I have a new friend. My friend, Steven Rowley, has given me a gift: permission to laugh and cry and talk about the death of a loved one. Lily and the Octopus (Simon & Shuster, June 2016) is a love story by Steven. A love story you might ask...about an Octopus? Well no, it's a love story about a man and his dog who is succumbing to a cancerous tumor he has named The Octopus. Is it sad? Yes. But it is so much more! Steven makes it fun (at times laugh-out-loud funny) and a true celebration of life and the lengths we go to for our beloved dogs.
I was sent and early copy of Lily and the Octopus and it resonated with me on many levels. Lily is a Dachshund. I had Dachshunds growing up - they are one long spine. The octopus is cancer. I have cancer - and I have a kind of cancer that looks like an Octopus. Octopuses do not mess around. They grab you, as does cancer, and they mess you about.
Funnily enough for Steven, the name Octopus in the book was a deal breaker. I mean Lily and the Rhino...Lily and the Frog - nope! They just don't have the same ring. Nor do they have the same metaphoric presence for talking about attachment and letting go.
Lily was an amazing dog that came into Steven's life when she was a mere 12 weeks old and was with him through major transitions in his life. Dogs are fabulous that way. They stay by your side, oozing with love no matter what the circumstances are. Losing Lily was devastating and in sharing his story, Steven has allowed us to talk about the death of an animal in a tangible way.
This book has given us the permission to start a conversation about grief. I thank Steven, I thank Lily and I respect the Octopus...though maybe a lesser grip is in order!
MORE ABOUT STEVEN'S DOGS:
The dachshunds pictured are from Dachshund Rescue of Los Angeles (DRLA), DRLA does fantastic work intervening to reduce the number of dachshunds euthanized in shelters in Southern California, and placing dogs with loving fosters until they can find a permanent, committed home. They also raise money to treat injured and abused doxies. Moxie (sitting in Steven's lap) is a sweet girl recovering nicely from IVDD (intervertebral disc disease), and 12 year-old Rhonda is the cuddly senior beside him. They both are up for adoption! Daisy (the white dog) is a foster fail... she found a permanent home with her devoted foster mom!
Tilda is a 7 year-old terrier that Steven and his boyfriend Byron Lane (himself a testicular cancer survivor and the creator and star of the award-winning web series Last Will and Testicle) adopted from the Lange Foundation in 2015. The Lange Foundation plucks dogs from Los Angeles city shelters with immediate medical needs that make them more or less unadaptable, pays for medical care, and places them in carefully screened and loving homes. Tilda had been shot repeatedly with a BB gun -- someone had obviously used her as target practice. When the Lange Foundation intervened, she had broken ribs and needed to have her eye removed. But she is in tip-top shape now and knows nothing but love!
Steven purchased Lily as a twelve week-old pup from a breeder in rural Maine. While they had a very special relationship, acquiring a dog in that way has really opening his eyes to how many dogs there are in need of homes. It kindled a passion about rescue dogs, telling their stories -- particularly senior dogs who deserve a safe and loving space to live out their remaining years.