Woman's BEST friend, and vice versa

Annie Bilzerian and her pal Ozzy. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Annie Bilzerian and her pal Ozzy at their Edgartown home, faithful friends through good times and bad. Photos by Ralph Stewart

By Gail Craig - August 31, 2006

Four years ago, Annie Bilzerian found herself hosting a young mother trying to get off drugs, the girl's young child, and their dog. While the mother and child moved on, the dog, a border collie named Ozzy, remained. Since coming to the Island, Annie's life has been tumultuous. On the surface, the last thing she needed was another dog. In reality, however, it was the best thing that could have happened to her.

"Ozzy saved my life, literally," recalls Annie. "It was my birthday, four years ago. Ozzy had just been left with me and I was diagnosed with breast cancer." To say Annie's life became more complicated is an understatement. Treatment options on the Vineyard were limited so she went to Boston for surgery. Before the anesthesia wore off, her boyfriend, who was unable to face "the cancer thing," left her, taking her car and stranding her in Boston.

Ozzy. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Ozzy, recovering slowly after having been left for dead by a hit-and-run driver, has not lost his happy temperament despite months of hospitalization and complicated medical care.

"God bless doctors Richard Mulligan and Marilyn Pike, who I worked for in Gay Head. They helped with my diagnosis and pushed me to get treatment. Marilyn helped me financially when I was unable to work. She was with me when my doctors discussed treatment options. And Richard came and picked me up at the hospital in his Jag and brought me home," says Ms. Bilzerian. She remembers walking into her home, seeing Ozzy and saying "If you jump on me dog, you are out of here".

Not only did Ozzy refrain from jumping on her, he became her caretaker. Her first night home, he climbed onto the bed with Annie, gingerly resting his head on her surgery site and that is where he stayed, for the following weeks and months, while she healed, physically and emotionally.

"Judy, another of my angels, did so much for me, cooking and cleaning and walking the dogs. The other two, Sunny and Star, were fine with that but Ozzy only wanted me. All I wanted to do was stay in bed. But he'd be there, pushing me with his nose, forcing me to get up and play ball or walk with him. He was so persistent. He never gave up on me. Bless his little heart".

A list of angels

The Judy that Annie refers to is Judy Belushi Pisano, a friend since Annie first moved to the Island 20 years ago. "I had just lost a baby. I left my husband. I was 29 years old and I came down here to recover." She was taken in by her cousin Larry Bilzerian, owner of Take It Easy Baby in Oak Bluffs.

"Larry was so good to me when I first got here. He has so much love in him. He took me in, built me an apartment, took care of me and told me to stay until I wasn't sad anymore."

Larry also introduced Annie to Judy. "She was healing too. She had lost John. We had both suffered huge losses. She's been there for me every step of the way ever since," remembers Annie.

The list of angels in Annie's life is long, too long to name them all here. In a change from her earlier beliefs, she now believes that people are brought into our lives for a reason and she is so grateful to those who have been there for her through the years, propping her up through the difficult times. "I'm so lucky. I've been touched by so many angels - my ex-husband, Bobby, who is always there for me, my cousin Larry, Judy, Buck Shank, Richard Mulligan and Marilyn Pike, David McCarthy, Jane and Chris Chandler, Bill and Beth Lynch, who are members at the club where I work. And so many others that I'm sure I'm forgetting to mention right now, like Kelly Hess and Sonya Lima. I'm so grateful to each person who has been there for me, to all of my friends here." Annie recovered from her illness. She attributes her successful recovery to her angels, human and canine alike.

Devastation and hope

Fast forward to May of this year. Annie and Ozzy were on their usual outing to the fire lanes in the State Forest, playing ball. For the first time ever, Ozzy took off running after something. Annie searched for him endlessly, to no avail. Twenty four hours later, Debbie Brewer, yet another angel, found Ozzy on the side of the West Tisbury Road. He had been hit by a car and left to die, the driver having long fled the scene. Animal control arrived and Ozzy was ultimately taken to South Shore Animal Hospital in Weymouth, where Annie visited him daily, returning to the Island where she works as a bartender. After her shift, she'd head back off-Island. That was the routine for several days, until Annie and Judy left together one night to move Ozzy to Tufts Medical Center, where doctors performed surgery the next day to relocate his hips and clear fragments from his spine. This surgery was followed by a second to remove more fragments, following the onset of an infection and fever. After a few weeks recovery in the hospital, although still unable to walk, Ozzy returned home to his family.

I first met Ozzy the day he came home, a tired and pathetic little soul, who, although he was obviously very happy to be home, was confused and scared by everything that was going on around him. From that moment on, Annie became his constant caregiver, cleaning up after his accidents, holding him up with the use of a sheet to take him outside, and performing physical therapy with him every day.

The work required to take care of him is exhausting. "I'm so tired" says Annie, who continues to work evening shifts, while taking care of Ozzy, as well as her other dogs Sunny and Star, during the day. Laundry is constant, as Ozzy's accidents take their toll on all the extra blankets and sheets in the house. On this day, I counted seven clotheslines out back, all covered with Ozzy's drying blankets. But it was all worth it two weeks ago, when Ozzy began to walk on his own. For the most part, he drags his hind legs but it's a step in the right direction, so to speak. He is clearly a happy boy.

Devotion without price

All of this has comes at great expense to Annie. The medical bills for Ozzy's care are enormous. Friends have helped out where they can, while some of the costs were defrayed by Tufts because the team there was so moved by the tragedy of the story and Annie's devotion to her animals. But overall medical expenses have exceeded $20,000. "The expense of this is crazy, but how could I not do it? He saved my life, you know what I mean? How could I not save his?" says Annie. "Right my good boy?" she says, tearing up as she nuzzles her dog. Ozzy licks her face as if to agree with her sentiments and to show his obvious gratitude to Annie for not giving up on him.

Friends, more of Annie's angels, have started the Ozzy Recovery Fund at Dukes County Savings Bank to help with the medical expenses.

Fate seems to have brought Annie and Ozzy together, as if they both have higher powers who knew that the pair would need each other. Among the angels walking the earth, they clearly have each filled that role for the other, nursing each other back to health from potentially life threatening tragedies. The two have proven, without question, that you truly cannot put a price on friendship. And friends and angels can come in all different shapes and sizes or in this case, species.

Checks to help Annie and Ozzy may be made out to Ozzy's Recovery Fund and dropped off at any branch of the Dukes County Savings Bank or mailed to Box 1069, Edgartown, MA 02539.