A Dog’s Life

I know this is a running blog, and I’ve never run with my dog–she was already elderly when I started running. But yesterday, Shadow crossed the Rainbow Bridge and we lost a family member.

Shadow came to live with us in July of 1997. She was about seven months old and had been living at the Austin Humane Society for a couple of months. We were told she’d been left in someone’s car as a joke, and the car owner had brought her to the shelter. The Saturday we met her was bittersweet–we sill mourned the loss of Jessie, a dog I’d had since ninth grade and had lost suddenly two months before, but our dog-less house felt empty and were ready to bring home a new dog.

We applied to adopt Shadow, but they told us two other people had applied first. They said that if the other applicants didn’t return for her by Tuesday, she’d be ours. It seemed like a long shot. On the way home, I spoke a silent plea to Jessie, asking for her blessing and her help. It sounds corny, but I felt like I needed her to know we weren’t replacing her.

When we got home, M left again, accompanying a friend to look at a car about two hours away. He hadn’t been gone half an hour when the phone rang. It was the Humane Society. Both applicants ahead of us in line had called to release their applications. Shadow was ours.


First day home

She was a high-energy puppy. I guess that blue heeler lineage contributed to her exuberance. She loved to race around the (fenced) back yard at top speed, chasing tennis balls. Turns out she was kind of a loose cannon though–once she got out the front door and took off at that same top speed down the street. Another time she slipped her leash and ran toward a busy highway. So from then on, we kept her on a tight leash (pun intended) unless she was in a confined area.


She loved to wade, not swim. But she had to stay on a leash.

She was about six years old when B came along.


B was about a week old.

I remember thinking he wouldn’t really get a chance to know her–she’d probably be gone before he was old enough to form lasting childhood memories of her. Spoiler alert: I could not have been more wrong.


A boy and his dog.

She loved to sneak into his room and climb up on his bed. And what dog doesn’t quickly figure out that under the high chair is THE place to be?

When she was about eight, the vet told us her kidneys didn’t look so hot, and she might not live to be very old. Spoiler alert: he could not have been more wrong.

In recent years, she’d slowed down. No more racing around the back yard chasing tennis balls, no more furious barking at the UPS driver. But her eyes were bright, her ears perky, and she still followed us around the house. She lost a lot of weight, her back legs didn’t work very well, and she fell down periodically, but she didn’t complain.


Hanging out at the lake

Two years ago, she developed an abscess in one of her molars. Her face swelled up and she had to have emergency surgery. This was tough on a 15-year old dog, but she was nothing if not stubborn, and she pulled through just fine.


Home from surgery!

In May of this year, she got a urinary tract infection and she refused food and water. We thought it was the end. But once she finished her antibiotics, she bounced back. At least as much as a 17.5-year old dog can bounce.

But her world shrank to the family room. She couldn’t jump up the one step between that room and the rest of the house, so we moved her bed and food. She was mobile enough to wander around the room, but not strong enough to push herself up off the tile when she slipped. We tried to keep her on the rug, but every so often we had to rescue her from under the bar chairs because she’d get stuck and her feet just slid around on the tile.

Over the last few weeks, her nights and days flipped. She slept like a stone all day, then wandered the family room at night. Nothing like being woken up at two in the morning by a howling dog who’d trapped herself under some furniture.

Last week, she started whining during the night, but not because she’d gotten stuck. She was uncomfortable in some way that we couldn’t figure out or comfort. She was okay during the day, but nighttime was a nightmare. The vet prescribed some medications that could help her sleep and calm her anxiety. One of them was a controlled substance and caused some amusement when I went to fill it at the local grocery store pharmacy. “Yes, it really IS for my dog!” But unfortunately, neither medication had any effect on her. It was like having a newborn again.

Monday night she started crying at about 9PM and did. not. stop. I spent half the night with her, M the other half. At about 5AM, almost time for us to get up, she quieted and went to sleep.

We knew we couldn’t let her go on like this. At almost eighteen years old, she didn’t have much more time left. She weighed no more than about 20 pounds, she was stressed, and the look in her eyes told me she was ready.

B opted to stay home, so he said his goodbyes in the driveway. As we pulled away, I saw heartbreak and grief on his young face. He’d known her his whole life. He indeed did get to know his dog well after all.

Taking her to the vet yesterday was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. They were extremely kind and compassionate, reassuring us this was the right decision. But it still hurt, and even writing about it now brings tears to my eyes again.

But a friend posted this to my Facebook page yesterday, and I think it helps.

Sorry for making you cry.

And my friend Jenn said something really profound:

One thing that has stuck out to me recently about pets is the idea that however long they are with you like Shadow for 17 years, that’s a long time and a big part of your life but you were her whole entire life, and I know you guys gave her a damn good one .

We were her whole entire life. And it was a damn good one. Rest in peace, sweet girl. We will see you at the Rainbow Bridge.


30 thoughts on “A Dog’s Life

  1. Very, very sweet Melissa! I’m so sorry to hear about Shadow. She was a great dog, pet, friend and family member. She will be missed by all.


  2. I’m so sorry for your loss. She lived a long and happy life with you all.. for her to always bounce back from her ailments and live 17 years is truly amazing. She had to make sure that she spent as much time as she could with such an amazing family. Sending my thoughts your way!


  3. I am crying! Any dog owner/lover can relate to the grief that comes from losing a beloved family member. They say the dog picks you, not the other way around. It was fate that she ended up with you and not the other two adopters! She was right where she needed to be. I am sorry for your loss 😦


  4. I am crying! Any dog owner/lover can relate to the grief that comes from losing a beloved family member. They say the dog picks you, not the other way around. It was fate that she ended up with you and not the other two adopters! She was right where she needed to be. I am sorry for your loss 😦


  5. So beautifully written, Melissa. I sobbed as I read your loving tribute to Shadow. She is very blessed to have had such a loving home and great care for almost 18 years. Sending hugs and prayers.


  6. This was just beautiful, and I loved the pictures. I am writing this with blurry eyes…as I can totally relate. My heart goes out to you and your family. We have two dogs, and they are our babies. Shadow had a long good life in a loving home. You did your best for him.


  7. What a wonderful tribute to your sweet fur baby Melissa. Shadow was certainly one very lucky girl to have had the full life of fun adventures and love she had with you guys. I cried for days after we had to help our Tiki girl to the Bridge. She was our first child as Shadow was for you guys. It is a huge emptiness in your house now I know. I have a great book called Blessing the Bridge by Rita Reynolds that my sister gave me. You are welcome to borrow it if you like. It might be helpful as you get through your grief.


  8. Very sad to hear of your loss, no-one that has not known the joy of having a dog can understand. Prayers to the entire family.


  9. Beautifully written. It brought me to tears. I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s never easy saying goodbye, but it seems like she has an amazing life with you guys. Not all pets are so lucky.


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