Shadow is gone.
In my last post, Not Looking Good for Our Hero, I told how we came home after Christmas to find Shadow barely able to walk. In just a few days, he lost the ability to stand on his own. Over the next few weeks, our local vet (whose entire staff gave him excellent care) treated him for a spinal embolism, a condition that often has a good outcome. When that showed no results and his condition worsened, we scheduled a consultation with a neurologist in Winston Salem. She suspected that Shadow either had a tumor on the spine in his neck, or a herniated disk—she couldn’t know for sure without an MRI. The tumor would not be treatable; the herniated disk had an 80% chance of getting him walking again with surgery.
Surgery presented a bigger issue. Shadow was nine, a senior citizen in dog years. If we opted for surgery, would we be prolonging his life for his sake or for ours? We agonized over this. I had been vocal, and perhaps glib, over my belief that many pet owners keep their pets alive too long simply because they can’t bear to say goodbye. And now, here I was, ready to do almost anything to keep him with us.
I know most of you who’ve had pets have had similar agonizing decisions. It is the price we pay to have the love and companionship of pets whose lifespans are so much shorter than ours, and it is always a wrenching one.
But the MRI surprised us. It showed that Shadow had had a spinal embolism after all. For reasons unknown, he was in the 15% of dogs who don’t recover with treatment. Actually, he’d had two strokes, and the damage to the nerves in his spine was extensive. He would never walk again. And so, the decision was made for us. We let him go.
Shadow, with his keen intelligence, his independence, his often maniacal energy, and his always amiable spirit, was truly the most interesting dog I’ve ever had. Admittedly, sometimes he was interesting in the Chinese curse sort of way.
He was a study in contradictions. He liked everyone, but was not especially affectionate with us, at least not until the last couple of years. He was a dog who liked his space. He loved treats, but often would not work for food, and would thoroughly sniff anything we offered him, because, hey, THIS time it just might be poison. He was loyalty impaired—a go-where-the-action-is kind of dog—and not averse to abandoning me during a walk if it started to rain, and race to the shelter of the porch.
A true country dog, he proved equally at home in the city when we had to travel to Utah to help care for my daughter and her children after she was diagnosed with stage four cancer. And, in his own way, he gave us all great comfort during that difficult, devastating time.
His antics taught me how little I knew about dogs and sent me in search of more knowledge. The terms “biddable” and “not biddable” weren’t in my vocabulary before Shadow, and because of him I bought my first clicker and books on positive reinforcement.
He learned early on to hold still if I raised my camera. After all, as I used to joke, he had “his public”, the many people from neighbors and friends to field workers and service people whom he befriended. More than once I had the occasion to meet someone for the first time only to discover they already knew Shadow. “He has more friends than we do,” I would complain to my husband. And it was true.
Shadow inspired a host of nicknames: Motormouth, the Barkster, Boing-Boing, The Ever-Ready Labradoodle, Jumping Jack, Bear-Bane, and Possum-Bane. Oh, how he loved to catch possums! I often said finding them was his super power. (Fortunately for the possums, his possum hunting was mostly a catch and release program.)
He inspired a book series. The Doodlebugged Mysteries came directly from observing Shadow, who would stare up at me, never breaking eye-contact, with an expression that clearly said, “Seriously?” He was his own dog, not a people-pleaser, even though he was always pleased to be around people. Doodle’s oft repeated mantra that “smart and obedient don’t go hand in hand” came straight from Shadow’s actions.
And now, we have said goodbye. We stand in sorrow with dog lovers the world over who have mourned the loss of a canine family member. As a meme circulating on Facebook says, “Having a dog will bless you with many of the happiest days of your life, and one of the worst.”
Fly away, home, Shadow. You truly were one of a kind. May you find woods to race through, logs to leap over, possums to catch, and bears to chase away, and may you live on, at least in part, in Doodle.
♥ ♥ ♥
Shadow also inspired one of my works in progress, Doodlewhacked, a nonfiction account of the challenges of raising him. If you are at all interested in Shadow or in Doodle, his alter ego, I would invite you to check it out on the link below. It’s running as a free serial here on my webpage.
You know that perfect dog from your childhood? The one that did everything right, was intensely loyal and loved you more than anything? I had a dog like that once.
This is not the story of that dog.