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Thanks, Opus

July 12, 2013

When Opus first came home with me in January 2003, we shared a one-bedroom apartment in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood. Opus took his time exploring our bachelor pad, and eventually joined me in the living room. A six-month old, tri-color beagle, he helped himself up onto the couch as I watched him from the loveseat. As I debated whether this was a good precedent to set, he walked over to the arm of the couch closest to me, put his front paws up on the arm, and emptied his bladder.

Eventually, Opus learned to behave on the couch

Eventually, Opus learned to behave on the couch

Opus was discovered by my wife (then girlfriend) in Champaign-Urbana, IL, where she was serving an externship. I was visiting a friend in Ohio over MLK weekend when she excitedly called me to tell me she had found the perfect dog for me. She’d long known I loved beagles, and had met Opus while volunteering at the Humane Society. At the time, Opus was going by the name “Danny,” but he was so not a Danny. We arranged to adopt him immediately.

The inspiration for Opus’ name was the hapless but earnest cartoon penguin with the oversized schnozz drawn by Berke Breathed, from his comic strip “Bloom County.” Opus’ snout was a bit longer than a typical beagle’s, so the name seemed apt. Nearly everyone who met him, though, thought he was named for the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” which always confused me, but he was certainly a piece of work.

When Opus was young, I would take him to Winnemac Park for our morning walks. On Sundays, other dog owners would gather and let their dogs play together. It was a great opportunity for Opus to become socialized to other dogs and people, and he loved both his entire life. Although he was one of the smallest dogs there, he would still chase after every ball thrown with the rest of the pack. And even if he wasn’t the first to the ball (he almost never was), he would still try to take it out of the mouth of another, bigger dog. This seemed to confuse them, and he always came away with the ball. He’d then use his greater maneuverability to avoid having to give back the ball for as long as he could.

Our first health scare with Opus came when he was just a year old. We had since moved to a three-bedroom apartment with my wife and her two cats. He had epilepsy, which caused him occasional seizures and is not uncommon in beagles due to them being overly inbred. We managed to control the seizures with medication, but we always had to show vigilance in monitoring his dosage.

Opus loved his toys, particularly stuffed animals and other toys with a squeaker inside. We referred to these as Opus’ binkies, since they could pacify and occupy him for a while. He seemed to think the objective of those toys was to chew the squeaker until it could squeak no more, then rip open the toy and pull out all of the stuffing. It became an obsession of his, and in time he was able to destroy one of these toys in about 15 minutes. Eventually, we realized it was simply wasteful to buy these for him, so no more binkies for Opus.

Opus with his original binkie

Opus with his original binkie

One time, my wife and I brought him and his cage over to an aunt’s house to stay for the night. The aunt had dogs of her own, and a surplus of toys to go with them. At one point, she lost track of Opus, and couldn’t find him in the house despite repeatedly calling his name. Eventually, she spotted him. He had climbed into the toy bin, and buried himself among the toys. Satisfied he was OK, she left the room. When she returned a while later to check on him again, she discovered that he had moved every toy from the bin to the back of his cage.

Opus learned several tricks in his 11 years. His favorite trick was going outside to tinkle, then demanding a treat from me for doing so. He would pull this about 14 times each night. Another trick was him jumping up on my lap after he had eaten his dinner, receiving proper adulation and petting from me, then jumping down and barking for a treat for letting me give him a hug. He also taught himself some sort of Pavlovian response involving guests coming over to our house, all of us going to the basement for some reason or another, and him taking a poop on the floor. Could’ve done without him showing off that one as often as he did.

As my wife pointed out a couple of days ago, Opus was more than just our first dog; he was a bridge between the first and second generations of the pets we’ve cared for. He is the only animal to have known every other animal we’ve adopted. He was always a good brother to them, including Gemma, our latest addition. Gemma is a 14-week old black lab, who adored Opus even though she knew him for just a month. Opus would patiently allow her to lick his face and nip at his ears, and when she rolled over on her back to play with him, he would push her around the hardwood floors with his nose. He knew she loved it.

Opus was also a fan of Gemma’s because of the binkies we bought for her. Despite suffering from liver failure, Opus still had the energy to confiscate these for himself. On his last full day Opus was in the backyard sunning himself, while chewing softly yet persistently on a purple cow. The squeaker had long since been silenced. We miss you, Opus. Thanks for everything you did and were.

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One Comment
  1. I am so sorry to hear of Opus’ passing, Chad. I remember we had just started working together when you brought him home.


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