Tierce is in the dog park, Shassi is out.
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.
The past 12 hours have been so full of well wishes that I’m amazed. When I started TMS in the early days, I never dreamed that it would last a full two thirds of Shassi’s life and affect so many people – and their Shibas. Thank you all, so very much.
Here’s a real live video of Shassi, taken about three and a half years ago:
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.
This is Shassi on the eve of her 16th Christmas. You’re a good girl, Shassi.
Sixteen years ago, a tiny little Shiba puppy toddled into my life and made Internet Shiba History a few years later when I discovered cyberspace.
I don’t think Shassi’s long for this world; my mom and aunt are going to take her to the vet for another evaluation. As long as she’s content and pain free, we’re happy, but we don’t want her to be alive just because we want her to be.
Shassi was cute, funny, infuriating, shocking and completely turned my and my family’s lives upside down. I still remember her padding around Susan’s living room, inspecting the curtains, while I signed the puppy buyer contract. It was the best $600 we ever spent.
I’m a skeptic and have never seen or heard or read any evidence that would convince me that Shassi – or anyone, for that matter – is going to an afterlife. However, if there is one that was suited to the person in question, I’m sure that Shassi will find herself back in Lake Cowichan, happily exploring lawns and gardens while keeping an eye out for our grasping hands.
I liberated the photo at left of Shassi from Mom’s place so I could scan it for her birthday. In doing so, I found a picture of Tierce that had similar properties and was struck by the difference.
Shassi, at 3 months is already graceful and compact. She could run extremely fast (as we found to our chagrin) and in this picture, taken in 1993, she appears to have the structure that would later grow and solidify into a healthy framework for a female Shiba. She grew proportionately – while she did go through a gangly adolescent phase, it was relatively short. She “came together” at about a year and a half, although it would be another few months before she filled out.
Now look at Tierce’s photo. At 8 1/2 weeks in 2007, he’s already All Boy, with a big head and muzzle compared with Shassi’s more delicate accoutrements. With that maleness comes a chunky gangliness that is apparent even this early. His ears didn’t stand up completely for another 2 months or so, leaving me to wonder at the age of 3 1/2 months whether my Shiba was going to have Sheltie ears for the rest of his life. He took a long while to grow into his body, being around 2 years old when everything finally came together.
I found Shassi’s temperament to be more reminiscent of the Japanese ideal for their Shibas: very much her own dog and not given to really looking to us, the humans, for direction. She was playful in her youth, but matured early and she was never given to retrieving balls or sticks (although she did deign to chase them for a few minutes if she was really peppy).
Tierce at 2 and 1/2 years, is still playful, loves his toys – especially his Kong and his stuffed Dracula that intones I’m going to suck your blood! when squeezed – and actually will come when called (not super-reliably, but definitely regularly enough to qualify for some kind of Shiba World Record). He is the product, though, of almost 15 years of Sunojo breeding for temperament and health – the latest generations of Sunojo Shibas are happy, friendly dogs who will actually acknowledge your presence!
It may not be the Japanese ideal, but I think I like Tierce’s temperament better than Shassi’s. He’s still a Shiba, but he’s also a lot more fun to play with. 🙂 However, while I think it’s the product of careful breeding, there is a lot to be said for the differences between male Shibas and female Shibas. I have heard many times that the males tend to be friendlier with people (although not with other male dogs!) and more playful. It is somewhat unusual, as people accustomed to other breeds of dog usually used to the opposite – female dogs who are friendlier and more responsive to people and male dogs who are more aloof and aggressive towards them.
Shassi as a 3 month old puppy.
Tierce looks so big next to her now.
This is my aunt with Shassi.
I wasn’t sure that Shassi would make it to 16, but here she is. She is pretty much senile, but my aunt has made Shassi her own special project. Every day, she takes Shassi out, feeds her the special low-protein dog food, makes sure her water has chicken stock in it so she’ll drink enough.
I’ve offered to take her several times over the years, but the answer always was, “But she’s so happy here…” I think that it’s more that she gives my aunt and mom something to think about and fuss over. As long as Shassi is content, I’m happy to let things stay that way.
Happy birthday, Shassi.
We took Shassi to the vet and asked about euthanasia and whether it would be kinder at this point. After the vet looked at Shassi and heard our description of what her life was like, she was of the opinion that Shassi was not ready to be put down.
Shassi is still eating well, she is showing some interest in her walks and she is not stressed as long as she is in familiar places. She is sometimes incontinent, but she is not messing herself in the place where she sleeps. The vet said that the constant pacing circles and “not being there” is normal for dogs suffering dementia and Shassi is likely a victim of that.
Shassi has failing kidneys and a heart murmur, but for a dog at the far end the breed’s normal lifespan, she is actually doing very well. I am very happy that Shassi will be with us for longer and hope that she might reach her 16th birthday after all.
Sometimes it’s nice to be wrong. For now, at least.