When I was born my parents already had a mutt named, Ozzy (Osborne), that they’d raised from puppy-hood. Ozzy saw me, coming into the picture, as a threat to his livelihood and he made that known by his first snarling attempt at my face when my parents brought me home (so I’m told).
My parents, being the young, hopeful kids they were at the time, thought a little threatening on their part would be enough to sway his actions against me, but several years later they would find that their foolish assumptions were wrong, and my face would pay the price.
The year was 1988, I am 6 years old. It is the end of summer.
Many times before this moment I’d had encounters with Ozzy that were less than desirable. When I’d tried to kiss him, he’d slide his tongue out at me to taste my skin, while growling in an “I will get you one day” sort of way. My parents, while cautious, thought it was more funny than anything, not realizing the true threat on their hands.
One summer afternoon, though, things went from subtle hatred to outright kill-mode.
My sister was only 3 years old, playing in the plastic playhouse we had out back of our townhouse at the time. I was lingering by the gardens. I held a bucket of popcorn in my hands, a treat Ozzy had always been all too fond of when my parents offered it to him before.
Being the naïve child I was, and not understanding the grimace he held on his face against me all those years before equating to hatred, I offered it to him the way I’d seen my parents do it before, presenting the bucket right under his snout, waiting for him to dive in.
Sniff he did, but devour, he did not.
Full on attack is what took place, unexpectedly, against me, innocent child in a yard alone, without adults to reprimand him. I was not prepared for what came next.
The most I remember is somehow pushing him off of me, running past my confused, but shocked-still sister and into the house, a 3 story townhome with rock music a blaring. I made my way to the entry way, the second level of the home, and screamed bloody murder for my mother. She was cleaning at the time, an action that took a day’s worth of time accompanied by the aforementioned rock music, but she heard me amidst it all. She paused on the stairs above me, taking notice of my torn off face and pitching a Pledge filled rag my way, while running past me to call for my father, whom at the time was in a home a few houses up the street, as she was petrified of blood.
I remember my father gathering me up in his arms as he entered the house and my mother advising me to refrain from looking in the mirror in this entryway, but her warning only caused me to take a glance at my horrifying appearance: a face mangled by the jaws of a dog twice my size, ghostly white and dripping of blackened blood. The image will never leave my mind.
At the hospital, it was all too surreal: my grandmothers hand in mine, singing, “The sun will come out tomorrow…,” to distract me because I loved Annie, the sheet of brown paper they laid over me after cutting my clothes away from my body, and the needles piercing my skin through said paper, as they proceeded to sew my face back together. I don’t remember feeling numb at all, though I know I must have at some point.
When I returned home, I was full of stitches, with a bottle of coca butter in tow, and an excused absence from school for a few weeks. The dog, my absolute enemy, and greatest fear now, was locked in the basement; an out of sight object, but not out of mind.
That week, after returning home, my parents left with Ozzy to “take him to a farm for wayward dogs,” and I never saw him again. Later, as an adolescent, I would learn that they’d taken him to a field to share a bucket of KFC with him (apparently his favorite) and let him run one last time, and then take him to a vet to be put down. While it saddened me to know he had to die as a result, some part of me found resolve in knowing he wasn’t still out there existing and capable of finding my face again one day because after his attack, my entire view on dogs had changed.
The creature I had once loved had become my biggest fear.
My parents, being people who loved large dogs, couldn’t live with this new fear in me and urged me to “pick” the next big dog that would “guard” our house. While I was scared of most dogs, I was receptive to puppies. At the time they still seemed harmless for the most part.
Of the first litter, I picked the dog with the largest paws, not knowing that he would wield the largest growth in the end. He was a chocolate lab, a dog my parents had researched long and hard to find a compatible pet for children before settling this time, and I had named him, “Mousse,” like the chocolate dessert. His official name being, “Sir Chocolate Mousse of Edgewater” (Edgewood being the place in MD we had lived at the time).
Mousse was perfect; docile and calm in every way of the words. Despite his rapid growth into giant dog, he was loving and sweet and protective of me, especially. But in between the second and third year of his life, we moved to a different town. While acquiring a larger yard, in what appeared to be a more stable town, said yard had no barriers like its predecessor and Mousse liked to roam. Not dwell, though, just pass through. Still, the owners of those pass-through yards despised his brief presence and despite my fathers attempts to even purchase these pass-through locations, they did everything they could to stop Mousse’s brief encounters with their land.
On the fourth year of his short life, he died of kidney failure, likely the result of poisoning according to the vet. Burying him so soon was a sad, sad day for the small child I still was at the point. I’d found trust finally in another dog and too quickly he was taken from me.
Very soon after, my parents set out to acquire another lab, of the yellow variety this time because another chocolate felt like betrayal to Mousse to me. Again, I decided on the one that would come home with us. It was all dependent on my comfort with this dog and again I picked the one with the largest paws.
He grew so rapidly, nearly overnight in comparison to Mousse, that I named him Hooch, after the giant dog from Turner and Hooch the movie. His official name was, “Hooch the Pooch Whisted.” I loved him so much I carried him around far past a reasonable size to carry around a dog of his kind.
Hooch was the type of dog that felt like your friend. He waited for me at the door when I’d return from school or from being out with my friends and wag his tail so happily at your presence that you couldn’t help but feel like you’d just made his life meaningful. He’d sleep with me in bed, no matter how little room there was for the two of us in my twin sized bed. He seemed to sense my disclosed sadness as an awkward teen and comfort me as necessary.
Hooch was like a perfect human, trapped inside a giant furry body. He was my best friend growing up. Laugh all you want, but it’s the truth. And his awesomeness wasn’t only extended to me. My family, my friends — they all had this amazing connection with him, which just led me to further believe that in some other life he was the kind of being everyone needed to know.
When I left home for college, it was definitely hard to be away from him. And being forced in some circumstances to be around other dogs made me suddenly remember the fear I held for them overall without Hooch around. Even tiny yapper dogs that could easily be punted with just a kick of the foot scared me and it made me miss him all the more. The comfort and ease he gave me after such a tragic childhood situation could not be erased, clearly.
Then one day, while at the DMV with a friend, Mom called me to tell me that what was supposed to be a routine test for Hooch at the vet, had resulted in them putting him to sleep for good because of a cancerous tumor surrounding his stomach being inoperable. At the moment, not being home, it didn’t really seem real, but shortly after I moved back home and it all hit me like a ton of bricks.
He wasn’t there, he was really gone. My dog, my best friend, had spent his last night in a cold and dark doctors office cage probably wondering where his family was, but thinking by tomorrow he’d see them again, only to never wake up again. The thought of it all killed me. I spent days going through pictures and videos of him, reminiscing in all that he had given me in my childhood, crying profusely, and realizing exactly how much he’d meant to me.
To this day I still have his ashes in a case, and a lock of his hair in a capsule, never allowing my parents to burying him in the backyard beside Mousse. I still just can’t let go officially. Something changed in me though, with Hooch’s death. I was no longer afraid of other dogs.
In fact, I yearn for them, big dogs especially. I don’t think I could own another lab, ever. It would be too hard on me, reminding me of Hooch and somehow making me feel guilty. But I dream of one day having something like a Great Dane.
Now when I see dogs in public, I’m that annoying person who asks if I can pet your dog, if I can love on them, because in them all, I feel a bit of Hooch’s spirit and want to absorb a little of it if I can, even if for just a moment.
It’s so strange to me how much I love stranger dogs now. I can even approach dogs without owners, without fear, just in hopes that I can be of some service to them (which is honestly foolish, but my reservation doesn’t exist at all now). How I came from the girl who was scared of even the tiniest of dogs to the girl who loves any and every dog I come across I will never fully understand, but I know Hooch is the reason somehow and I will forever be grateful for that.
While I’m currently living with a cat (and happily so, surprisingly) in my current apartment living situation, I truly hope a dog is in my future. A giant one I can love not exactly as much as Hooch, but close enough.