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    John Warner is the author of Why They Can't Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities and The Writer's Practice: Building Confidence in Your Nonfiction Writing.


Oscar's Story: Refusing to Live Life Through a Deficit Lens

Farewell to a wonderful companion.

April 4, 2021

When Oscar arrived in our lives, he didn’t look like a promising candidate as our next dog.

He was abandoned at my wife’s clinic -- she’s a veterinarian -- with a note that said his name was Fluffy, but at the time, Scabby would’ve been more appropriate, as he was afflicted with demodectic mange, a skin condition that left him with oozing, crusted sores and a face swollen with edema to the point his eyes were slits.

We were not in the market for a new dog, already having two, both of whom were in remission from earlier bouts of cancer. I was at a writers’ conference when I called home to check in and Kathy said that she thought we had our next dog, what looked to be a “golden retriever puppy,” a line I am not sure even she believed at the time. I worried about integrating a third dog into the house with two elders, but I was told that Oscar needed at least a couple of months in the hospital for daily treatments to clear up his skin problem.

He may have been scabby and gross when he arrived, but he also had a tail that arced over this backside like a comma, a tail that didn’t stop wagging as long as he wasn’t hunched up and itching. From the moment Oscar met my wife, he followed her around like a shadow.

Since he was going to be our dog, I went to visit Oscar at the hospital during his convalescence. Tests had revealed additional challenges. His brain showed signs of atrophy on scans, and on our first solo walk together in the office park where the clinic was located, he strained at the leash until we arrived at a driveway where he started barking excitedly at a large, decorative rock.

The first day we were able to bring Oscar home, his fur mostly grown back, I took him to the space above our garage in our previous house where I could gate him in. He sniffed frantically at everything, like a dog who’d never been inside a house before, maybe because he hadn’t. I sat on the floor trying to distract him and play with him, trying to get him to settle down and focus. After a good hour of this, I wasn’t sure we could survive with Oscar in the house. I climbed onto the couch in defeat, willing myself into a nap.

Seeing me, Oscar stopped his sniffing, jumped up, settled into my chest and promptly fell asleep, his fur smelling like his medicated shampoo.

As evidenced by my cataloging on Twitter of his attempts to catch a ball, Oscar could not do a lot of things. He could not stand without his right rear leg slipping out from under him. He could not remember or follow commands.

But he was a savant for snuggling next to people on the couch.

Oscar pursued his core competency of couch snuggling for the next 15 years, all the way up until this past Saturday, when it became clear that it was time to say goodbye.

It’s not a bad lesson for life and learning, to celebrate where our abilities are rooted, rather than worry about where we or others fall short.

I am grateful he was my companion for 15 years. I’ll miss him forever.


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