Early in the morning on Thursday, May 24 I had to get my dog Shiloh to the vet to be put to sleep. She just went downhill so fast that all I could do was to take care of her needs and keep her comfortable because I knew the final trip to the vet was inevitable. If you’ve had a pet that got so sick like she did, you know the feeling. You think some miracle might happen until you realize that it won’t and oh the feeling of going through the finality of it all is heartbreaking. And yet, it is the last humane act that a person can do for a loving and dying pet.
I already had a huge dog and a cat, when I spied Shiloh at the school where I taught; was getting ready to pull into my parking place, when I saw the teacher’s aide outside holding a tiny black dog. “Don’t look” I told myself but I did and that is all it took. As I got out of my car, all I could think was to get her to my house but there was no way I that would happen—I had a class of students ready to come in my room soon. And so, I waved down my up the street neighbor who was in traffic to let out her son. “Can you take the dog home with you?” And she did.
There was this look in the dog’s eyes that just cried out to me. And oh I had seen that look before in my pets I would have whether they were cats or dogs. All day while teaching, I had that dog on my mind. Hoped my neighbors would keep it but that evening, I got a call from her saying that her husband did not like dogs. And so, I became the owner of this little black puppy. Already had a huge 125 pound dog and a huge cat but since I was going through a divorce, somehow bringing another pet into the house just didn’t matter. And this puppy seemed special.
After my dog and cat met her, it was rather chaotic but the puppy followed me all over the house. I guessed she was about twelve weeks old or so and I also guessed that she had followed some kids to school because trust me, I saw more than my share of that during my time spent there. Had forgotten what puppies smelled like and oh that smell only can compare to that of a newborn baby—magical and soothing both at once. Never was sure what mixture she was but she was all black except for some white on her chest. Even her big eyes were black and so big that when you looked at them, you found yourself falling into those huge dark pools of eyes. No doubt she had some collie in her, for I had two collies and her face shape was the same but I had no idea if she would stay a small dog or become a big one.
Here I was with her in bed with me, my huge dog on the floor and the cat in and out; this went on for weeks. Had no choice that first week but to put her in a cage while I was gone. Seemed to work out fine until one day I just sensed that something was wrong when I pulled into the driveway. As soon as I opened the door, there she was hanging by her feet upside down. She had gotten the top of the cage open trying to escape. Thank God I got there when I did for she was frantic and so was I. That was the end of the cage forever for her.
What to name her? All kinds of pet’s names went whizzing through my head and none of them seemed right. As a friend of mine said “You have to know your dog before you name it.” And she was so right. The part of me that is Native American heritage seemed to stir up a name and I came up with Shiloh. Not only did it fit her but just saying that beautiful word made it roll right off of my tongue. And so that was her name but she was also called “Shys” and boy did it fit her!
Goldie, my huge dog, was the alpha dog [or so she thought] but really my cat Chessie was the alpha of the three. Shiloh looked upon Goldie as a mentor and took on her gentle ways but unlike her, she started following me everywhere I went in the house. Already she was developing separation anxiety and it would last her lifetime. I should mention that when I got Goldie at age two from the shelter and brought her home with my then-husband, she never barked. We had gotten her some stuffed animals. She carried them around the house like her babies but her signal that she wanted to go outside to the bathroom was to stand in front of the door with one of those in her mouth. And so Shiloh picked up on that—the not picking up stuff animals or playing with them but not barking. She was docile too. Shiloh followed me everywhere I went and developed a love for dog food but then changed her taste to human food. I found myself not able to leave a morsel of food on the counter or kitchen table, or she’d finagle some way to get it. Always. And it only got worse as far as her frenzy for food. Did it make her huge? No for she grew into a medium sized dog and was never fat and was never sick.
When I took her outside on a leash, she was always hesitant and fearful of unknown things: Those two qualities became her makeup forever. If a leaf fell on her, she would become hysterical and drag me to the front door. Didn’t matter if we were far away from the house or close for she always did that. Goldie died when Shiloh was five. And by then, she became more and more needy. My gosh, you couldn’t pet her enough or love on her for it was always more and more. The cat noticed this trust me and he had his share of my time as well.
The bigger Shiloh got, she couldn’t sleep with me but had the run of the house with Chessie. Heaven only knows what transpired between those two. If company were here, she had to have their attention and always got it—it was those big black eyes of hers that won everyone over. Everyone who knew her loved her and she knew it. She expected their reaction always.
Several years ago, she did something that no dog I had ever did: She learned to open the refrigerator! Never did it in my presence but it was always when I was either somewhere else in this house or off on an errand. I’d come in here or come home to find the door wide open and food missing. She apparently scouted out what she wanted to eat and got it! I couldn’t begin to tell you the things she devoured. And she also knew what a box of spaghetti looked like as well as a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese for she attacked those on the counter and dragged them onto the floor and I would find remnants of raw pasta everywhere. She must have thought it would be cooked but alas and alack, it wasn’t. It was a mess to clean up which can only be referenced to having to pick up a thousand pickup sticks in a hurry less they be eaten. Over and over this happened until I had to start putting those boxes in the cabinet or in another room.
I felt like some contestant on a show when I got home from the grocery store. Anything fresh and edible had to be put in the refrigerator right away or she’d grab it out of the bag and run with it. Nothing like marathon putting groceries away and I became a master of it every week.
In all of her twelve years with me, she never played with a toy or ate a milk bone. Just wasn’t in her makeup or perhaps something happened to her before I became her owner; I never knew. When I left the house, I would tell her where I was going; the cat was oblivious unless I mentioned chicken but Shiloh seemed to understand. And when I got back with food, she was in seventh heaven for she could never get enough of it. Another thing that separated her from the other dogs that I had was that when she got near me, she always licked my hand as if to say “I love you.” No other dog had ever done that before till she did.
She became my shadow everywhere I went in this house. And if someone else were here, she became their shadow following them even into the bathroom—didn’t matter to her but mattered to guests. Friends accepted it. She had two favorite places to hang out: One was under this computer and in front of the chair and the other was under the kitchen table. She liked hiding places. I would get hysterical when I couldn’t find her because both of the places were dark and she was mostly all black making her almost invisible. But her hiding didn’t last long for she got the attention –either from me or from the cat. When Chessie died, Shiloh sensed it and was in remorse; that didn’t last long because I rescued a cat that some lowlife had thrown out of a truck near my house. Once again, Shiloh shared this house with a cat—Maysie Apple a calico and a cat that wanted the attention.
Trust me, both got it from everyone and from me. You know when you have a pet, you have this weird idea that it will live forever knowing full well that it is impossible. You think they are invincible; maybe that helps heal the wound when you lose them. It has to be a human trait called denial. I’ve had it a lot with all of the dogs and cats I’ve had over the years. And last week, I found myself in it again: Shiloh started not eating. That was a huge red flag. That lasted two days and then her appetite came back with a fervor but I could tell something was wrong: You just sense it. Day by day I kept in touch with the vet’s office and a friend of mine who is on a board of directors for a shelter. Shiloh was given baby aspirins every twelve hours and seemed to rally until her front leg gave out. This past Tuesday evening, her back legs gave out and she was under the kitchen table on pillows I had placed there. Eating but getting worse and worse. Watched her hobble down the hall and go into the bathroom; she knew there was a vent in there and the air conditioning was on. More pillows for her and she was covered up with either towels or pillow cases. And then she took a severe turn for the worse.
I didn’t leave her side except to come into the kitchen to get something to drink: I had no appetite either. Her breathing got labored and she couldn’t get herself up. And I knew the time had come. My sons offered to come here and take her to the vet but I had a backup with a humane officer and chose that for she had to be lifted and I couldn’t lift her. Her final trip was in a sling made out of sheet and carried lovingly by the officer to the vet. I followed in my car with tears streaming down my face so much that I could hardly see to get there. But I did. He got there after me, brought her into the vet’s office, told them that he had to fill out some paper work and I was escorted into a room with Shiloh being carried by a vet. By this time, she was dying. I told her I loved her, petted her face and looked for the last time into those huge black eyes that were now cloudy and distant. The vet gave her a shot and in a matter of a minute or so, she was gone. I looked at her on the table as I had done so with other pets and just didn’t want it to be. And yet, I owed it to her—I owed her to be out of her misery.
Signed papers to have her cremated and left crying so hard that I am not sure how I got home. Felt like I was going to throw up and worse was coming into the house where she had been for twelve years. I thought I would see her—your mind plays tricks on you like that. The emptiness I felt and feel is overpowering. In all the years of having dogs, Shiloh was the only one I had picked out and looking back to that day at school, I am so glad that I saw her and even more glad that I was her owner for twelve years. She gave me fits at times with her grabbing food but she gave me unconditional love. Isn’t that what pets do anyway? As a firm believer that animals have souls, I know that she is in a far better place and not suffering anymore. But oh how I will miss her. When she died, part of my heart went with her. She was a blessing and loved more than I can ever say. Shiloh was mine or maybe I belonged to her. Just thankful that fate intervened that warm December morning twelve years ago. Her eyes said it all; glad they “spoke “ to me.