I’m a sucker for a beat-the-odds story.
Back in 1977, the fictional film character Rocky Balboa battled self-doubt to go the distance with world heavyweight champ, Apollo Creed. The gritty but kind backstreet boxer from Philadelphia ultimately lost his first match - but he won countless hearts.
Real people battle the odds everyday, be it a foreboding medical diagnosis, poverty or ostracism by one’s family. Many who “lose the first match” defy doom and live to tell their tale.
Animal companions beat the odds, too. Some with far more aplomb than any human could muster under harrowing circumstances. One Philadelphia dog’s real-life rescue was an infinitely longer long shot than the fictional Rocky’s was. That this dog lived to be adopted was a miracle in itself.
Oogy had been a “bait dog” who possibly refused to fight. Helplessly tied to a stake, he was set upon by another fighting dog who ripped off the left side of his face and most of his left ear, crushed part of his lower jaw and gouged him over much of his body. Oogy was then thrown into a cage and left to die.
It was later estimated that Oogy languished for several agonizing days in blood and squalor before being discovered by local police one night in a drug raid. Had he been found during the day, Oogy might have been taken to a facility where he would likely have been euthanized given the extent of his injuries.
Instead, he made it into the loving arms of one veterinary hospital administrator and ardent animal advocate determined to get Oogy the medical attention - and forever family - he desperately needed. One consummately skilled and dedicated surgeon at the hospital pieced together a patchwork pup whose eventual influence in his community would rival that of any politician.
When the Levin family showed up at this same hospital to say goodbye to their dying, 17-year old cat, a recovering Oogy galloped into their lives and introduced himself with a pratfall befitting a Keystone Cop. The rest, as they say, is history.
Published in 2010, Larry Levin’s “Oogy: the Dog Only a Family Could Love” is a timeless tale of courage, serendipity and the merging of parallel paths where an inter-species family forged an unbreakable bond of affection and devotion. Along the way, Oogy and his family confronted behavior challenges, medical setbacks and breed prejudice (in Oogy’s case, an assumed breed). In the end, hearts and minds were swayed by Oogy’s imposing stature and crooked smile (an Oogy emoji is waiting out there, somewhere . . .). After the book’s release, Oogy and the Levin family became ambassadors in the fight against animal abuse and neglect. Sadly, Oogy passed in March 2015, surrounded by his loving family.
The only thing that got me to put this book down was knowing that I had to get up to go to work the next day. Since finishing Levin’s memoir two days ago, I’ve been oozing Oogy to anyone who’ll listen. Levin delivers in language that is at once poetic and accessible without leaning on sentimentality. Oogy’s legacy resonates and inspires because it speaks to what each of us would like to believe about ourselves: that we have the guts to stare down adversity, survive and thrive - and keep loving no matter what.
Oogy's story gave me two gifts. First, it confirmed my suspicion that there are good folk out there who want nothing more than to do the right thing - for the right reasons. Second, I’ve dumped my habit of whining about my bodily pains and the belief that I wasn’t born with social media smarts. In so doing, I’m shedding many of those self-limiting beliefs that keep me from becoming who I really am.
We are all “broken” in some way or another. Oogy, the dog with half a face, shows us that we are whole - no matter how many pieces are missing.