Chelsea G. Summers of pretty dumb things posted this tribute to her Australian Shepherd, Spencer. Her blog is also pretty awesome, but it’s for adults only, so don’t you go showing it to your Shiba puppies.
Still thinking about Shassi.
I found an awesome new Shiba blog through Mongoose’s post about Shassi’s death in relation to Mongoose’s own Shiba – The Eentsy Weentsy Dog
On Dogster, where Shassi has a profile, there is a thread about her death. (Thanks to Jen of Inu-Baka for sending me the link) I had also previously seen a thread about her a while back that gave me warm fuzzies.
Also, to the good people of the SHIBA-L mailing list, here’s a shout-out for all the good thoughts and sympathies sent my way.
Facebook saw dozens of messages pouring into the comments on my personal Facebook page from my friends and the friends-in-Shiba-spirit that I have met through TMS and though the Facebook group Justice for Yoshi. Tierce also got quite a few notes and emails on his Facebook.
If I find more stuff about Shassi, I’ll just post it here instead of making a new post.
I have been perusing the emails sent to me over the years – some were “this is so true!”, some were questions about Shibas and how to deal with their little foibles (I tried to give what advice I felt was best, but I always encourage everyone who writes to me to get outside help if they feel their Shiba is out of control!), and some were batshit insane (some woman wrote into me protesting my tongue-in-cheek use of ‘psychotic’ to describe Shibas and devolved into her accusing me of being a lesbian… because I guess to her lesbians are something bad. ANYWAY…). These messages date back years, they have pictures in them of happy Shibas, they shared funny little anecdotes of what their dogs did and what they loved best about them.
I’ll take credit for the writing, but Shassi was definitely the catalyst. For every passion, there must be an object and Shassi inspired my interest in Shibas as a whole – so funny, so unique and so infuriating. We speak of our other dogs fondly – Kena, the big collie on the right, we speak of fondly even today. Buddi, on the left, we speak less fondly of, but we still remember him. And there are others, stretching back to my earliest childhood.
But it was Shassi who sparked the fun and interest in my writing about her and Shibas. You hear about parents who secretly love the kid who’s the most trouble the best and it was kind of like that with her. She didn’t care if we were there or not, once the 30 second greeting was over. She didn’t come when she was called unless you were waving a big steak in the air like a flag of surrender (and she happened to be hungry). She was quite happy to do her own thing while you did yours. As long as your thing included feeding her and walking her.
The other dogs must have been mystified. They came when they were called, they won prizes for Best Trick at the local fair, they could be let off leash… but Shassi was the one who could command attention at a second’s notice. If they had been children, they would have knocked her front teeth out once she hit puberty. Because they were dogs and collie mixes to boot, they settled for slapping her around on a regular basis and she learned not to screw with Buddi when he gave her a hint that he didn’t think much of her attitude. I’m sure that they muttered about it together when the whole world (our household) stopped to watch Shassi carrying around a toy, but then again, they got to run off leash and Shassi didn’t.
When Shassi actually took notice of you, it was SUCH AN HONOUR. When she felt like playing, usually everything would stop while one of us played with her and the other members of the family smiled fatuously while the turkey burned in the oven or the door swung ever so slightly ajar (Shassi, being well aware of any door in the house that was not latched tightly, would play adorably for a few moments and then make a dash for the crack). She only had to nudge the cowbells hung on the door for one of us to drag on clothing suitable for inclement weather and stand for a half-hour while she inspected and discarded any number of possible peeing and / or pooping spots.
The one thing she really hated was water. The first bath I gave her was interrupted by my aunt pounding on the door and demanding to be let in, sure that Shassi’s shrieks meant that I was scalding the puppy. Since I was soaking wet from Shassi’s repeated lunges to escape the tepid suds covering her ankles, I lost my temper and snapped, “You want to bath her, well, FINE!” Ten minutes later, after a cacophony of howls that told the world that my aunt was trying to murder her and why didn’t anyone DO something, my aunt emerged. Her light pink velour tracksuit was now a dark fuchsia and water pooled on the floor around her toes. She shoved Shassi at me, went into her room and shut the door. Shassi, of course, was thrilled to be loose from the life-leeching liquid and energetically clawed dark red marks on my arms as I tried to wrap the towel around her. I let her down, only to yell, “SHUT THE DOOR!” at my mom, who was coming in with some groceries…. but that’s another story.
Shassi was a mathematical and architectural genius. She could, without a calculator or a chalkboard, figure out to the inch how long a leash was and just how far enough ahead of me she had to be while dragging it so that I would run after her and not catch her. I swear to you all now that she would look behind her and laugh. At me. At me and my friends and family who were frantically trying to head her off. Thank Dog we lived in Lake Cowichan, B.C., which was just a village at the time and there was no traffic to speak of.
Our house at the time had a stairway that led up to a landing in front of the door. Shassi knew the exact radius of our blind spots. You would be comfortably surveying the territory, sure that Shassi was in another room, only to realize that she had squirted past your legs and, due to the fact that she was small and fast, was down the stairs and hurtling across the street before you realized she was even near you. My cousin James saved her life and our sanity by putting up a small fence/gate combination on the landing that stymied her if she managed to get out the door.
Our learning curve with Shassi looked like a very small ledge at the foot of El Capitan. Within the space of a month, it had trickled through our heads that, no, this was not a collie and, no, she’s not going to come when she’s called, no matter how much you beg. Our previously casual attitude towards doors and leashes started getting intense… and then it started getting mildly insane. People coming to the house would be warned in a hoarse whisper, “And shut the gate! before you open the door!” accompanied with a narrow-eyed stare that, to us, meant, “Hey, this is important,” and to our family and friends probably looked more like, “And if you don’t, I’m gonna shiv you and set you on fire and watch you scream!”
My mother, in particular, was not prepared for Shassi’s misleading cuteness. One time, she was walking Shassi up at A.B. Greenwell, the local elementary school, which had a huge playground shrouded in thick forest – I’m told that they’ve since cut the woods back because there was a concern about cougars. Thinking that Shassi looked so adorable that she would let her loose to toddle around on the grass, Mom unclipped the leash. Immediately, 3 month old Shassi transformed into a greyhound in Wimbledon Stadium. As Mom looked on in dumb horror, Shassi covered half the ground between Mom and the only opening in the chain link fence that would take Shassi out of the confines of civilization and into the wild she so obviously viewed as her birthright. Mom did manage to catch her, but she later said she had never run so fast in her life and thought she was going to have a heart attack – she was pushing 60 at the time. To my knowledge, Mom has never gone faster than a brisk walk since.
Even when she was well within the bounds of seniority, Shassi still retained a spark of the devil in her. Sometimes we would let her out in the back yard of the house in Nanaimo to stalk around the blackberry bushes and delicately inspect individual blades of grass to see which was worthy of being sprinkled with her urine. Of course, there was that one time where, after weeks and months of sedately touring the lawn, she decided to tour the street instead and matter-of-factly headed for the side of the house farthest from me. Luckily I was onto her game and ran around the opposite side of the house to catch her jogging comfortably by the side of the road. She looked mildly put out to be prevented from her Trip to Bountiful, but the last thing we needed was a blind, deaf, 13 year old Shiba traipsing merrily down a major thoroughfare. Oh, yes, as long as the spark was there, she just did exactly as she pleased unless physically restrained.
So there you have it, a few vignettes of my life with Shassi.
Well, after her reprieve nearly a year ago, Shassi was put to sleep today. My mom and aunt were there with her; my aunt couldn’t stay in the room, but Mom was there until the end. She went peacefully; her tired old body just wasn’t working anymore and, if there was a spark left in her, I would guess that she was glad to finally leave it.
I’m kind of numb about it; I cried a lot last year when I thought we had to put her down then, but now I only feel a kind of vague relief (it was getting so that looking at her was painful – my aunt took GREAT care of her, but she was getting more and more frail and didn’t seem to know anyone.) and a shadowy foreboding that it’s eventually going to hurt when things catch up with me.
Goodbye, my little misanthropic shiba.
Yesterday, a SCA friends of mine lost their very young dog to a congenital hernia. In a very beautiful tribute to Finnegan, his owner wrote:
I think I have this loss in some perspective. We lost a pet we loved. We did not lose a spouse, a child, a parent, or a loved human relative or friend.
But goddamn it hurts.
I wrote back:
He was a dog but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t hurt as much as when a human dies. It’s how much someone has given to your life that matters, not what species they are.
This poked a tender spot for me. Only a few weeks ago, I listened to a drunk “friend” rant on about how people spent too much money to save their pets and how he thought it was stupid that anyone would spend 3, 4, 5 hundred dollars or several thousand to preserve their pet’s life or improve its quality. In the past, when friends have lost their pets, a significant number of them felt impelled to add the “disclaimer” of “I know it’s only a dog…” or “It’s not the same as losing your spouse/kid/friend/whatever, but…”.
I wonder whether it’s because they’re afraid that if they say, “I lost my dog and I feel as awful as if I had lost a very dear friend or family member” they will be censured for it. Worse, perhaps people will band together to tell them that their feelings are really misguided and wrong and mean that they are in some way emotionally defective.
Some people who can accept that you love your spouse or your boyfriend or your girlfriend or your kids or the friend you’ve had for twenty years or even the friend you’ve only had for a few weeks cannot accept that you can love your dog with a deep and abiding feeling that goes just as deep for you as the many relationships you have with your friends and family. In fact, they will often outright attack your love with the infamous, “It’s just a dog!” or “At least it wasn’t your CHILD”, continually picking at the love you have and the loss you feel with little belittling comments designed to relegate your feelings to their level.
Perhaps it’s fear that prompts this response. Of what? Is it that these people are afraid that you’ll save the dog first if you’re all in a burning building? Do they think that loving the dog so much somehow means that you’ll value them less? What insecurity prompts people to say things they would not dream of saying if it was anyone but a dog? And to say it in such a way that you can hear their smugness in putting forth an opinion they feel is backed up by the majority of humanity?
And why should we, as pet owners, bow to this insecurity and support it by denying ourselves the full measure of grief that our pets have earned by sharing our lives? I don’t like it when people feel that they have to justify their feelings for their pets. I think that it’s bullshit. To feel a huge, agonizing loss at the death of a pet should not carry with it the need to reassure people that you value human life more.
Shassi is not long for this world. I was talking with Mom tonight and we agreed that it’s pretty clear that it’s time for us to do our duty towards her. She is on autopilot; there is no personality anymore and Mom says it hurts her to look at Shassi when she remembers the vibrant little dog she used to be. We’re going to schedule it for the 21st, if we can.
She’s been there for half my life, over 15 years.
Old age comes to every dog, eventually. At first it may just manifest in a few white hairs, but as time goes by, stiffening joints and ailments tend to come to the fore. Shibas can maintain great health for years, but I can tell that Shassi is in the twilight of her life.
Here Shassi is with my aunt, who lives with my mother and takes care of Shassi. We visit often, but keep Tierce away from her, as she has shifted from LOUDLY telling him where to get off to just trembling and looking frightened. So we keep him and his exuberance away from her and she is much happier.
It is somewhat disturbing to watch Shassi now – she spends most of her time on the couch, but sometimes will pace around in circles or stare at a corner of the room for hours. She is also not too steady on her feet and this can be a little distressing as I watch her hind end becoming undecided as to whether it’s going to follow her front or not.
My aunt is very good to Shassi – she has taken her to the vet several times to make sure that her health is as good as can be expected for a 15 year old Shiba. She buys her special low-protein dog food to minimize any strain on her ailing kidneys. She takes her out for walks, ensuring that Shassi’s body remains as flexible as possible (I believe it’s the lack of exercise that shortens the lives of many old dogs, whose bodies succumb to the degeneration of muscle and bone). In short, Shassi has as good a life as possible, given her infirmities.
However, once it becomes clear that Shassi is in pain or is just not enjoying her food and her walks, we will have her euthanized. It sounds harsh and cruel to some people, but I believe it’s crueler to keep a dog who has outlived its enjoyment of life, alive.
I think that a lot of people don’t understand the real responsibilities of owning a dog. There is a lot written and said about the responsiblities you take on during a dog’s life, but many people don’t realize how responsible they are for their dog’s death. To be a truly responsible owner, I believe that you have to be prepared to take your dog’s life when there will be no surcease of pain or if the dog is broken in some way that can’t be fixed enough so the dog has a happy life.
With Shassi, it’s hard to tell. She is definitely not the dog I grew up with or even the dog I knew two-three years ago. She is nearly blind and deaf and she shows little interest in things that used to excite her. However, she still eats, she shows interest in her walks and she is not showing any of the signs of a dog in pain. We will watch and wait and, while she is here, give her the best life we can.