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For the love of Dog, Chapter 5 | Pamdemonium
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For the love of Dog, Chapter 5

September 17, 2010

Pilgrim is not our only four-legged family member. He wasn’t even the first.

Shadow came into our lives more than 11 years ago, during a gorgeous New Orleans spring. Shaun met her first, at a no-kill animal shelter, and fell in love. We were ready for a dog and the next day, he brought her home.

Our smiling Shadow

She is an impossibly sweet and beautiful mutt, tending toward over-sensitive, a trait that grows more pronounced with age. Pilgrim’s mishap and the months of intense care have been just as hard on our girl as the higher primates in the home.

From a dog’s view, this is what happened: The neighbor with an irksome, yapping mini-dog named Taco knocked on the front door late at night. Shadow’s people freaked, yelled, ran around the front and back yards, up and down the street. The alpha male of the house left in a strange car and came back. The grown-ups wept and left. They came home in the middle of the night without her companion. The next morning they left again, stopped back home to show her Pilgrim, who was broken, then drove away and came back without him.

In the days that followed, Shadow did not want to go outside, front or back, day or night. The last time Pilgrim had gone outside he didn’t come back and her people were very upset and cried. We had to cajole Shadow and accompany her into the yard.

She was listless and subdued. Her big, luminouse eyes stared at us, questioning. “Don’t worry, Shadow, Pilgrim is coming home in a few days” worked about as well as “Don’t worry, Pilly, it will get better” did once the boy got home.

For the first time, she started peeing in the house.

When Pilgrim came home, ritual sniffing followed immediately. A mix of attentive and aloof, Shadow watched. We tried to give her personal attention, including at least once nice w-a-l-k a day, yet she hovered.

At the surgeon’s suggestion, we used Shadow to motivate Pilgrim. As he got a bit stronger, he wanted to join Shadow on the walks, which wasn’t possible yet but did help get him up and on his four feet, though two of the legs wobbled. I’d bought some inexpensive carpet runners to give the boy better traction – hardwood floors continue to challenge him – and we’d get him out the front door, carry him down the steps and support him. One of us stayed with Pilgrim; the other went walking with Shadow.

Christmas 2005

Rehab days presented a different challenge. This is what Shadow saw: The mom of the house put Pilgrim in a car very early after Meal 1 and drove away. She came back without him. The day plodded along, and she was alone.

She peed in the house.

By the third round of rehab, I figured I’d take Shadow along for the pick-up run so she could see Pilgrim was safe. We waited in the lobby, where I’d use loose change to buy three cans of Diet Coke at a time, for Pilgrim to emerge, damp and fuzzy from his time in the treadmill. “Pilgrim’s family,” the vet tech called when Dr. Lisa was ready.

Some days I’d put both dogs in the car for the morning drive; on others I’d leave Shadow to nap after breakfast. I’d like to think she had some understanding, though we’d still have a random piddle, most often in the hallway. Still unclear is whether this is related to Pilgrim and the household trauma or it is a Shadow-specific issue such as the advance of years. It does seem to happen less often now that our home is stabilized, at least by our standards.

A few weeks into rehab, though, Pilgrim hit a big road bump and developed extreme anxiety. Depending on time of day (or night), and who was on deck as primary caregiver, we’d move his dog bed around the house. Shadow was rarely in a different room. She wanted to stay nearby.

When we finally could walk, slowly, around one block as a family of four, I think Shadow was as happy as any creature on this Earth.

Our pets do teach us. How to be patient and how to be a good companion only start the long, long list of lessons.

A story of tragedy, recovery, unconditional love, breakdowns, lost sleep and large veterinarian bills. “For the Love of Dog” will continue weekly for a bit longer on Pamdemonium.



Linda Bryant September 18, 2010 at 11:30 am

I love this one. I love the picture of Shadow, I love the way you go deep witout sentimentality.

admin September 25, 2010 at 11:54 am

Belated thanks, Linda. Writing about “the kids” without getting sappy is not easy and I’m not really trying, so when it works, it works!

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