The Gift of Barry White
Back in 2018, I wrote a blog post about losing my best friend, Otis, my beloved Bernese mountain dog. He came into our lives when our children were ages six and four. Neither of them remember what it was like to raise him as a puppy, but for the rest of their lives they’ll never forget watching him take his final breath as tears pooled in their eyes.
After he left us, my heart was wounded, and I needed time to heal. I knew eventually I would want another dog, but I was far from ready.
The entire family had a difficult time shaking the pain. My daughter, Taylor, was convinced that we needed a new puppy in the house to help us move on. For weeks, we argued about it. I did everything for Otis when he was alive, and the end was especially difficult because he was in a wheelchair. I desperately needed a break from the enormous responsibility of taking care of a dog.
Taylor begged. She pleaded. She cried. But I wouldn’t acquiesce, until she reminded me that she would be leaving for college in a year and a half and that raising a puppy together would bring our family closer, strengthen our bond, and add more love to our home. I finally gave in to her relentless persistence.
I didn’t want another Bernese mountain dog, simply because I didn’t want to be reminded of what I had lost. So we settled on an Old English sheepdog. Taylor did the research, calling and emailing breeders all over the country. She eventually found a litter that would be born in the spring and ready to take home in the summer. When I put down the deposit, she was thrilled. My son was excited, too. But still mourning Otis, my husband and I were indifferent.
For the next few months, Taylor watched videos of Old English sheepdogs on YouTube and followed them on Instagram. She counted down the minutes until we got the phone call from the breeder announcing the birth of the litter, and that our pup was healthy. Meanwhile, I continued to maintain my ambivalence. Taylor called me heartless and soulless about my lack of enthusiasm for the upcoming arrival of our puppy. But how could I look forward to getting another dog when the spirit of Otis reigned supreme inside me?
Toward the end of July, I flew to Montana to pick up our puppy, who we decided to name Barry White. At only eleven pounds, he resembled a stuffed animal. Nestled in my arms on the way back to Colorado, he was sweet, soft, and cuddly. And of course, as soon as I brought him home, the kids were enamored with our new family member.
For the rest of the summer, our lives revolved around Barry White. We stared at him while he napped, smothered him with kisses, spent hours playing with him, took turns house training and feeding him, and went on walks together. We even brought him with us on a beach vacation to California. We were obsessed with Barry White––and aptly named for the famous singer, we couldn’t get enough of his love.
At first, I convinced myself that he was Otis reincarnated. Believing he had come back to me washed away the guilt I had for getting a replacement pet. For months after Otis’s passing, I could no longer bring myself to walk around my neighborhood or walk into town, and I stopped hiking along the trails that he and I used to frequent together. It was as if I had put a piece of my life on hold, the part that always made me feel better: spending time in nature.
I’m not sure if Otis is inside Barry White, or if their predecessors, my two Labrador retrievers, are in him. Either way, it doesn’t matter. He is a gift to my family and me, one that I hadn’t realized I was craving. I get so much pleasure watching him hop around like a bunny rabbit, play with his toys, frolic in the snow, run next to me while I hike, and join me on daily walks near my house. Early one morning, I woke up to a spring snowstorm, but the blustery weather wasn’t going to stop me from taking my fur baby outside. He and I ventured to one of the ski mountains and hiked to the top. If it wasn’t for Barry White, I never would’ve motivated to go up there, especially by myself.
During the last two months of his life, Otis lived in the corner of Taylor’s bedroom, close to an exit door, to make it easier for him to go outside without having to climb the stairs. Having him by her side, day in and day out, strengthened their relationship. I like to think that maybe in the afterlife, Otis sent powerful messages to Taylor that we had to get another dog, knowing that it would fill the empty space deep within me. If that’s the case, then my angel Otis is still looking out for me, showering me with the same love he gave me while he was here. It’s the kind of love that’s transcendent, and Barry White carries it like a beam of light, illuminating our home and my heart once again.