I miss my little dog.
It is causing me terrible pain, as bad as when my first wife and my son died. It is a different pain but it feels like my soul his being slowly ripped through a hole in my chest. I can’t think of her without tears. I can’t talk about her because I choke up and the pain gets so bad I almost wish for a heart attack. I get angry because no one cares enough that a great living thing so full of love has been ripped so unfairly away.
People wish me condolences on the loss of my daughter. She was never my daughter. It was more important than that. Shelby was my dog and I was her boy. We weren’t family, we weren’t codependent, we took care of each other and taught each other and cared for each other.
The only reason I could afford Shelby was because she failed her puppy temperament test. The first time we met each other she bit me. Drew blood. Then she laid on my foot and then sat calmly in and out of my lap.
That night I had as luxurious crate prepared for her as I could afford. She’d have none of it and cried until I let her out. She dragged herself into the bed and slept on the pillow next to my face. In the morning she used the crate as her toilet until I dragged her outside.
The day the breeder, Julie, took Shelby and I to the dog park with Shelby’s mother and her Uncle Hank. A last romp and a goodbye for when Shelby’s family said goodbye.
Shelby ran to her mother , Reina. Reina rejected her aggressively. Julie explained that was normal and Reina was just telling her it was time for Shelby to make her way in the world.
What everyone noticed was that instead of running to someone familiar she ran to me.
And that was how it started. For the next 8 years every time I looked down I saw Shelby looking back at me, always laughing, always ready with a dog joke to tell me or pull on me.
Living in a big city I know that everyone has hundreds of great stories about their dogs. So do I. Too many.
Every day with Shelby was an adventure. Every walk was an odyssey of excitement. The day we saw the giant opossum, and watched a rabbit and a crow have a fight. Or discovered dinosaur bones, and dinosaurs and ducks. And when she met her best friend, the little blind dog, Ben, the two of them made discoveries unheard of.
I suppose Shelby’s biggest accomplishment was becoming a therapy dog. It was my idea. I thought she could use the training. She was just over a year old when she started and she was terrible. She wanted to play with everybody. I thought she was terrific any time she completed an exercise. The trainers were charmed by Shelby, so charmed that it compelled them to not throw us out of the class.
I didn’t expect Shelby to graduate. I was surprised that during the final exam she not only did well she had top grades. She was so gentle they asked if she could work with children.
Thinking of her then shunts my pain aside. She was amazing. Playing with the children was fun for her and she worked hard at it. She bought a new joy to the children. Some of those kids remembered Shelby as giving them their last smiles. The children would come to my work to visit Dr Shelby. Many cars would pull over when we were walking so that parents and children could come and say hello to the Dr Shelby.
It was when she did her serious work in the oncology ward that she amazed me, me who already thought she could do anything. She walked the hospital hallway, quietly, calmly, wended her way past gurneys and nurses until she came to an open door. She’d stare into the room for a moment and make her decision to either enter or go to the next room. I tried not to peek into the rooms. It was her time. People would talk to me about Shelby but they weren’t really talking to me. They wanted to talk to her and didn’t know how to talk to a dog.
Around then I felt like I should get back into coaching. Of course, Shelby came with me to every practice and she was on the sidelines for every game. In our second year the team got to State; at the football banquet the players voted Shelby their favorite coach.
I just now moved my chair and I remember how she always watched over me. Even when I was in hospital. At night she stayed as close to me as possible. Even when she was sick she always pressed though the pack to get to see me first to make sure I was all right. She loved me enough to tolerate the 14 foster dogs I bought into her life. She didn’t like all of them. She wanted them to follow the rules, her rules mainly. But she endured them even if sometimes I did get “looks”.
Her last three weeks were terrible but she was always loving. I have to walk the five dogs 3 or 4 times a day. I have to make 3 trips. Shelby always insisted on making all the trips with me. She would walk with me or in front of me and the other dogs. As she sickened she started walking 5 or ten feet behind us. She started to walk with her head low, she began sitting and lying down in an untypical way.
We took her to the vet for her annual exam. When they drew blood for her panel her blood was not red but rusty brown. They tested it and her blood count was 12. We began a treatment of massive minocyclin and predosterone (a steroid). Shelby was not responding well, even though her blood count did rise an insignificant amount.
At home she still insisted she go out with me at any opportunity. She wanted me close to her. She slept in the living room. She liked the cold air blowing on her from our drafty front door.
We have to climb a hill to get to the street. When she could no longer climb the hill she figured out another pathway. In a few days even the other path was too difficult. I stopped taking the other guys up the hill and she would slowly follow us around the back yard.
Even after her blood count held steady she was weakening. She started to refuse to eat. But even till the end she always wanted her cookies. She could move fast for a pizza slice! Every time she took a cookie I had hope.
Every night she still found the strength to come and trick me and play jokes on me. She’d put her big old paw on me and make me pet her. She used her paw to direct me to her tummy. She loved her tummy rubs. She was always smiling the same way she smiled at life.
Dr Karen decided we should start to cut back and wean Shelby off some of the drugs, to see if they could be hurting her appetite and energy. To try and be certain what was ehrlichia and what might be a side effect.
Shelby got worse. I took her to work with me. She enjoyed herself immensely but I was tortured thinking that I was putting too much strain on her.
One funny thing she did at work: Shelby always kept a time limit on how long I was able to be out of her sight. I had to step out of the office. I was bent over working on a computer when I was suddenly poked in my butt. I jerked around and there was Shelby all over joyed with herself for finding me.
When she was a puppy we always played hide and seek. She remembered.
Of course all my customers were screaming about the dangerous looking wolf-dog running around on the loose. Shelby and I didn’t care about them. She was just happy to win our game. I was happy that she still wanted to laugh and joke.
We got home that night and Shelby was worsening. She still insisted on coming outside with each of the other dogs but she struggled badly. She was searching for an easier way to get down the gentle slope into the backyard. The search was to hard so she just sat and laughed at me trying to walk the other dogs without her help.
Tuesday she looked too weak to come to work with me. The day at work was miserable without her. When I got home she didn’t have the strength to push to the front of the pack. I pretended not to notice for her sake.
Wednesday we went to the Vet hospital. She was moving so slow. She still wouldn’t eat.
In the car she wouldn’t lie down or sit. I sat terrified that this would be our last car ride together.
At the hospital she still gobbled up every cookie I offered her. She could barely walk. We could only get about 10 yards at a go. She’d take a break, make me pet her and then continue on another 10 yards.
After 90 minutes we finally got to talk to the Doctor. The Doctor was pregnant. The Doctor still sat on the floor, putting her hand on Shelby’s back. Shelby did not try and move away from her.
The Doctor laid out the plan of attack on the ehrlichia. Shel’s blood count was stable so the first thing was to check her reticulites. Which is how many blood cells she is producing. Then if the reticulates were low we would have to do a bone marrow aspiration!! I’ve had several of those and they are up in the top 10 of excruciating pains.
I listened to all this like a petrified log. I led Shelby back into the hospital proper. I got them to give her a run so she could look around and lay out easily. When I left I looked back. Shelby was looking at me with a scared panic free face. She wouldn’t follow the hospital tech until I broke off eye contact.
We waited two hours for the reticulate readings. When they came back they were good, very good. She needed a 60,000 and she got a 200,000! So no bone marrow tests!
The decision was to give her two units of blood and then to do x-rays and a sonogram to try and pin point where she was loosing all the blood she was producing. They let us see her in the run. She was dangling tubes and such. I watched the blood pump labor away while I thought of teasing her about spying on her.
Even with just 1 unit of blood in her Shel was more alert, lying down but with her head up. She watched everything.
The blood transfusion took all night. I went home and showed great discipline. I only called 3 times. Shelby was always doing fine. In the morning she refused food but she did go for a walk and she defecated.
About 8 am the hospital called and said Shelby’s blood count was 22! Still far from ideal but higher than they had hoped for!
Around 10 they called me to recite the bill and to ask my permission to do the x-rays and ultrasound test. Again she was doing great. Standing and watching everything going on. She commented on how well behaved and gentle Shelby was.
My heart was singing.
At 12:10 PM Thursday the Doctor called. She said a lot of blow softening stuff I couldn’t focus on. At 12:02 Shelby stood up and gave a short howl and then collapsed.
They had tried twice to resuscitate her via chemicals and electricity. They were still doing CPR but she was not responding.
I asked them to stop the CPR. After 10 minutes I thought it was hopeless and a miracle resurrection
would still leave her brain damaged.
My wife and I got there as soon as we could. They put us in an examination room and wheeled Shelby in on a cart. When I touched her all that fur made her feel warm. When I had my first two heart attacks Shelby and I were foolishly separated for a few months. When we were reunited she didn’t run and jump into my arms; she snapped at me and tried to run away. She thought I was a ghost returned from the grave. When she saw that I was flesh she was back to leaning on me and demanding I scratch her butt. When I felt her warm fur I thought she was going to jump up and yell at me, “Now you know how it feels!”
It would have been a great joke. But it wasn’t a joke.
I could still feel that Shelby was there. Probably why it felt confusing. I told her she was a good girl and that she would always be my dog.
I asked the Doctor about her howl. I wanted to make sure it was or was not her emergency howl for me to come rescue her. It didn’t sound like it was. It sounded like Shelby was caught unawares and surprised. It was an inarticulate utterance caused by a blood clot from brain suddenly dislodging and striking her brave little heart.
They had covered Shel with a blanket. I pulled it back and saw the weariness of her battle, the two places where they’d shaved for the catheter and how they’d shaved her stomach below her heart.
I rubbed her tummy telling her she was a good girl and that I loved her. More than even a cookie she loved being called a good girl. She hated being called a bad girl and would argue if she thought it was undeserved.
At first her tummy felt like it was Shelby but abruptly it felt like something gray and dead. It was then I realized that Shelby had finally left.
We’re having her cremated. We’ll pick up her ashes next week.
Shelby would not be happy at Rainbow Bridge. She wouldn’t run and play. She would only sit and wait for me.
If you believe in reincarnation I can’t imagine a higher life form for her to evolve into. She loved who she was and it was as close to perfection as any of us could want.
She was the greatest dog in the world. She was my dog. I was her boy.
If you can’t understand that. I’ve nothing to say.
If you do understand and are jealous I understand. I’m jealous of the me that was.
She was 7 years old. Nearly 8. She did nothing but brighten the world for a lot of people but mainly she illuminated my world. It seems even darker now without her in it. It’s not fair to her.
One thing did happen. My wife locked her keys in the car at the hospital. We had to call a locksmith. He was there in about 5 minutes. I don’t know how we must have looked; while he was getting into the car he told us about his 13 year old pit bull who was the glue of his family. He then said, “No charge.”