Julie Kessler can’t forget the afternoon she instinctively jumped fully clothed into her backyard pool. She didn’t even think to put down her smartphone or purse. But when she spotted her beloved dog, Oakley, in the water, nothing else mattered.
Her cell phone was ruined and her purse was a mess, but those material items were inconsequential. Kessler pulled Oakley, a Shih Tzu, from the pool but could not revive him. “That was such a hard day,” she recalls. “I had never been that close to a death before, and even though he was a pet, Oakley still felt like family.”
She had a special bond with Oakley, along with his brother, Spex. After meeting them, the pair convinced Kessler, who had never owned a canine, that she was a dog person. “My daughter’s friend had two Shih Tzu puppies, and when we went to see them, we fell in love,” she recalls. “My husband, Maury, was fine with getting dogs but asked for them to be boys so he wouldn’t be the only male in the house.”
Kessler says that her husband also said he wanted the biggest dog in the litter, Oakley. “We gave both eye names, which was a sort of family theme because of my husband’s career as an optometrist. Ironically, Oakley sunglasses were named after the owner’s dog, so Oakley is a dog named after glasses that are named after a dog.”
The dogs and Kessler’s daughters bonded instantly. “There is a special kind of love between a child and their animal,” she says. “I am so grateful that we got to have both of them with us.”
The two Shih Tzus really became part of the Kessler family. “As funny as it may sound, we actually had a ‘Bark Mitzvah’ celebration for Oakley and Spex’s ‘coming of age’ 13th birthday,” Kessler says.
The tragic accident that took Oakley’s life resulted from repair work on the roof of her family’s house. While her husband and two daughters were away, the roofing company had placed a little plastic tarp over their backyard swimming pool to prevent any debris from falling into the water. Unfortunately, the company did not notify Kessler of its placement.
Kessler let the dogs out back to go to the bathroom, only to hear Spex barking loudly at the door a few moments later. “I went out to see what was going on and saw Oakley floating on the tarp in the pool,” she says. “I jumped in as fast as I could, but I wasn’t able to get to him in time.”
Since his death, Kessler has made it her mission to alert other pet owners so this tragedy doesn’t befall their furry friends. “This situation could have been avoided if we’d known what questions to ask workers before the repairs began,” she says. Kessler shares what people should ask about so that they will be better informed—and better able to protect their families—in what she calls “Oakley’s Oath.”
Ask workers what you need to know to protect your children and pets
Tell them to keep sliding doors closed and outside gates locked at all times. If they need to prop the gates open for any reason, make sure they let you know
Lock your doggie door, so your pets can’t go outside without your knowledge
Find out if they’ll be placing a tarp or other covering over your pool. If they are, make sure it’s sturdy, covers the entire pool, and is weighted down around the perimeter
Learn if they’ll be using any chemicals that would be toxic if ingested
“Dealing with the loss has been an ongoing struggle,” she explains. “I can’t bring Oakley back, but I decided to channel my pain into purpose and toward prevention of any more preventable deaths.”
Kessler finds that helping others helps her recover from the loss of her dog. “Hopefully, what we’ve learned in the most painful way, can help others avoid a similar tragedy,” she says. “Oakley would have wanted that.” For more information, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Douglas C. Towne is the editor of Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, http://www.arizcc.com/.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Phoenix Shih Tzu owner warns others of doggie dangers