Written 17th June, 2015, the day after Oliver passed away, Berwick, Victoria
Ever since I started breathing, I’ve wanted a dog of my own.
My mum had always wanted a golden retriever and she got her wish when my dad brought home a toddler aged golden named Toby. She re-named him Denver, after her favourite singer John Denver. I loved Denver more than I could ever say and even though I always claimed him as my own, it was Oliver who well and truly captured my heart.
I was never really a motivated student and this became evident when I started high school in the year 2000. I was terrible at maths and science and very close to failing them in my very first year of high school. To inspire some motivation, my parents promised me that if I passed all of my subjects at the end of the year they would buy me a puppy. Well, I passed and to my disbelief and my siblings jealously, the day after my final day of year seven we drove to a pet store in Oakleigh to buy a dog.
I remember it vividly, there were three golden retriever puppies sitting together and the one in the middle had an abnormally large head for a puppy. I turned to my dad and said ‘I want big head’. He slept on my lap on the car ride home as my sister Jacqueline and I tried to think of a name. We drove through Hallam past a real estate agent named Oliver Hume. Jacqueline yelled out ‘Oliver!’ and it was settled. My little Oliver. He would become more affectionately known as Smolly (because Oliver, Smoliver, Smolly) not that he would ever really respond to anything other than ‘oi, you!’
Oliver’s puppy days are a bit hazy in my memory as I was only 12 at the time but one thing was very clear; we were inseparable from the beginning. Denver, Oliver and I would adventure in our backyard and spend all day long laying on the grass together while I made them daisy chain crowns. One thing I remember clearly was when Oliver first met Denver. He had the courage to eat out of Denver’s bowl and Denver let him know who was boss by biting him on the ear, piercing a hole right through it! I scooped him up and rushed him inside, cradling him on the couch with tears in my eyes. Of course, this wasn’t as big a deal as I thought because after that Denver would let Oliver annoy him just like any little brother would. I often caught Oliver sitting over Denver’s front legs with his face really close to Denver’s as if to say ‘hey, hey, whatcha doing? Wanna play? Come on, let’s play.’
The irony being that Oliver was the complete opposite of a dog, especially a golden retriever. When I told people about Oliver I would always say the same thing; he isn’t golden and he doesn’t retrieve. Because Denver was a beautiful golden colour we assumed Oliver would be too, but he turned out to have very, very white fur. My little white bear. He wasn’t interested in tennis balls or any kind of ball, if you threw anything he would just sit there and look at you like ‘what?’ and if you threw him a ball to catch you would end up in stitches over how terrible his mouth-eye coordination was. We always had wild bunnies running through our yard and I would always see them bounce past Denver and Oliver. Our yard would soon become a meeting place for bunnies because Denver and Oliver never chased them, they barely even paid attention to them. They didn’t dog like other dogs.
I was always surprised when Oliver did act like a dog. Once I found him trotting up our driveway with a blue tongue lizard hanging out of his mouth, a huge grin of pride on his face and me freaking out just a little bit. We set the lizard free thankfully unharmed. Oliver also loved baths, he would jump in before there was even water inside. He loved water so much that when it rained he would go out to the yard and just sit there under the open sky and return to the door sopping wet, wondering why we wouldn’t let him inside. As for his breed namesake, Oliver only ever retrieved once. It was in 2012 when he was 13. He retrieved a tennis ball and I remember being so surprised and happy that I took a photo to commemorate the moment. I think he never did it again just to avoid the same reaction from me.
Denver passed away in 2011 at the age of 16 and dealing with this experience only tightened my bond with Oliver. I lost one of my best friends and Oliver lost his big brother. The poor guy was noticeably sad and I just felt for him. At least I knew what was going on, Oliver must have been watching the door just waiting for Denver to come back. I would always smile when Oliver went out to the backyard and sit right next to the spot where Denver was buried, as if somehow he knew and just wanted to be close to Denver again. Losing Denver was truly devastating and suddenly my 12 year old ignorance of thinking that my furry companions would be by my side forever was shattered. I knew that I never wanted to waste a moment with Oliver ever again. Not that I’d ever felt I’d wasted previous moments, but now I would cherish them so much more.
Oliver was diagnosed with thyroid cancer which affected his breathing and resulted in a huge tumour growing in his throat. When I look back at pictures of him when he was younger it’s almost weird to see him without that big lump on his neck. By the end, it was bigger than his head but he continued on as the young at heart puppy he always was. He made me laugh so much, he was glued to my side and I to his. At the end of it all, it was his age that got the better of him, just as with Denver. Oliver was 15 years old, only a few months from turning 16. When we woke up on June 16 we knew it would be his last day. He kept collapsing and was in a lot of distress. We kept him outside to stay cool and I would sit with him until he fell asleep, go inside and eat, and then go back outside when he woke up and sit with him until he fell asleep again. I was praying that he would just fall asleep and not wake up again, the look in his eyes was killing me. He just wanted help and no one could help him. The best I could do is pet him and tell him how much I loved him.
My dad and I took Oliver to the vet and I sat with him in the waiting area, tears streaming down my face. I sat down with Oliver on the floor while the vet did his work and I looked him in eye and I told him ‘it’s going to be ok buddy, I love you so much, I love you so much,’ and with that he was gone. I couldn’t look at him after that. I wanted to remember him as I last saw him, looking into my eyes, knowing the person looking back at him loved him more than anything in the world. Oliver is now buried in our backyard a meter or so away from Denver. Yellow roses grow where Denver is and white roses grow where Oliver is. How very fitting. The first thing anybody gets to know about me is how much I love my dog Oliver. They know more about him before they know anything about me. I have very few photos of myself that don’t have Oliver in it as well. An ex-boyfriend of mine would say ‘you love that dog more than you love me, don’t you?’ to which I’d reply ‘his name is Oliver, and you’re damn right I do’. Oliver is the truest love I have and while I miss him so much each and every day, he lives on in my heart and I know I will never forget him. And although the experience of losing him has been near on unbearable, it has been worth it because nobody has ever made me feel so happy and so loved the way that Oliver has. Having him by my side from 12 to 27 years old has by far been the best experience of my life.
Other dogs and other people live in my heart but it is Oliver who will own it forever.