Their love of dogs had always been a strong bond between Ollie and Arvilla Allaire. "My mom and I were extremely close," Ollie says of her late mother, "and we've always had dogs." That closeness is an almost tangible thing, even now: talking of Arvilla, she has a tendency to slip into the present perfect tense, almost as though the former's just a room away. "She has always been an animal lover. So that was a big thing for the two of us. I can never remember a time in my life when there wasn't a dog in our household or more than one....None of these dogs did we ever go looking for: they always found us."
Viking came to them courtesy of Mamie, an old family friend who was selling the inn she'd been running up in Chester, MA. When Ollie and her mom came up to help with the move, Mamie showed them a litter of puppies belonging to the folks who'd bought the inn. Each had been spoken for except for the pint-sized Viking.
"Mamie had fallen in love with him," Ollie remembers, "and said, 'I don't know who's going to take care of him now that I'm leaving.' And my mother says, 'Well, I don't think we're going to leave him.' So she picked him up, and he was just a little ball of fur."
Viking settled into his new home in Westfield, MA easily, becoming extremely attached to both Arvilla and Mamie. About the time he turned three, however, Ollie and her mom noticed that he'd frequently fall over while he was running around in the backyard...almost as though he was having a seizure. The vet checked him out and explained that because Viking "was such a hyperactive dog, he would eat so fast, then go outside and want to throw it up. But as it started to come up, it would cut off his wind, and he'd pass out." Once his throat relaxed enough for food to go down, however, Viking would literally be up and running.
Arvilla took charge of the situation, heading out to the yard whenever she spied the dog acting up. She'd catch him and "kinda rub him underneath his stomach and say, 'C'mon, Vik, you know you can do this. Mom's right here -- I'm going to help you through this.' And, sure enough, she did, and he wouldn't pass out. She'd get him to deal with whatever, and. finally, it became a little less and a little less. But he still did it."
Then Arvilla died of cancer in January 1984. "Vik, you can't do this anymore," Ollie told the dog. "I'm not Mom, and I can't do the same thing for you that she did."
Viking started losing weight. Special foods and formulas didn't help: soon he was losing three to five pounds a week and making the trip to the veterinary clinic almost as many times in that same week. Finally, her vet said, "I don't see it often, but I think this guy's dying of a broken heart." He told Ollie that she needed to seriously think about having the dog put down "because at this point, you're not doing him any justice to keep him."
So Ollie had Viking euthanized. Mamie, by this time, was living in a senior-citizen complex in Westfield. She had, Ollie knew, frequently dreamed about people who had died and had, in fact, had a few dreams about Arvilla since her passing. They hadn't been particularly significant dreams -- just ones that had left her with a strong sense of her best friend's presence upon waking.
But the dream that came to Mamie after Viking's death was strikingly different, Ollie says, adding by way of explanation, "When Mamie had lived at our house, Viking used to go in and wake her up sometimes by putting his head on her bed. Just the hot air from his nose and his breath would wake her up, and she'd reach over and pet him and say, 'Good morning, Vik. Yes, I'm awake, and I'll get up.' Then he'd trot out of her room."
On this particular night, Mamie told Ollie, "I dreamt that Viking was next to the bed. I kinda looked down, and there was his little head looking up at me, When I did what I normally do -- reached to pet him -- I swore I felt fur, and I immediately woke up." And there was Viking, sitting by the bed.
Mamie turned toward the doorway and saw Arvilla. "She never said a thing to Mamie," Ollie continues. "She just looked at Mamie and smiled, then said to Viking, "O. K., Vik, it's time to go.' Viking trotted over to my mom, and that was it. They were gone."
"I couldn't believe it," Mamie told Ollie afterwards. "But I know I saw those two as plain as I'm talking to you right now."
Mamie never dreamt of Arvilla again. But to this day, Ollie doesn't question the story. "Maybe it was a sign that he was with her, and they were both fine, and that was it. They gave us the message."