For today’s blog entry, I would like to give the biography of the inspiration behind Dog Dharma — my sweet little dog, Otis. I have had dogs for most of my nearly 58 years. My first dog was a collie mix named Fuzzy, given to me by my Uncle Julian when I was a year old. Dogs have been my true companions, comforting me in bad times and bringing me joy in good times. Fuzzy got me through my dad’s death — I came home from school every day and cried into his soft fur. Here’s Fuzzy:
One of the few gaps in having a dog friend came when I moved to Bethesda, Maryland to work in the computer field. I rented an apartment in a highrise where dogs weren’t allowed. But after my previous partner, Kim and I got together in 1996 and bought a condo in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, DC, the first thing I wanted to do was to get a puppy. There’s a lot to be told, but for now, I will stick to what is relevant to Dog Dharma.
I had once had a tiny 7 lb rat terrier which is a fairly uncommon breed — but highly intelligent, loyal, and full of boundless energy and playfulness. Her name was Rooster, and here’s a picture of her:
So I spent quite a bit of time looking for a rat terrier puppy, but could find none locally. I had already decided on a name for the pup-to-be: Otis. Since no Otis could be found locally, I scoured the Internet for reputable breeders, and found one in Florida. The breeder sent photographs of her current litter, and Kim and i picked out “the one.” Well, pup was female, but the name Otis had already stuck, so we kept it.
Otis was born in Florida in November of 1997, and she came to us in January or February of 1998. Weaned far enough along that she’d already lost some of her puppy fat, she was a spindly ball of energy. I taught her to fetch the little tennis balls, an activity she enjoyed and would pester me to play continuously.
Otis slept in the bed between me and Kim. Kim went to work early in the morning and I went to work late in the morning, so she didn’t have too much time alone during the daytime. We would take turns walking her, and often walked her together. Bless Kim’s heart, she got tasked with the late-night potty walks since I couldn’t get in my contact lenses before a puddle had been made. Otis became immaculately house-trained, and never made a “mistake” after puppyhood. She’d rather shiver and shake until someone noticed she needed a walk over doing her business inside.
When Otis was a year old, we got a second rat terrier named Henry. Otis was the more typical tri-color, while Henry was black and tan. Before I go further, let me share a photograph or two:
Kim’s hobby was photograph, and the above was a fantastic shot she captured of Otis.
And the above is a picture of Henry and Otis together.
Per mutual agreement, when Kim and I broke up, I took the dogs. I moved to Greenbelt, and since I now had a fenced yard, I decided to adopt a rescue. Rather than looking for a puppy, I chose an older dog who I thought might be less likely to find a forever home, and chose a miniature pinscher named Daisy.
Well, there were some hard years. I was very sad our family with canine children had broken up, but Kim and I remained good friends for a while, and had a shared custody of sorts. Unfortunately, Henry was found to have a tumor on the spinal cord of his neck. We took him to a veterinary oncologist who was able to shrink the tumor with radiation treatment, and then he had doggy physical therapy. But the tumor came back the following year with no more treatment possible, and so he was put down in the summer of 2006.
Kim left us in 2006 as well, moving to Cleveland to get her PhD in social work. So that left me and Otis and Daisy. Meanwhile, Daisy had started to age, with health problems. Severe arthritis, which I treated as best I could.
With the arthritis, Daisy had trouble jumping on the sofa and climbing the couple of steps to the back porch, but one day, she was completely paralyzed from the neck down. Oh, I went into a panic! Got her to a veterinary neurologist, and an MRI was done, and it turned out she had a ruptured disk in her neck. There was such light and love in her dark eyes!! So Daisy was put on the list for emergency surgery, and the ruptured disk was removed, and she was able to walk again. She was so happy! Here’s a photo taken by a vet tech immediately after Daisy’s surgery:
Daisy did well for a couple of years after the ruptured disk was removed, but then the arthritis impacted her cartilage in her throat, and her esophageal flap wore out and she had breathing difficulties. I took her to the best veterinary hospital in the metropolitan DC area, one of the best in the nation (Southpaws), but nothing could be done. We lost the battle on July 7, 2009, just a couple of weeks before I met Paula.
So poor Otis had said goodbye to Kim and Henry, and then Daisy, and it was just me and her… I loved my little Dharma Dog more than anything in this world.
When Paula and I got serious, I had to think about Otis’s welfare. By then, she was 14 years old, but still very full of life. As a small breed, she would have had many more good years. But I worried about whether she could endure and overseas flight. And most of all, I wondered if Paula’s rowdy children could adjust to her and whether she could cope with the new surroundings.
To be honest, I was most concerned about Paula’s daughter with Down’s syndrome, Glenda (pseudonym). I could imagine Glenda picking up Otis at the top of the stairs and dropping her when she wiggled to get free.
The story of the rabbits was also in the back of my mind (see my previous blog post on this topic)….
Paula met Otis for the first time when she visited the US and we married in July of 2010. She doted on Otis, feeding her “people” food despite my complaints and called her “mummy’s girl.” Paula didn’t complain when Otis slept at the foot of the bed. Here’s a photo of Paula and Otis together:
When I expressed worries about Otis and kids adjusting to each other, Paula said to me, “Otis will live out the rest of her years surrounded by love…” And when I expressed concerns about her elderly neighbor who had beheaded her pet rabbit, she dismissed that as well, “He won’t do anything to Otis…” How could she be so sure?? In retrospect, I suspect it was because the truth of what happened to that rabbit wasn’t what she told me.
I was loathe to abandon Otis, but nevertheless looked around for an alternative home for her. None could be found. So I ultimately decided that my only recourse was to bring her with me when I finally moved to the UK. This involved a complicated bureaucratic process and great expense. Being an island nation, England doesn’t have the problem of rabies. Dogs cannot gain entry to the UK without going through the required steps, which involved getting the dog microchipped, and then a rabies vaccination (even if they’ve already had one and are up-to-date), and a 6-month waiting period, and a stamp of certification from the US Department of Agriculture. From the Washington, DC, area, the only approved airline is British Airways, and the crate used must be exactly the right size so that the dog can stand up without its ears touching the top and can lay down fully extended. I got through all these hurdles…
There were problems almost immediately — but not so much with the kids as I’d expected. The kids did feed her too much food unsupervised, and I was fearful they might give her chocolate. And they did try to corner her and pet her a little too much before she was adjusted. But on the whole, they liked to throw balls for her, which she enjoyed immensely.
It was Paula who created difficulties. Naturally, away from the home she’d lived in for years and in completely new surroundings with lots of noise and chaos, she had some house-training problems. This was exacerbated by the kids, who would let her back inside before she’d had time to do her business.
Despite me asking her not to do so, Paula ramped up feeding Otis “people” food. Nothing I said would deter her. But then she got angry when Otis started staring longingly at her plate of food. I tried to tell Paula that if she would just stop giving Otis “people” food, Otis wouldn’t sit and beg. But one time, Paula got so angry, she jumped up and shouted, “I can’t eat with that dog staring at me!” and she dumped her plate of food in the rubbish bin.
Paula had already had several trips to the US by the time I moved to the UK, and she was well aware that Otis had slept in the bed with me since she was a puppy, and never once complained or mentioned that it was a problem. Otis had slept at the foot of the bed during Paula’s visits. But after Otis and I were there permanently, it quite suddenly became an “issue.” She didn’t want Otis on our bed. Fair enough, I suppose, though it would have been nice if she had mentioned this so it could have been discussed before moving…
Trouble was, Paula was inconsistent. Half the time, she’d yell at Otis for hopping on the bed. Half the time, she’d say it was “okay.” Then, part of the time, she’d say it was okay as long as Otis didn’t curl up on her pillow. When she took that stance, I was careful to remove Paula’s pillow from the bed and put it to one side. But inexplicably, despite her anger and complaints, she would invite Otis onto the bed for a “snuggle with mum.” I was confused, and poor Otis was certainly confused. Nothing she could do was right as far as Paula was concerned. Otis ended up cowering in a dog bed on the floor, traumatized by the inconsistency and anger.
The tension only increased over time. At one point, Paula outright told me she was jealous of Otis, and another time, she told me she thought I loved Otis more than her.
You can see a short clip of Otis, me, and Paula on the beach at Shoreham-by-Sea here.
During my time in the UK with Paula, I was constantly having to make quick escapes to B&B’s when Paula would fly into one of her infamous rages. Remembering that she was a foot taller than me and twice my body weight at least, and given the intensity of her unbridled anger, and the fact that she eventually turned that anger to violence, my fears were justified. It was not easy for me to leave Otis behind when I had to escape, but I never dreamed that she would not be safe with Paula. I couldn’t take her with me to the B&B’s and I had no friends to ask for help. Surely she’d be fed and watered and safe until I returned. This happened countless times.
When I was seduced into returning to Paula’s house each time — and simply had no other choice — Otis clung to me. Paula would complain that Otis was all over her while I was gone, but upon my return, Otis avoided her. Duh!!
In March of 2012, things had gotten so rocky that I’d flown back to the US on a hurried escape, and stayed with a friend. I was seriously thinking about not returning to the UK, but Otis and everything I owned aside from the few clothes I had packed were back there. A quandary. While I was gone, Otis had a vet appointment, and Paula called me in the US to tell me that the vet had done an MRI and that Otis had a brain tumor! Apparently it was a ploy with two intentions. One being to make me concerned so that I’d immediately fly back. And the other was to set up a pretext whereby Otis could be put to sleep eventually.
Well, I had no choice but to return, as I’d sold my house and had nowhere to go. When I got back to Paula and the UK, Otis had a followup appointment with the vet. Paula was unable to take us, as the time of the appointment was when she had to pick her kids up from school, so I took Otis alone in a taxi. While there, I asked about the brain tumor and the MRI, and the veterinarian indicated there was no brain tumor diagnosed and no MRI!! It should have been a clue when Paula given me the news…. I’d asked how she’d afforded the MRI and worried about paying what would be a substantial bill. And Paula had brushed it all aside and said we’d figure it out later. She’d really gotten blatant in her lying, but by now I’d had so many lies, i hardly knew what was real any more.
However, it was my last escape to a B&B that saved my life, but marked the demise of my little Otis, in May of 2012. My mother had passed away in February, and Paula had already hit me twice. Many things had already happened… Domestic violence charities were already helping me to the extent that they could. Paula had had one of her biggest rages ever, and had threatened another extended “silent treatment.” After screaming at me for 2 hours straight, with me begging her to please stop, she said, “I’m going to take the kids to school and I’m not coming back all day.” I ended up at Dr. Halloran’s office, and he was the one who made arrangements for me to get to a B&B for my safety.
I can’t recall how many days I’d been at the B&B. Paula had changed her mobile number so I couldn’t reach her, and she wasn’t picking up the house phone. I might have been there a day or two, when she called me and said, “I got rid of your dog.” What!?!? “Where is she? Where did you take her?” I wanted to know. But she wouldn’t tell me, and hung up on me. So I was awake all night with worry…
Next day, she calls me again and says, “I didn’t get rid of your dog.” “What!?” says me, “Why did you tell me you’d gotten rid of her?” “I was going to get rid of her, but the kids cried…” she replies. Apparently in her mind there is no distinction between “going to” and actually doing something — and the cruelty of telling someone such a thing. Again, she hangs up on me, and I have no way to reach her.
Following day, another phone call, this time, “If you don’t come and get this dog in 10 minutes, I’m going to tie her up outside.” I said, “But you know she’s not allowed at a B&B and I don’t have anywhere to take her.” She hangs up on me again. Panic doesn’t even cut it…
First, I contact the RSPCA repeatedly and plead with them to investigate and collect Otis. They refuse — can’t do anything until abuse has “actually occurred.” I telephone a friend of mine in Colorado, and he agrees to take Otis if I will ship her to him. I know he’s a kind animal-lover and I feel relieved. He says he will keep Otis for me as long as necessary, as long as she lives, and if I return to the US, he will send her back to me. Oh, sweet relief! If I just had Paula’s mobile number or if she would just pick up the house phone, I could tell her that I’ll get Otis “out of her hair.”
The relief didn’t last long, though. Within a few minutes of having talked to my Colorado friend, Paula called. Her verbatim words were, “Your dog has been destroyed.” I will never know exactly what took place. According to Paula’s dubious version, the house was full of kids — hers plus three young children of a neighbor. The kids were no doubt cornering Otis, and rather than Paula keeping them separated, they were left to run wild. Supposedly, Otis nipped at the neighbor’s toddler daughter. However, why wasn’t the neighbor supervising her child?
Paula had claimed that she’d begged the neighbor not to call the police, but when the neighbor had gone home, she’d called the police anyway. The police showed up at Paula’s door, and insisted that Otis be put down. The woman had posted a photograph of the toddler on Facebook, and I couldn’t even see a scratch. So a dog who had never bitten anyone, nor had any aggression whatsoever, but who had gotten skittish from the way Paula treated her, was forced to be “destroyed”? Everyone I talked with in the UK, including the domestic violence workers, said this was an unlikely scenario.
So the kindest interpretation of whatever happened was that Paula (and her neighbor) were negligent. But one can read a heck of a lot more into it given the demise of the rabbits, the deaths of Paula’s cats Salem and Sabrina, and numerous previous dogs the kids mentioned that died or disappeared, plus a batch of gerbils that met their end while I was there. The reader can decide for herself… Regardless of facts, the mental and emotional cruelty was astounding. My poor little Otis… 😦 I was on a flight back to US soil in under 24 hours.
The cognitive dissonance remained for some time, but my eyes were opened. Do I love Otis more than I love my wife? Yes, yes, and yes!!!
Happy anniversary, sweet cheeks.
Lest there be any doubt whatsoever, here is a letter from Worth Services at Worthing Hospital. Not my words or my conclusions, but the conclusions of the professionals who were helping me:
A DASH risk assessment was completed with Terry at our first contact with him and indicated that he is at increasing risk of of continued domestic abuse from his wife, Paula Khier. He was professionally judged to be at high risk. […] In light of the MARAC a professionals meeting was held, and the outcome of this was that it was deemed unsafe for Terry to return to the country.
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