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Lessons of life and love from man’s best friend

Lessons of life and love from man’s best friend

At four years old, Otto already has already achieved a distinguished career as a caretaker that began when he came to the rescue of an unconscious girl who was approximately 10 years old; Otto was only two months old then. Otto, a German short-haired pointer, belongs to Marilyn’s and my son, Jon, his wife Amanda, and their two daughters, ages 8 and 6.

As I wrote in late July, 2017, Otto, Jon and the girls were visiting a neighborhood park and playing in the water fountain when Otto suddenly bolted toward a small knoll some distance away, with his family in hot pursuit. When Jon and his daughters reached the hilltop, they found Otto standing next to an unresponsive girl and licking her face.

After the Rescue Squad arrived, and with her frantic mother already on the scene, the girl was transported to a hospital emergency center.

Insofar as we know, it hasn’t been determined why the girl became unconscious. Gladly for everyone, she recovered.

We also don’t know how Otto detected the girl’s condition despite not being able to see her some distance away on the other side of a slope. Do dogs have a sense that humans lack?

Since then Otto has demonstrated competence at hunting and as a caretaker of his family that includes a 12-year-old female yellow Labrador retriever named Hayden, and until recently, a diminutive 17-year-old male Maltese/Yorkshire terrier mix named Marley.

Otto is respectful of his dog-mates and human family members, including the girls. He doesn’t assert dominance even though he could because of his physical size and strength.

In hunting and retrieving trials, Otto won all the contests into which Jon entered him. One such event in 2020 entailed pointing 10 pheasants and retrieving as many birds as the dog’s handler successfully dispatched after they flushed, while limited to 10 shotgun shells.

Otto was the last contestant in the trial. Nearly all of the pheasants that had been “planted” in the designated hunting area by the event coordinators had already been eliminated.

Nonetheless, Otto found and pointed 10 birds. The last bird that Otto pointed was particularly noteworthy.

He found this pheasant near the far end of the hunting area. Jon winged it as it flushed; nonetheless it flew over a hilltop while Otto raced after it.

A few minutes later Otto came back to Jon with the pheasant securely in his mouth. The bird must have been a “runner” after it landed and Otto had to chase it down, for he was breathing hard when he delivered the dead bird to Jon.

Despite the lengthy chase, Otto and Jon registered the shortest time to acquire their pheasants successfully. No other team captured 10 birds before expending their 10 allotted shotgun shells.

Several weeks ago Marley subsided of old age, which saddened everyone in the household and particularly aggrieved Amanda and Hayden.

Amanda had acquired Marley as a canine companion two years before she and Jon met. She purchased Hayden as a gift to her husband in 2009.

Hayden spent her entire life around Marley, as well as around Amanda and Jon. So has Otto thus far.

All three dogs slept upstairs in the bedroom with Amanda and Jon. Hayden and Otto slumbered on their dog beds while Marley snoozed at the foot of Amanda and Jon’s bed. All three dogs also had daytime doggy mattresses to use on the main level of the house when their human companions were away at work or in school.

After Marley’s passing, Hayden, now stiff from age and years of hunting, appeared forlorn as she meandered around the house for two days looking for signs of Marley. When Amanda and Jon went to bed that second night and after Hayden and Otto arranged themselves on their nighttime beds, suddenly Otto jumped up and ran downstairs.

Otto reappeared with Marley’s daytime doggy bed in his mouth, which he placed next to Hayden. Hayden relaxed immediately. Amanda and Jon also found comfort as they processed what had just happened.

How did Otto figure out how to console Hayden, as well as his human family? Everyone slept better after this profoundly emotional experience.

When Marilyn and I visited the family two weeks afterwards it appeared that life in the household had returned to normal. We canned 14 quarts of tomatoes together and exchanged other garden produce.

Eight-year-old Layla washed all the tomatoes. We all pitched in to cut up tomatoes, peppers, onions, basil, and garlic to add to the jars. Hayden and Otto snarfed up anything we dropped onto the floor.

We had fun. All of us who had formed our own bonds with Marley had moved on. Otto deserves much of the credit. He taught us a lesson about caring.

The author’s email address is mike@agbehavioralhealth.com. Two Iowa psychologists involved in agriculture, and Dr. Rosmann, are conducting a 2.5 hr. workshop about the behavioral health of farmers on Nov. 18. For more information, contact ipa@iowapsychology.org, or visit the website www.iowapsychology.org.

Dr. Rosmann lives on a family farm near Harlan, Iowa. He is a psychologist who has directed behavioral health programs in response to disasters of all types, Contact him at mike@agbehavioralhealth.com.

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Dr. Mike Rosmann is a clinical psychologist and former farmer/rancher offering advice and commentary on agricultural behavioral health.

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