My family’s dog of a decade passed away.
I’m not even sure where to start with writing what I guess is an obituary for her. Ten years is a long time, at least for a 22-year-old. I’m not sure how people manage to condense a human life into a newspaper column, because I really struggle to write this.
We got Shadow directly from a breeder. I remember this lady as rather brusque and slightly racist, which are perhaps common features for someone with such passion for purebreds. If I recall, Shadow’s father was an actual German German Shepard. I’m sure she had a proud lineage, and in fact, her family tree is probably better mapped than mine. But as German Shepards go, she was of the longhair variety, considered inferior and inadequate for a show dog, which made her affordable.
Unfortunately, her pedigree didn’t serve her health. Even in puppyhood, she was a sickly dog. I won’t go into the details–in fact, I can’t even remember all her various sicknesses and emergencies. Suffice it to say that her cone became a frequent accessory.
I have some memories of puppy behavior class at PetSmart. Mainly I recall one gentleman who, to our distress, insisted on ruffling her ears. Growing ears should be handled with utmost delicacy so they grow erect and regal, but she had one ear that insisted on flopping over. As the years went on, she acquired more physical eccentricities. The extraction of a broken canine left her long, mole-specked tongue lolling out of one side of her mouth. An affliction in her eyes made them droopy and bloodshot. But she was a beautiful dog, weighing in at 100 pounds, massive for a female.
Oh yes, remember that behavior class? Well, she didn’t either. As Shadow grew bigger and stronger, it became difficult for Jasmine and me to walk her. Any understanding she had of the command “heel” dissolved at a sighting of a squirrel or passerby. Our walks reached their inevitable culmination when, one day, walking her in the prairie behind our house, a jogger stepped out from behind a bend and Shadow, surprised, lunged. I was pulled to my knees and hung on with all my might (which wasn’t much) as she pulled me along in her pursuit of the jogger. It was rather like water skiing if the boat were a dog and the water was grass and no skis were involved. Finally we got her under control, and I got up, my knees grass-stained and shaky. Really, big dogs should come with brakes installed. From then on, it was choke collar–which didn’t do much with her thick fur–or the halter.
She was the ultimate family dog, protecting us with spit-flinging barking fits from any delivery person who dared ring the doorbell, or worse, friend who dared to step into her territory, and entering panic mode when we were absent. One thing you need to know about Shadow was that, underneath the stoicism (instead of seeking affection, she seemed to resign herself to my insistence on petting and baby-talking her) and the fierceness was a profound sensitivity.
(I write that, and then I think about her lifelong greeting: goosing me. Well, sensitivity takes many forms.)
As a puppy, she was once outdoors taking a bathroom break during a storm when an enormous clap of thunder scared her nearly to death. From then on, she retained a phobia of thunder and similar booms like fireworks–we cursed Hometown Days with its lengthy grand finales that made our dog tremble and whine piteously–and later on any remotely bass sound. The grumbling motor of the garbage truck terrified her, turning Mondays into the Day of Whimpering. When she was young, we would sometimes spend the day in Waukesha with our grandparents, leaving her in the basement tornado shelter as a makeshift kennel. One of these times, a storm passed over Verona. Driving home through the puddled streets, we had no way of anticipating the mess we’d find in the shelter. Great bloody streaks ran down the door with bits of fur embedded from when she had tried to claw her way out. It was like something from a horror movie entitled “Separation Anxiety.”
Shadow had her quirks, her phobias, and her ailments, yes. Her eccentricity was only rivaled by the lead character in Marley and Me (go read it!). Nevertheless, my fondest memories of her are relatively normal: playing in our backyard. She had a big red ball that we would roll across the grass and she would chase and even dribble it with gusto, tripping over it with her big paws.
In the winter she bounced through the snow, ignoring the ice-balls that would gather between her toe pads, leaping, diving, chomping up snowballs. I remember her eagerness, waiting for a ball to be tossed, her body poised and taut in anticipation, sometimes uttering a yip if we made her wait too long. Even in her dreams she would play–or at least that’s what I imagine she experienced as her legs twitched and she emitted adorable sleep-woofs. Later on her dream life progressed to scratching at the floor as she dozed, and sometimes I would wake up to the sound of her scratching downstairs. I wonder what she was digging up.
When I said goodbye to her this summer, I knew there was a good possibility I wouldn’t see her again. But still the loss stings. How strange to imagine my house without all the sundry arrangements we made for her–the water dish in the downstairs shower with the curtain hemmed high enough to let her under, the toddler gates, the doghouse in the kitchen. The strange emptiness there must be without her sounds, her scent, her doggy presence.
Shadow, girlie, I will remember the smell of your ears, that waxy sweet fragrance hidden in the soft fuzz and sticky skin of those keen, twitching sensors, the way I still remember the dusty, salty scent that clung to the feathers of Skippy, my parakeet. I will remember kissing your dry, rough nose. I will remember burying my hands in the warm, luxurious fur around your scruff. I will remember your canine language of woofs, whines, whimpers, growls, groans, and barks. I love you. Like so many pets, you helped teach your humans new ways to love.