His name is Otis Campbell. He is black and white, 90 pounds, a Capricorn and likes long walks on the beach.

Ever since my wife’s mother passed away last week, Otis has refused to leave my side.

Yes, I know he’s just an animal, and I know his brain is only about the size of a tangerine, but I’m telling you, this dog knows stuff.

I wish you could see him right now. He is half awake, half asleep, sort of standing watch over me. I’ve always wondered how dogs can remain deathly still without falling asleep.

It reminds me of a guy my father once knew. The man could sit on the front porch without moving a muscle for days. The only way you knew he was alive was by his toothpick — it moved occasionally.

I can tell that Otis senses a deep sadness in our house ever since the funeral. He might not know what’s going on exactly, but like I said, dogs just know.

Otis has witnessed every random emotional breakdown in our kitchen. He’s seen my wife weep until she has a headache. Otis can sense whenever my wife is about to completely lose it.

Before the sobbing even happens, he runs toward her and careens into her body like a 90-pound cannonball of hair and spit, willing her not to cry.

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly three years since Otis came to us from an adoption center. We found him when a local pet shelter had a meet-and-greet wherein they crammed dozens of crazed dogs into a giant cellblock, then threw a party.

The place was a circus. You couldn’t hear what any of the volunteers were saying because the collective noise was loud enough to make a grown man cry. The smell was even more impressive.

The different kennels had fanciful posters with the dogs’ names emblazoned in curly letters. Some of the puppies were even dressed in little costumes to look like lion tamers and tiny Little Bo-Peeps. The volunteers referred to these costumes as “curb appeal.”

My wife and I walked through the doors with our dog, Thelma Lou, on a leash. The deal was that we were going to let Thelma pick out her baby brother.

All three of us were immediately bombarded with 2000 square feet of non-stop, tail-wagging, butt-wiggling, soul-swiping cuteness. In a few seconds, Jamie and I had already split up and zeroed in on dogs we couldn’t live without.

My wife, the bleeding heart, selected the sickest and most health-compromised puppy in the room.

Meanwhile, I had selected a dog with a stiff case of ADHD. I temporarily named him Gomer. Although, technically, I’m not sure Gomer was a boy, since Gomer never slowed down enough for volunteers to locate what they referred to as his “pom poms.”

Still, none of these dogs turned out to be The One.

Oh, you’ll know The One the moment you first meet. There is a soul-mate-dog for every dog lover. In fact, owning a dog is a lot like being married, the only difference being that husbands don’t get treats for peeing in the backyard.

After a full day of meeting puppies, we still hadn’t found the special one. We were about to leave when, on our way out, we noticed a kennel against the rear wall.

Inside the cage was a black-and-white puppy lying with his paws beneath his chin. It was the classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” pose.

The volunteer glanced at her clipboard and said, “This puppy doesn’t have a name.”

It was as though this poor dog knew he would never be adopted. He didn’t wag his tail when we came near, he never nuzzled our hands. “Why bother?” he was probably thinking.

But when a volunteer opened the kennel door, the rest was history. Thelma Lou and her new friend ran in circles, howling playfully, crouching low, mouths slung open with wide smiles, 12-foot tongues hanging out.

The two animals played so happily they jeopardized the structural integrity of the animal shelter. And when playtime was over, my wife simply looked at the volunteer and said, “Where do we sign?”

Otis has been in our family ever since.

And a few days ago when we arrived home from burying my wife’s mother, one of the first creatures to greet us at the door was Otis.

Our two dogs sprinted straight for my wife. Instinct led them directly to her — somehow they knew she was grieving. I watched as Otis showered my wife with kisses. I saw him gleefully tackle her and wedge his body so tightly against hers that she had no choice but to love him.

And when she began to cry, I saw him clean the salty tears from her face until she started laughing. It was genuine laughter, too. In fact, it was the first smile I’d seen on my wife’s face in weeks. And it was put there by a canine. I still don’t know how he pulled off such a feat.

I’m telling you, dogs know stuff.

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