We named him Shadow because he followed me everywhere.
We brought him home one day during what I call a rough patch. My husband was commuting between Florida and South Carolina each week and we were in a holding pattern, hoping to sell our home so our family could be together in one place again. My younger daughter was in the grip of a mystery illness a team of doctors had trouble diagnosing. Those are just the highest low spots in that rough patch.
Shadow was one of a litter a prized hunting dog, a hound, had birthed. As my daughters played with the puppies that day in the red clay country in Carolina, most of the puppies were falling all over each other. There was one black and tan fellow who just sat there watching everything, not even bothering to run over to us for an ear scratching. And we knew that was the dog we wanted.
The girls and I took him to the pet shop on the way home. He rode quietly in the buggy as we shopped, and I am sure that at that point he must have known what a lucky dog he was. My husband liked to say Shadow won the doggie lottery when we brought him home.
Over the years Shadow taught me so many things. He taught me that when a person is grieving or sad, the best gift a creature can often give is silent support. Many times Shadow would walk over to me and place his chin on my knee, staying in that position until I rose.
He also taught me that not all dogs can swim—that was after he fell into the pool and Rebecca had to jump in and retrieve him.
Shadow’s favorite game was throw-the-toy-into-the-pool. He’d roll his ball all the way to the edge of the pool and as soon as you said No, he’d tip the toy with his nose right into the water. He could do that all day long. I think he trained us to play that game well.
He was a Southern gentleman, riding in the car with such good behavior that we always took him along when we could. When Rebecca was in middle school, I’d take him with me to pick her up and he’d watch patiently for his person to come out of the school. Many children would walk over to say hello and pet him—there wasn’t a mean streak in his body. He loved people and people most often loved him.
He was a sandwich thief, if you turned your back on him and your lunch was within reach. When we entertained, we had to make sure no one placed a beer bottle on the deck because Shadow would tip it over and lap it up with a speed no machine can match.
He was the consummate tracker, locating hamsters and gerbils when they escaped their cages. Name the person in the family you wanted him to go find and he would get it right every time. He did the standard dog moves as well—sit, stay, ‘hello’ and ‘off.’
He loved to be groomed. If you picked up his brush, he’d sit right down and stay there as long as you brushed him.
Despite a soul that was nothing but sweetness and light, he once ate his way into the bottom of the couch in our den. When we walked in and he stuck his head out of the couch’s innards, well, that was one for the record books. I never liked that couch very much anyway.
As Shadow entered his 12th year of life, he developed heart problems. Two different vets diagnosed it as a problem he was born with, a heart that was too big. I think that was poetic because he really did have a big heart in every sense of the word.
We found a vet who agreed to try to treat him for the fluid buildup and constant hacking cough that accompanied the illness. Dr. Moseley at Mandarin Animal Hospital helped us give Shadow another year of life and most of that year was tolerable for our dog. It was only in the last couple months that the coughing became incessant and the drugs became less effective.
About a week ago, I got up in the middle of the night as I had done many nights before and I didn’t think my dog would make it to morning. He struggled to breathe; he sounded like he was drowning. At that point, I knew what had to be done and I prayed I would have the strength to do it, to put Shadow’s pain and needs ahead of my own. I wanted his passing to be peaceful, not marked by excess pain or suffering. He died with dignity.
My husband and I took him to be put to sleep on Saturday. Dr. Moseley has a beautiful garden behind his practice, with a waterfall and shade trees. Shadow loved to be outside, as long as I was with him, and I knew this would be a fitting setting for us to tell him goodbye as our pup traveled to wherever the very best dogs go. We sat beside him on a pallet on the ground, stroking his silky ears and telling him how much we loved him. His passing was peaceful and devoid of the pain he had experienced in the final weeks of his life.
My office feels completely empty and the yard is especially strange when I walk outside without him. We still have the small Schnauzer we rescued, and I am grateful for that. We didn’t plan on getting another dog a couple years ago, but there was no one else to take him and that is how we got our Rusty. Rusty continues to search for his buddy and I wish there was a way to explain it all to him.
People who aren’t animal lovers have a hard time understanding the grief we feel when we lose a beloved pet. It is like the grief we feel when we lose any member of our family. Things seem out of sync; you find yourself going to do something and then you remember it’s not necessary to do it. There’s a feeling of incompleteness and disorientation.
I lost my Shadow in every imaginable way. I am permitting myself to grieve, but at the same time, I am celebrating all the wonderful memories Shadow helped my family make over the 13 years he was with us.
We are more grateful than words can express to our vet, Dr. James L. Moseley, Jr., at Mandarin Animal Hospital, for his compassionate care that let us hold onto Shadow for that extra year. We are also grateful to Dr. Moseley for being able to help Shadow pass peacefully in a beautiful setting outside.
Some say dogs don’t have souls. Shadow did. And in my heart, I know he’s where all the good dogs go when they pass on because he truly was the very best dog a person could hope to have in her life.
(Commentary by Kay B. Day/Jan. 14, 2013)