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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Living Without My Shadow.

I don't think I've dreaded a day more than I dread tomorrow.  If I were to list my schedule for October 28th, 2011 from bottom to top, it would look like this:

3.  Do Margret's install
2.  Pick up donated computers from Renew Data
1.  Take my oldest and best friend to the vet and have him put to sleep.

My oldest and best friend is Shadow.

First off, my Shadow isn't "just a dog".  He has been part of my life for 15 years and he has seen the good and the bad in those years.

There were extremes of both.

Let me tell you something about the bond between a person and a dog.  it can grow just as deeply as any other relationship you might have in your life.  The main difference you must understand is that your dog is dependent upon you for both his health and happiness.

His happiness.....

If you chain a dog up in the back yard and neglect him, you should be beaten to the point of physical therapy.

And those of you that state a dog does not feel lose on two counts.

You are wrong and you have not been blessed by the love of a dog.

Shadow was with me when we had a nice house, new cars and exotic vacations several times a year.  He was also with me during a homeless period shortly after my divorce.  He has been by my side as I lay sick unto death, and as I failed time and time again to accomplish my goals.  And ultimately, when I gained some measure of success.

And through it all, he was my dog.  He tolerated others in my life, but that's all he did.  He stayed at my side, slept in my bed, rode shotgun in my car, ate with me at the kitchen table and waited for me to come through the front door every time I left.

He is fiercely independent, and is what I refer to as a proximity dog.  He doesn't necessarily want to be touched, but he does want to be close.  He moves from room to room as I go about my business.  Now he lays two feet away from my chair, not quite sleeping but resting and ready to get up as I go out to the kitchen or living room.  Unfortunately, now he cannot.  Shadow has been that way all of his life.

It started out with what I thought was simply old age and arthritis.  He hesitated briefly to get up into a standing position and was careful as to how he laid down...always favoring his right side.  As the days and weeks past, it got worse and soon he would struggle for several minutes on end until he could gain his feet.  Last week, I began carrying him outside to do his business as he could no longer walk or stand.  I had to physically hold him in position so he could go to the bathroom.  It broke my heart.

The vet was compassionate but no amount of compassion could blunt his diagnosis.

Spinal nerve disease was creeping surly from back to front.  He has lost all use and feeling in his back legs and eventually, the paralysis will attack his vital organs.

As of now, he is in no pain, but when it reaches his organs, it will be hell on earth for him.  I cannot allow that.

So my little guy, born from Corgi and Border Collie stock...with those short and stout little legs, will take one last car ride with me tomorrow morning at 10 AM.  I will give him a strong sedative beforehand as he despises the vet.  He will be sound asleep as the needle slides into his vein and the chemical will painlessly and quickly stop his heart.

And in many ways, it will stop mine.

Let me ruin what should normally be a joyful experience for you.  The next time you go to the local shelter to pick out a puppy or a kitten for your family, keep one thing in mind above all else.

You will outlive your pet, and you will have your heart broken when the time comes.  That's why I follow the Dog Lovers Ten Commandments and I will share them with you now.  And please.  You can be a "dog owner", but that doesn't mean you are a dog lover.  Your dog will know which one you are before you do.

Keep these things in mind as you contemplate adding a pet to your family:

1. My life is likely to last 10-15 years. Any separation from you will be painful.

 2. Give me time to understand what you want of me.

3. Always remember that I trust you without reservation.  If you call to me from across a busy street, I will come without looking.  I know you would never do anything to hurt me.

4. Don't be angry with me for long and don't lock me up as punishment. You have your work, your friends, your entertainment, but I have only you.

5. Talk to me. Even if I don't understand your words, I do understand your voice when speaking to me.

6. Be aware that however you treat me, I will never forget it.

7. Before you hit me, before you strike me, remember that I could hurt you, and yet, I choose not to bite you.

8. Before you scold me for being lazy or uncooperative, ask yourself if something might be bothering me. Perhaps I'm not getting the right food, I have been in the sun too long, or my heart might be getting old or weak.

9. Please take care of me when I grow old. You too, will grow old.

10. On the ultimate and difficult journey, go with me please. Never say you can't bear to watch. Don't make me face this alone. Everything is easier for me if you are there, because I love you so.

So now I am going to go stretch my creaky, overweight body down on the floor one last time and lay with my dog for a little while.  I'll whisper nonsensical things and stroke his ears.  He likes it when I do that.  I do so wish I had done more of it.



Mike Karschner said...


You and Shadow are luck to have each other, and I know he will appreciate your last kind service for him.

I've been in the same situation several times with both dogs and cats, and I believe those friends will be waiting at the Rainbow Bridge for me when my time arrives.

You are a good friend to Shadow.

--Mike Karschner

Scott Mace said...

So sorry Ken. I had to take this same journey with my cat, my buddy, Darwin, just a month ago. I still find myself starting to look for him when I come home, only to realize after that brief moment, he's not here. Hang in there man.

eMBee said...

Shadow will be fine!

John McCarthy and Dennis Ritchie are waiting for him on the other side...

greetings, eMBee.

Mechatotoro said...

"I'll whisper nonsensical things and stroke his ears. He likes it when I do that. I do so wish I had done more of it"

I am sure that Shadow would whisper to you "Ken, you did just fine".

Anonymous said...

This made me cry. I too had to put my dog to sleep a year ago and have been in a state of emotional paralysis since then.

Anonymous said...

All I can say, really, is this made my eyes well up! My thoughts are with you and Shadow.

Honey Bear said...

We had to put our two dachshunds down after loving them for 16 years. It was so hard but just know that Shadow had a good life, was well loved and is no longer suffering.

Anonymous said...

Our beloved pile of hair was put to sleep over 33 years ago. Almost every day that darn cat comes to my mind somehow. No sorrow anymore but good memories.

kozmcrae said...

I could not read your story without tears welling up in my eyes. The bond between a person and their dog can run very deep.

Taz was the dog in our life. For some reason, when I would take Taz for a walk, people would ask me, "is that your dog?". "No", I would answer. "I'm his human".

It really felt that way too because he chose us as his family. He was our neighbor's dog when we moved in next door. The husband and wife were beginning to break up and the animals were getting the short end of the stick. Taz started sleeping on our back porch. By the time they sold the house, we had inherited two cats and the dog.

Taz was a beautiful dog, part Chow, part Samoyed. He was well equipped for the cold weather. I have a picture of him on our back porch next to one of those big round thermometers reading -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Now before you jump all over me, Taz lived on our back porch for 2 years before he decided to come inside. He loved the cold weather and suffered in the heat. He was never tied up and could come and go as he pleased. He didn't wander too much because he preferred to go for walks with us. We would walk him at least twice a day. He was about 8 when when he transfered over to us and he lived to 16 (very old for a large dog).

I almost lost a brother overseas (Okinawa) in 1965. I did lose a sister and a brother in-law again overseas (Laos) in 1968. Both my parents were gone before the century was out. Throughout all that I never shed a tear. I just had no emotion. It bothered me that I could not cry.

When it was time for Taz, the needle was inserted into his leg. Laura and I were cradling him in our arms. He didn't close his eyes like I thought he would. It happened so quick. It was just over. I stood up. I looked down. He looked like he was asleep. Then I felt his quiet dignity released from his body. It was like he was saying, here, I don't need this anymore. You can have it. Then it hit me. It was all I could do to get out of the building before I exploded with grief. The last thing Taz gave me was the gift of grief.

This is the most I've thought about that moment since then and it's all coming back.

I cannot walk passed a dog without asking their human if I can say hello. Dogs are such good friends. Such wonderful companions. The bond is unique and special. And when it's broken it never heals completely.

Ken, I know how you feel. My heart is with you. And now you have a friend waiting for you when it's your time.

Anonymous said...

I know some people will stare at me incredulously when I say this. I experienced similar grief when I lost my first wife to cancer as when I lost my 18 year old cat.

Beckett was originally my wife's girlfriend's cat. He was antisocial to everyone, even to MN (wife's friend). After my wife died, I shared grief with MN. Friendship slowly turned into something more. One evening I went to see MN. While we were sitting on the couch talking, Beckett came into the room (unusual by itself). He came over to me, rubbed up against me and promptly urinated on my leg! Before either of us could respond, he jumped up to the back of the couch and performed "head-bumps" with me. He had accepted me into his family had marked me as his!

After MN and I were married, Beckett spent most evenings in my lap. This continued until he was too ill to get onto my lap. We ultimately had to put him to sleep due to severe kidney failure. Both MN and I grieved together again.

If you can open your hearts to them, your pet can become a loving member of the family. Even my daughter understands this when I felt like I lost a child.

I pray for you and your family. All of it.

Thomas A. Knight said...

I'm a cat person myself. But the effect is the same. Your story nearly brought me to tears, Ken. I too have a proximity pet. Doesn't like to be touched or petted too much, just likes to be near me, and he follows me through the house from room to room, and even sleeps with me at night between my legs.

There is never a good time to lose a pet. It's as much a part of your family as your children. It's always painful, and it will hurt for a long time. But hold onto the good times, as you would do for any lost loved one. It's those memories that will keep him alive long after his body has failed.

I'm so sorry for your loss. If you need to talk, or need anything at all, you have my email address and phone number.

David said...

Ken I feel your loss. I have a young dog and know this day will come and reading your post made me cry. But I love my dog (Sadie) and everyday I make sure she knows it. Our thoughts are with you.

Fred Mora said...


I am so sorry for this loss. You gave Shadow a good life, and it's obvious he loved you back.

Daniel said...

A year ago, I had a similar experience.

I grew up with a Lhaso Apso; Molly. I was a kid when we got her, but I loved her to bits; I played with her every day, talked to her...she woke me up on school days by licking my hand and barking and whilst she liked to be by my mother, she wouldn't be happy if she didn't come upstairs to find me every hour; poking her little head around the door to make sure I was still here, ready to play with her.

She grew older, of course, didn't have the energy to do that anymore. Barely had the energy to wag her tail most days.

One day, she lost control of her bladder; we shouted and raved at her, as she had a habit of doing that on occasion, even into her age.

About a month later, I noticed her rear was inflamed, Mum took her to the vets, but they said there was nothing wrong.

Another month, and she was still loosing control; her enlarged backside was very noticeable now. One day, Mum comes home, Molly had been peeing everywhere all day and I'd spent the day cleaning up after her. I told Mum.

Mum looked concerned, and started playing wit her; speaking in that high voice reserved for small dogs and babies. Molly took one look at Mum, and for the first time in a year, started wagging her tail as she got up.

Her tail flopped to one side, like it was broken or deflated; her back legs collapsed under her; me and Mum looked at each other, and Molly was taken to the vets half an hour later.

Mum comes back, alone; crying, Molly may have to be put down; she's in a lot of pain, but they don't know why yet.

We get a phone call; massive infection of her utuerous, they'll have to operate tonight.

Three hours later, another phone call; they operated, it was a success...but Molly never woke up.

My face is a wall of tears.

Three weeks later, we bring her back home in an urn. We spread her ashes out.

I always promised, to myself and her, that if and when the day came that she'd have to be put down, I'd be there for her, to give her everything her little heart desired before the vet put her to sleep. It makes me cry to this day to think that I never got that chance.

I envy you, Ken, for having that option. My thoughts are with you, my friend, as they are with Shadow, and Molly.

Santam said...

Did not have time to read this blog for quite some time since was shifting back. Had the exact same experience with my Julie. My heartfelt wishes and sympathies are with you.