NORMAN — The brown leather sofas at the Norman Veteran’s Center sat empty on Tuesday morning. What was once a campground for the Veteran’s Center resident dog, Little Bit, was now just another painful reminder that she truly was gone.
Also bare were the hallways of the center. Gone were the many veteran’s bearing their badges of courage from wars past. No one was sitting outside either. No discussions of the weather. No mention of current events. On this Tuesday morning, it seemed that most of the residents of the Norman Veteran’s Center had gathered inside the activities room to remember the dog that had stolen the hearts of her 301 owners.
Little Bit called the Norman Veteran’s Center home for 10 years before her passing on Sept. 13 after suffering from congestive heart failure. She held many hats while living at the facility. Social services employee at the center, Martha Lewis, described Little Bit as the resident rabbit, bird and squirrel chaser, a public relations representative and a therapy dog.
“Little Bit had many roles here. She was a greeter. She commandeered the sofas up front, those were hers. When we would have new families come in, she was a comfort to them,” Lewis said. “She brought happiness. She also brought tears of joy. In her own way, she was a therapy dog, even though she was not really trained. She was always there when a vet needed comfort. Little Bit also assumed the role here as the guard dog.”
Speaking at Little Bit’s service was Dr. John Otto of University Animal Hospital. During his weekly visits to the center, Otto was prone to check the schnauzer mix’s ever-failing heart.
“She was a perfect fit. She loved all of you unconditionally. I never saw her get mean or angry toward anybody here. She loved you guys tremendously. The only time I ever saw her raise her hair up was when someone would bring another dog in here. She loved you from the bottom of her heart and she didn’t want to share that with anybody,” Otto said. “She was a blessing to all of us, and it was my privilege to be her doctor.”
Otto added that Little Bit’s heart condition was so grave that he felt she should have died two years ago. But, for some reason, Little Bit kept going.
“There were times I really thought that she couldn’t keep going. We used all the medicine we could to keep her going. She had heart disease for years. But she kept going, and she did that because she loved you all so much. And that’s what love can do,” Otto said. “I’d like to think of her as a vet. She was a veteran for you guys. She took care of you as best she could, and you did the same for her.”
It was during the service that Otto announced that the center, who also has a cat named Callie, will soon have another dog on site.
It was about a year ago Otto knew that Little Bit was very ill. It was then that Otto arranged for another dog to be adopted from Second Chance Animal Sanctuary to take Little Bit’s place. Through the Friends for Folks Dog Training Program at the prison in Lexington, the center’s newest four-legged companion, Sarge, is currently being trained.
“He looks a lot like Little Bit,” Otto said. “You’ll love Sarge.”
The 2-year-old dog has been in training for about three months and should arrive at the center in a few weeks, Otto said.
“The inmates at the prison have been working really hard to give you a dog that will be worthy of filling Little Bit’s shoes,” Otto said.
Employees at the Veteran’s Center also presented Otto a plaque for his dedication to Little Bit.
“We’re very, very grateful that we had her in our lives and I thank God for her, I really do,” Otto said.
Representing Primrose Funeral Service and Sunset Memorial Park, John Davenport donated a memorial marker in Little Bit’s honor. The marker, complete with an American flag, will be placed on Little Bit’s final resting place under a tree behind the center.
“We often come over here to deliver flowers. It was always a joy to see Little Bit,” Davenport said.
When Mike Varnell moved into the Veteran’s Center three years ago, he immediately signed up to be a member of Little Bit’s fan club.
“She was just the greatest dog in the world. I started feeding her bacon and sausage. I would make sure when I got up every morning, that I got at least four or five pieces of bacon and sausage and take it out to her. Then I saw the sign that said she had a heart condition and said, ‘Oh my God, I’m killing her.’ I felt real bad, so I quit feeding her and she got mad at me. She was a great dog and I love her and I miss her very much,” Varnell said.
Also highlighting the service was a performance by Mrs. Norman 2013 Garalee Womack, who performs regularly at the Veteran’s Center.
“At times, maybe she didn’t know how lucky she was to be among all of the people that live here. She just knew that she loved you and that you loved her,” Lewis said. “I think her parting thoughts to you would be ‘Thanks for taking care of me.’ But we would say, ‘Thanks for taking care of us.’”