Goodnight, Little Bear

So at 4 PM today, my dog, Shadow D. Dog, went in to the vet’s for the last time.  We had to put her down after 15 good years with us.  She was the best damn friend not related by blood I’ve ever had, and certainly the longest.  To be honest, I’m pretty torn up about it.  Yes, she was “just a dog,” but damn it, she was my dog.  I don’t want this post to be one long sob story, so I’m going to share a series of stories that are fonder memories.  These thoughts are not necessarily in any order other than how they come to me.

When we went to get a dog the Spring of when I was 13, we got one from a rescue agency that rescued dogs from other rescue agencies (apparently, in Texas, rescue agencies fill up and will occasionally put dogs down after a year or two).  The woman brought out well over 20 dogs, ranging in size and shape.  I remember that when they first got out of her truck, I was drawn to a big, fluffy sheep dog.  It was roughly the same size as I was at the time and was awesome.  It also had mange, and my parents gently steered me away from him.  Then there was this little black and white dog that was tiny by comparison.  We were told she was a Border Collie, and her markings bore that out.  We didn’t realize at the time that in fact she was a Border Corgi (half-Border Collie, half-Corgi).  She just kinda strayed from the pack of dogs who were all being…well…stupid dogs.  She stood on her own (something we would later attribute to probably being raised with cats) and, as a result, stood out.  Because of her ears and her stature, she looked like a small bear (hence the title of this post).  We walked a number of the dogs, and we settled on this peculiar specimen.  On the ride home, we were trying to come up with a name for her, and we agreed on Shadow, in part because of my love for the book/movie “The Incredible Journey.”

We had Shadow a few weeks and we noticed that she had a chewing problem.  At the time, she was given reign of the house at night and she often chewed the spines of books.  This did not sit well with my parents, as we have a relatively large library (for those of you who haven’t been to my folks’ house, it’s got 9 book cases in the living room alone).  With a little research, we realized that Border Collies chew when they’re nervous and not exercised enough.  We also learned that five-mile runs are warm-ups for Border Collies…so we were a little nervous.  Thankfully, she had Corgi legs, so two miles was about her limit, and most of that at a trot rather than a run.  Once we sorted that out, a general peace was held in the Dalton household as there was no way I was giving this dog back.

Shadow cemented her place in the home, however, the following Thanksgiving.  I was sick as a dog (proverbially).  I slept all day, woke up for dinner, ate about four bites of food, and then went back to bed.  Shadow was a notorious beggar and if there was food, she was never more than a few steps away, looking at you with big, sad eyes.  However, this day, despite all of the delicious food (I assume, as my mother’s cooking is excellent, I don’t really remember much other than throwing up), Shadow stayed in my room at the foot of my bed all day.  I was informed of this a few days later when I was feeling better.  My mom fell in love with her then, because the dog was taking care of her baby boy.

In Texas, there are no leash laws (or at least there weren’t then), and in an attempt to help her get her exercise, Shadow was often let out in the mornings.  Across the street, there was a Bichon Frise named Jake who was also let out in the mornings.  Apparently, Shadow’s mind couldn’t differentiate between Bichon Frise and sheep (both Border Collies and Corgis are used to herd them), and one day, She ran across the street at full-tilt, lowered her head, and slammed into Jake’s ribs knocking him down, which is apparently used to move sheep in the direction you want.

Also, because she was unsupervised, Shadow would often come home covered in mud.  At the time, we had an in-ground pool.  When she would come home filthy, we would send her out to the pool, make her stand on the top step, and then clean her off as best we could without soap.  One day, she came home and immediately went to the back door.  We were all surprised because she’d just come in.  Shadow was let out, and she then proceeded to trot over to the pool unprompted, stand on the top step, and wait until someone came and cleaned her.  This is only made funnier by the fact that she hated water, as her short, Corgi legs didn’t aid her in swimming.

The last story of her roaming the streets of Beaumont is possibly the funniest.  As most owners with a dog are wont to do, we tried to train Shadow to fetch the newspaper.  Problem: she’s a herd-dog.  In her head, we didn’t want our paper, we wanted all the papers.  We would often come out after letting her out to find 10 to 20 newspapers piled at the end of our walk.  If you’re in Beaumont and from our old neighborhood, sorry about that.  This was a behavior we tried to break her of, which I’m sure only confused her further.  “But you said you wanted these?  WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?!?”  I can hear her say in my head.  After we realized what she understood, we stopped asking, which was probably for the best.

It wasn’t uncommon to find small herds of frogs rounded up into circles with an ever-watching dog near-by in the mornings.  If one of the frogs tried to hop away, Shadow would circle and it would realize that there was a much larger animal prepared to nip it if it continued in its behavior.  The frog would then hop back into formation, and the dog would circle and sit back down.  Shadow was also notorious for herding children and our family if we took her for bike rides.  She would weave behind us to make sure we were riding in line and if we weren’t, she’d run up and force us over and then take up her position in back of the pack.  Come to think of it, she was probably the smartest damn animal I’ve ever known, and was probably smarter than most of my classmates in the Philosophy department.  I definitely got along with her better than most of them, at least.

When we lived in Texas, it wasn’t uncommon to leave her in the back yard for long periods of time (a couple hours).  Shadow also had the Border Collie tendency of digging.  My mother is a gardener, and she was less than pleased by this behavior.  We built a pen for Shadow behind the garage, and this was her abode while we were gone.  We nicknamed the pen, “The Cooler,” after the holding cell in “The Great Escape.”  She hated that damn thing.  She tried to dig out, she actually tried to chew out at one point.  One day, after about two years of its use, we realized she had learned to behave as we wanted, so we didn’t need The Cooler any more.  My dad and I took it out in a couple hours while Shadow lounged inside (Texas summers are…hot…in case you didn’t know).  After we were done, my dad came inside and said, “Okay, Shadow, Cooler,” to which the dog responded by getting up, looking sad and dejected, and trotting to the area the pen was with her head down.  As she rounded the corner, she saw that the pen was gone, and she was happy.  She actually smiled.

After about two-and-a-half years in Texas with her, we moved back to Virginia.  She handled the drive back like a champ, if not confused.  We got back in late August, and I’m pretty sure she was happiest when it began to cool off.  She had a thick coat, and I can only imagine that Texas heat was fucking miserable for her.  It was for me, and I’m only covered over about 60 percent of my body in fur.  A few Winters later, it snowed pretty heavily (about two-and-a-half to three feet).  Shadow wasn’t exactly sure how to proceed.  We let her out and she walked out, and promptly fell into a dog-shaped hole.  She looked around, undoubtedly confused, and then hopped up and over the bank in front of her only to fall into another dog-shaped hole.  This proceeded for several minutes.  She still seemed happy.  Apparently, in the snowmageddon of a few years ago, there were snow banks so high she could have easily walked over the four-foot fence around our yard, but she was content to have a change of perspective.

The dog helped me move out of my parents’ house and into my first college dorm, and then every one subsequent to it.  She helped me move a few times after, too, and she often came to visit when my parents were going out of town.

Shadow was a great dog, and I’ll never find one to replace her.  Not to say I won’t own other dogs, but none of them are the same, and I can’t expect them to be.  I loved that dog more than I like most people.  Maybe that’s a comment about some disordered thing in me, but it’s the truth.

I wrote a haiku about her when I got the news last week that this day was coming (I knew, in the hypothetical sense that it was an inevitability, but it didn’t become real until it was).  You’ll find it below, along with one of my favorite pictures of her.

Goodnight, beloved

Your memory lives on if

I am who you thought

Image

So.  With all that in mind, I love you, Shadow.  I hope there are sheep – or at least Bichon Frise – to chase in Heaven.

Love,

Your Boy

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2 Responses to “Goodnight, Little Bear”

  1. Ethan Fenichel (@EthanDF) Says:

    I’m sorry for your loss. I remember Shadow being a gracious and sweet host.

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