Shadow (6/2/96 – 9/4/10)

All Dogs Go to Heaven…  title of 1989 film 

Our precious Shadow passed last week; he was 14, but honestly, although he had slowed down quite a bit this past year, he still had his moments of frolic. Just a few days prior, he wanted to play “sock”, which meant I threw him my running sock (and yes, he caught it). 

But we knew it was only a matter of time, as he’d been diagnosed with an enlarged heart and some questionable liver issues, which we chose to not correct, given his age. 

He ate a good breakfast on Thursday, and he went on a short stroll down the street, smiling all the way, as was his habit. But that evening, he developed problems with his hindquarters, and after that, all went downhill. Over Friday night, he was in distress, so Joel took him back to the vet in the morning (I was away at a choir retreat). After letting me know that the test results looked grim, Joel came to get me at camp, and both of us were with him as Shadow peacefully slipped away. He was just so tired… 

What can I say about “the perfect dog”? Memories recall a puppy who was so precocious that when I would conduct “puppy school” (with my library book about how to train a dog), we would work on the commands in turn: Sit, Shake, Speak, complete with hand motions… Shadow learned them instantly. 

So we’d go practice, and I’d say to him, “Shadow! Sit!” and he would plop his behind down, wave his paw and bark all at the same time, because he anticipated. 

Not long after that, I took him to the vet for a puppy checkup. There in the lobby (because I knew he was such a smart puppy and I was going to show off how smart he was), I looked at him and said, “Shadow, ****!” (rhymes with SIT, but stick an H in there). The woman behind the desk tittered, and I know I did, too. Shadow looked at me, like, what? with a cock of his head. Hilarious! 

As a puppy, he had been raised out in the country, so he was a little overwhelmed by city traffic in the beginning. I remember the first time I took him on a leash down our very quiet street and had to cross a busy intersection. He balked in the middle of it, in fear of the cars whizzing by. But soon he became accustomed to traffic, and pranced in his elegant way, smiling at all comers, most of whom remarked what a beautiful dog he was. 

We were amused as he bumbled on the stairs for the first time; he’d never seen stairs before. But soon, he would be whizzing up and down them in a gravity defying manner that made me anxious… one tumble and disaster! But he never, ever  lost his footing. 

Shadow had the gift of a loving heart towards all creatures great and small. Whether it was an aggressive dog that growled at him, or a child who was afraid of dogs, Shadow would stop, analyze the situation and react accordingly. 

He had no fear of other dogs. I watched him step up to many a growling dog, give an inviting whine, and totally disarm the dog. The tail would start to wag, and then Shadow had a new friend. 

Likewise, I watched him charm a number of children whose mothers claimed were frightened of dogs. One particular girl was so mesmerized that she patted him over and over and talked endlessly of “Thadow” to her mother. What a special soul Shadow had! 

Stories about Shadow:

  • While he wasn’t frightened by much, he did NOT like oscillating fans. When we visited my Aunt Mary’s house in Utopia, TX, they scared him. I’m not sure why, but perhaps it was that he thought they looked like moving faces. 
  • There in Utopia, he did enjoy chasing a herd of wild goats; I think it was the only time he had an opportunity to do what came naturally to him.
  • He was a Pet Minister for 11 years at the Seniors Place (now called The Amazing Place). We went once a month to visit the clients there who are in the early/middle stages of Alzheimer’s/dementia, and he was a real favorite. Particularly when my own father was a client there, our visits were very, very special.
  • Sometimes, after our Seniors Place visits, we’d stop by church if I had a meeting or a task to attend to. He would lie quietly under the table until we were finished, and then would visit his “friends” there, whom he knew had treats in their desk drawers. Everyone called him the “church dog”.
  • Shadow had a vocabulary of at least 150 words by our count, probably way more. He could actually conjugate sentences. I once commanded him, “Shadow, GO UPSTAIRS and FETCH PINKIE” (he knew all these words). And I was not surprised when he thought about it, went upstairs and brought his favorite toy back downstairs.
  • We had a daily routine. Wake up, go outside, eat breakfast, take a walk. Hang out with me or without me while I was off running errands. Sometimes we would “work” outside; he always enjoyed supervising my labors. Have a little tuna juice for “lunch”. Nap? Great! Go to mailbox and get the mail; Shadow loved to help by carrying home pieces of mail in his mouth. He spent many an hour lying by my feet while I worked at my desk. In his later years, he got some supper, followed by a “constitutional” walk to the mailbox. Then it was time for Joel to come home, which meant the focus turned to him, because after dinner, he would distribute “treats”. Brush teeth. Hang out wherever Joel was until it was time for bed. One last walk around outside and then crash until the sun rose the next day. Repeat. It was a good dog life.
  • In his youth, Shadow’s walks always ended with a leash-free trot towards home up our quiet street. On a chilly day, it was a “fast as you can” race. I’d sit him down and say, “On your mark (you could see him tense up), get set (he’d quiver with anticipation), and finally shout “GO!”. Only then would he take off. He could run like the wind, soar through the air and cut on a dime. Often Shadow would try to “herd” me by nipping at my flanks as I tried to outrun him. Although, that would always irk me (because I am not a sheep),  now, of course, it seems absolutely brilliant and lovable on his part.
  • He seldom barked, which is unusual in a Sheltie. But when it was appropriate, he would. Once when I was working outside, he took off after a man who was coming in our direction. I don’t know what Shadow sensed, but he was definitely protecting me.
  • We never had to worry that he’d wander off. He was a real homebody, who would be right at the back door, even if we forgot to shut the gate.
  • Once we hosted an musical ensemble from Mercury Baroque for a fundraiser at our house. Shadow was mesmerized particularly by the violinist, Jonathan. At that time, Shadow had probably lost some of his hearing, and the high pitched notes must have intrigued him. He just stood there right in front of Jonathan with his head cocked, just like the dog in the RCA ads.
  • When Bailey came along in 2004, Shadow taught him so many manners, such as standing quietly at the back door to let us know when he wanted out, and barking ONCE to be readmitted inside. And so much more…
  • Bailey was lucky that Shadow was so easy going, because although Bailey ADORED Shadow, he was also a big pest, butting in to hog the attention that anyone bestowed upon Shadow. I don’t think Shadow ever snapped at his younger “brother”. 

Quiet, elegant, patient, affectionate, regal, serene, brave, loyal, beautiful, graceful, gentle, brilliant. A real gentleman. The perfect dog. 

I’m sad he didn’t live to see our backyard landscaping project to completion, although he did seem to enjoy wandering around the unfinished pathways these past few weeks. Likewise, I’m sad he didn’t live to enjoy the return of cooler fall weather that he loved so much. 

So now we’re down to one dog. Bailey learned so much from Shadow and always looked up to him for everything. Yesterday, when we returned from the vet’s office, I had Shadow’s tags with me. Of course, I smelled of Shadow after having hugged and loved him before and during his passing. After I sat on the love seat in the kitchen, Bailey jumped up there, carefully smelled me all over and finally, spent a long time smelling Shadow’s tags. Then he stood up, turned his back to me, laid down and dropped his head. I think he knew. 

This morning, Bailey hesitated going out the door; I think he wasn’t sure he was supposed to, without Shadow to affirm that yes, it was time to go outside. After I took Bailey for his walk, he burst in the back door, whining as if he were looking for Shadow for his turn to walk. Now he is sticking very close to me, and sighing a lot. 

Friends, love your dogs. If you take the responsibility to raise one up, take the time to raise it well. Teach it manners. Teach it tricks. Teach it to do what it loves to do. Socialize it with other dogs and people. Learn about your dog’s characteristics and select one that fits your family’s lifestyle. Believe me, your dog will be happier for it, and you will, too. 

As Shadow passed to his reward, I gave him one last command. I said, “SHADOW! RUN! GO FIND PEPE!” Pepe was my dad, who absolutely loved that dog, and vice versa. Shadow knew all those words, and I hope that he heard them. In my vision of heaven, the two of them have found each other by now and are in glory, running together, free from pain and smiling down on us. 

Godspeed my precious dog. You were well loved!

The final portrait of Shadow, summer 2010

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