Thursday, August 30, 2007

Goodbye Shadow...

My son was about three years old when he saw the movie, Homeward Bound. After watching it countless times, he announced he wanted a “Shadow Dog.” His dad and I told him how much work a dog would be, and if we got him a dog, he would be taking care of him. He said he was ready, but we kept putting him off, thinking it was a phase, that eventually he’d stop asking. Our determined son did not forget. Two years later we took a beautiful hour and fifteen minute drive to Juniata County to a clean farm/kennel owned by an Amish family. We spent a long time examining and nuzzling the various puppies. When we saw our Shadow, we knew concurrently that he was “the one.” I can’t think of anything else to say except to use the cliché, “love at first site.” We instantly fell in love with his big brown eyes, floppy ears, and gentle nature. We eagerly signed all the adoption papers, and I carried him to the care over my shoulder like a beloved teddy bear. At the time, he was barely ten pounds. Within two years, he grew to be 120 pounds but was oblivious to his size.

That was almost eleven years ago. Today at 5:15 p.m., he was at the vet’s office to be put to sleep. Even though we were doing the right and humane thing—he was riddled with tumors and in pain though he never complained or moaned—it was hard to say goodbye.

Shadow raised his head from the gurney as I nuzzled him and said goodbye. Initially my son said he would be with his dog until the end, the way Shadow had always been there for him. But he couldn’t make it that far. He said his goodbyes at the car. We burst into tears when Shadow lifted his head in response to my son’s voice. He tried to scoot closer, but it was too painful for Shadow to move. In the end, the rest of our family and I only made it as far as the door. In tears, the vet told us it would be quick and painless, and she would be there with him. She choked, “He must have been a great dog.” All of us broke down.

Shadow was a great dog. That’s an understatement. He was gentle and loving. He lived to please us. When one of was sick, he’d lie on the floor beside the bed or sofa. Occasionally, he’d pop up his head as if to say, “How are you doing?” He knew if one of us was sad or hurting. He’d nuzzle us. To say he was a constant companion is almost cliché, but it’s true. We used to complain and laugh how he was always in the way or underfoot, but it was only because he loved our company. If only everyone could have a friend like that. The mere presence of you lit him up, made his tail wag.

It didn’t take much to please him. Freeze pops and slices of bread were treasures for him. He loved his car rides. It got to the point when we had to spell c-a-r-r-i-d-e, and even then, he knew what we meant. He’d begin dancing and talking and his thick fringed tail knocked everything near him. In the car, he’d stick his head out the window and in the mirror I’d laugh and watch his jowls flap in the wind. That teeth-baring smile of his told me he had reached doggie Nirvana.

Shadow loved the snow. He enjoyed taking walks. He loved the attention he attracted. People always stopped to pet him, to tell us he was a beautiful dog. And he played it up. Even more than taking walks, he loved rolling in the snow and catching snowballs. Once he became so rambunctious that he head-butted me and gave me a gash just below the eye that required 8 stitches and a tetanus shot. Everyone loves to the story about how I earned that now almost invisible scar.

One of my favorite memories of Shadow is when the kids were small and still had paper routes. The Sunday papers were back-breaking for the kids. Even though they used a wagon, it was hard for them to pull. Their father made a harness for the dog, so he pulled the wagon for them. It was comical seeing him trotting like a show dog—except that his tongue was always hanging out of the side of his mouth. He stopped traffic. People stopped and hung out their car windows to pet the dog. Shadow hammed it up. The kids got a real treat at the end of the paper routes. They climbed into the wagon, and Shadow cantered all the way home. And of course there was always a doggie biscuit or Freeze pop waiting for him.

Shadow was the perfect dog. He gave us 11 years of joy. He will be missed by everyone who knew him.

If you haven’t tackled the last freewriting exercise, try it now. Freewrite about a family pet. If you’ve ever lost or have had to say good-bye to a pet, freewrite about that. Write a eulogy. Write through the sadness and pain. For more starter ideas, I suggest reading Marley & Me or, if you're a cat lover, A Scattering of Cats. Both are beautifully written memoirs.

My apologies for those who had been following the free character writing workshop. As I mentioned in my last blog entry, my dad had a serious accident which caused a temporal lobe injury. He has been moved out of the hospital and is in a brain injury rehab. I appreciate all the notes and prayers. When things aren’t so hectic, I’ll start posting more notes and exercises for the character workshop. In the meantime, browse the other articles and writing exercises at the sister site: CSWritingWorkshop. Also, if you’re interested in earning some extra money, I’ve added some links to the Earn Money page. Again, I appreciate all the notes and prayers. It means so much.


Anita said...

Oh Marie, I was in tears reading this. I've had several pets in my life, including 3 dogs, all of whom had to be put to sleep. One had tumors at the age of 11 just like Shadow and was also in pain. Even the smaller animals - like our Guinea Pigs - have personalities and cute little interactions with the family. It pained me greatly when our last one died in my arms, but I refused to let her her die alone and cold in her cage after all the laughter and happiness she brought into our lives. I'm so sorry you had to go through this, especially now. I wish I could give you a big hug. Take heart in knowing that you did the necessary and humane thing for your beloved dog. Our thoughts will remain with you. ~Anita

Anita said...

I should also add that I was never able to go into the room when my dogs were being put to sleep either, but my husband did. It was the single most gut-wrenching thing he ever had to do, and it was the only time I ever saw him break down. He not only held our dog until the very end but continued to do so for about 10 minutes after, and he did say that it was absolutely painless and our dog just "fell asleep" quietly and calmly - it was like all the pain and suffering was lifted from her and her body relaxed again. Although he was emotionally devastated, he also felt even more convinced that it was the right thing to do for a living being that we loved. I hope you can find more comfort in that. ~Anita

Rita Marie Keller said...

Oh're always a source of comfort for me. I know Shadow is finally at peace. Even though he must have been in pain his last weeks, he never expressed it. He was always concerned with pleasing us. Though it was/is difficult, I know we did the right thing. Even the cats, especially Katrinko, is mourning his absence. Katrinko hasn't left Shadow's favorite spot in the kitchen. He keeps staring at the door. Animals are amazing. Thanks for the loving posts. Sending you giant hugs...