For animal lovers the passing of a beloved pet can be as emotionally difficult as the loss of a family member and the mourning just as profound. I can attest to this even though the pet in question wasn’t even mine.
Oscar de la Rascal, a remarkable Golden Retriever seizure alert service dog, belonged to my disabled neighbor, Colleen. For fifteen years, I walked Oscar and was privileged to share many adventures, which his outgoing personality and seemingly human facial expressions made possible.
Last month marked the one-year anniversary of Oscar’s passing. As I think of him all the time, I thought I’d share one of the many stories of his and my friendship.
In addition to hikes in the Santa Monica mountains, Oscar and I would often take walks along the boardwalk to the pier and back. Occasionally we’d stop at the kiddie park on the way.
Don’t ask how but Oscar loved a “trick” where I’d put a tennis ball on the landing at the top of the slide. As he stared intently at the ball, he would “stay” as I repeated the word firmly.
Finally, at the command, “Okay!” Oscar would race up the stairs, grab the ball and come down the slide. Back in the sand, Oscar was proud of his accomplishment as evidenced by his sitting tall and, pleased with himself, often burying the ball under his paws.
Not surprisingly, when children saw Oscar perform this unusual feat they’d often be thoroughly delighted. This was the case when four young kids, approximate ages 4 to 10.
From their charming accents, I could tell they were from Australia. I’d soon learn they were on vacation with their mom who was sitting on the bench.
The oldest boy saw Oscar’s trick and asked if I he could have a turn. His mom reluctantly nodded it was okay. I didn’t realize the family was due at the airport soon to take a 17-hour flight back to Sydney. (I’ll bet that was some kind of fun for the mom … not.)
Oscar watched intently as I held the tennis ball in my hand telling him to stay as I placed it at the top of the slide. Then I whispered to the oldest boy to keep saying sternly “stay” to Oscar.
The boy was thrilled with Oscar’s obedience. He couldn’t believe such a big animal was under his “power.” I then whispered he could say “okay” whenever he was ready.
The boy braced himself and said, in as deep of a voice as he could, “Okay!” Oscar scampered up the steps like on a mission. He pounced on the ball like it was prey and with it firmly in his mouth, took a trip down the slide. The boy was ecstatic. The problem was now his siblings each wanted a turn!
Mom came over and broke the news that they needed to get going to the airport. She explained there wouldn’t be enough time for each to have a turn.
But the younger three pouted. “It’s not fair, why did John get a turn and not us?”
Understandably, the mom glared at me and, for my part, I felt thoroughly guilty.
If Oscar and I had come by five minutes later they’d already be on their way to LAX.
While I was all set to back up mom, weighing the alternatives, she gave in to the kids. “Each of you can have one turn, but that’s it!” She looked at me as if to say, “Make this quick!” I tried but it wasn’t easy. I’ll say this for Oscar, he was completely up for it. The problem was the smaller the kid, the smaller the voice.
With their Australian accents, it was adorable as each child tried to sound older when talking to Oscar. Thankfully, Oscar seemed to play long as each kid had his or her turn and all went well.
As she hurriedly gathered her brood to head to the airport, I apologized to the mom. She was gracious as she explained they’d been sightseeing from San Francisco to Santa Monica.
“My kids have seen the Golden Gate Bridge, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and the Santa Monica pier. But I guaranty you, all they will be talking about when they get back to Sydney is your dog.” Late as they were, I didn’t explain Oscar wasn’t really my dog.
Much as I miss him, I really should write a book about Oscar.
I already have a working title, “The Double Life of Oscar de la Rascal,” explaining how he was a service dog with a job by day but my close buddy and a party animal when he and I got together. Hopefully, I’ll start soon. Until then, consider this an abbreviated chapter.
To my buddy, Oscar de la Rascal, RIP.
Jack is at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth and firstname.lastname@example.org
proposed caption: Out of the way, here I come!
photo courtesy Harvey Newman