Last August I shot and produced a video about Otis, an extraordinary skydiving dog from Galt. On March 26 I was saddened to learn that he had died.
This energetic pug lived a life that few people would ever dream of attempting. Over the course of 9 years he made 65 skydives in a variety of disciplines, most of them strapped in a special harness to his owner and best friend, Will DaSilva, a long-time skydiver from The Parachute Center in Acampo. At ten years of age, Otis died peacefully, lying in his favorite spot on the couch.
DaSilva said that it was pure randomness that Otis became a skydiver. "What are the odds that the dog I picked out of a litter, that one day he would be a skydiving dog? I wasn't looking for a skydiving dog." It was Otis' personality that led him to pursue skydiving with him. "He had that dog wagging his tail attitude" DaSilva said.
"This was the happiest dog on the planet," said Rick Draeger, of Herald, who has known Otis since he was a puppy and jumped with him many times. Draeger recalled his favorite jump with Otis as a cross country skydive. With Otis strapped to him, exiting from an altitude of 13,000 feet, he immediately deployed their parachute. They flew about 5 miles to their intended landing spot with a group of friends parachuting along side of them. Otis was looking around at his friends flying with them under canopy, occasionally barking at them. "He was more air-aware than a lot of students I've taught," Draeger said.
DaSilva's favorite jump with Otis was a formation skydive with 40 people that required the use of two twin otter airplanes flying in unison to complete. It started out with a hand-full of skydivers wanting to jump with Otis, and as word spread the jump ballooned to include 40 people eager to make a jump with the dog.
Otis spent nine years of his life skydiving, but it wasn't until the end that he became famous for it. Last August the video shown below went viral and within days became popular around the world. DaSilva found himself fielding interview requests from newspapers, magazines, radios and television stations worldwide. "I never realized the effect Otis had on people. Otis inspired people to skydive," DaSilva said. "This dog had a purpose I never saw or intended."
Shortly after the media storm DaSilva decided to retire Otis from jumping due to his age and growing health concerns. In dog years he was fast approaching 77 years old. "How many 77 year old skydivers do you know?" he said. His last jump was number 65, shot live for Good Day Sacramento.
Will DaSilva try to train another dog to skydive? "Never again," he said. "Otis' harness has been hung up. He was one of a kind."
Draeger elaborates: "Skydiving is a particular sport. Not everyone is capable of it." he said. "Not every dog is meant to be a police dog or fetch ducks after hunters shoot them. Otis was a happy dog who loved living. As luck would have it, this dog truly loved (skydiving) and would celebrate it afterwards."
DaSilva is still grieving over the loss of Otis, who stole people's hearts and occasionally their lunch when he could. More than 100 skydivers posted their condolences and remembrances on DaSilva's Facebook page and Otis' fan page. The little dog that could fly is now buried under a cherry tree in DaSilva's yard along with his other dog, Rocky. DaSilva never made a cent from Otis' fame and has no regrets about their journey together. "Do what you love," DaSilva said. "And do it with your dog if you can."
Here's the video of Otis' 64th skydive. It was taken with cameras mounted on the helmets of three different skydivers, myself, Jade Tatom and Rick Draeger.