If you’ve ever driven by our house you’ve noticed that a couple of blinds are always raised 10-12 inches. Some of you probably do the same – raise the blinds so the dog can look out. Shadow, our golden retriever likes to sit by the door or window and look out. Mostly, it’s to watch for us. We’d see him looking out the front door as we drove in the driveway. As the garage door raised, he’d start barking, tail wagging – happy to have us back home.
He found us at an Easter Sunday picnic at Al’s dad 13 years ago. Of the 50 or so people at the picnic, he wandered in and picked the family with a couple of 10 and 12 year old boys.
He buddied with us all afternoon, following us on a bike ride and walk in the woods. We already had a two beagles, and certainly didn’t need another dog, but for some reason, I made the off-hand comment to Al’s stepmother, “If he”s still around next week and no one claims him, we’ll take him.”
One week to the day, while I was gone to softball practice and the guys were at the airshow, Al’s dad and stepmother delivered Shadow to our backyard; tied him and left him there for us to find. That’s how Shadow came to be in our family.
He was wearing a green collar, which he has worn all his life. He was your typical golden- running, sniffing, tail-wagging, friendly to a fault. Of course, living with us he would have to be an outside dog and since we lived in a neighborhood, he would have to bear the restraints of a leash and chain. We started our life together that Sunday one week after Easter.
He loved us. He loved the boys. We were his people. He never looked for any others. Although, he certainly loved others. Every person he met was an opportunity for a pat on the head or a back rub. His tail wagged incessantly. He was a favorite at the vet’s office. Even during unpleasant procedures he stood patiently. And if he wasn’t wagging that tail during the procedure, it started back up again as soon as they were done.
However, he didn’t love being tied up, or being left outside. We’d let him loose ocassionally; what joy to see a dog running. Eventually he started joining us inside on the hot summer days. No need to make him suffer in the heat. At night he’d go back outside. Every morning at daybreak, he’d bark outside the back door – just in case we didn’t realize it was daylight and time for him to come in! Eventually it was just easier to let him sleep inside, too. He got full run of the house and was house-broken from day one. Never had an accident.
For years he had his way of letting us know it was time to get out of bed. Shadow would walk beside our bed, so happy to see us again – or so happy it was morning. Anyway, that tail of his would be going 90 miles an hour, whapping the side of the bed. There wasn’t much laying around in bed once his tail started hitting the side of the bed. His tail could be a lethal weapon around things on coffee tables-watch out for drinks and flowers left around.
He was a gentleman. Never snapped at anyone. Wasn’t a whiner. Didn’t tear through garbage; didn’t chew up anything; he was happy just being. While he was a beautiful golden retriever, he never retrieved; that concept was lost on him; he was pretty good at finding hidden doggie bones. A couple of times meat mysteriously disappeared from our kitchen table, but that was the exception. He was no guard dog. ANYONE could come to our house and they would be met at the front door by a big brown doggie with a wagging tail. The only time he ever, ever barked ferociously was once in the middle of the night. To hear it was both startling and scary. Were we being robbed, aliens, what? He was barking at deer daring to stand in the front yard and nibble at some plants. Never again did I hear him bark that way.
I don’t know if retrievers instinctively like water, but Shadow stayed as far away from baths, lakes and oceans as he could. Initially he couldn’t handle big groups of people, like Thanksgiving at our house. However, after his first Thanksgiving here, he didn’t cower in the bedroom anymore. The Shadow knew how to work a crowd for food. And we all obliged him.
He loved to be free and run. I don’t think there’s a much better sight than watching a dog run and enjoy himself. Unfortunately, he’d run and stay gone for a long time. I’d get a call from the apartment manager near our house that our dog was over there and he looked too tired to come home. So, I’d load up and give the dog a taxi ride home. That happened more than once and gradually we learned he was not to be trusted on the loose.
One of my favorite sights was watching Shadow in our neighbor’s fenced-in backyard. There were three dogs who lived on the opposite side of the fence, including a Rottweiler. It was such fun to see those dogs race back and forth along the fence line barking and yapping at each other. I always imagined they were calling each other names, and saying bad things about their mothers. Eventually they’d tire and rest; Silence, except for panting. Then – one would seemingly throw down the red flag and they’d take off again, barking and running. It was such a joy to watch.
Like many dogs he was terrified of thunderstorms. Panting, drooling, heart-racing, shaking-oh it was bad, and annoying to us. It helped to build a tent for him or put him in a confined space, but he feared them throughout his life until deafness relieved him of that fear. Curiously, he also shrank back when the boys ran through the house with their toy guns. It made us wonder about what happened before we met him. Loud noises and guns, who knows? Before his older and age and deafness, Shadow seeme
He was with me during the year I was plagued by unknown health issues. The dark days of holding on, wondering if I would ever run and play again, Shadow stayed with me. He couldn’t do anything, except just “be”. Many, many days it was just, “me and God and the dog. Now, when our situations are reversed, and Shadow must be wondering what is going on, if he will ever run and play again, I stay with him, not able to do much, but just be.
Like all pet owners, we saw him slowing down, getting grayer. Having good days and bad days. And then more bad days than good days. How do you say goodbye to someone who never caused you harm, was always happy to see you. Saw your children grow up and leave home alongside with you.
Two weeks ago I knew he was near death. He could’t eat, walk or hold down water. I told the boys to come say their goodbyes. Perhaps Shadow had a Mark Twain side, “reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated”. He rebounded and resumed walking, eating, sleeping. Just “being”.
He found us on a Sunday, and chose to leave us on a Sunday. Do dogs have any idea how much they mean to us? How they permeate our lives and enter our families? How we grieve their absence? All I know is, we were the most blessed family in the world on that Easter Sunday, thirteen years ago.