Monday, January 28, 2008

magic hairs & overbites: sweet shiloh

this is, primarily, a blog about art. but it's also a blog about my life (which my art is a big part of)... and sadly, today, its a blog about a dog. as many of you already know, this past week, aj & i had to make a very difficult decision, and on saturday, january 26th, we had to let go of our dear friend shiloh.

i don't want to make anyone sad; shiloh wouldn't have wanted anyone to be sad. she'd want you to go to the kitchen and heat up some bacon and give her a piece, that's what she'd want. but i do need to share her story; i need to share it for me, but what's more, i need to share it for anyone else who might be looking for the help i needed. in the days leading up to our (and ultimately "my" ) decision, i spent hours combing the internet looking for advice, people to connect with, someone to tell me what to do... and i never found it. not on the internet. i found it saturday morning, in shiloh.

shiloh joined our family my freshman year of college. i was away when they got her, but her origins are the thing of legends... there were wolves on the property. she was in a box. she coulda been a contender (her parents were show champions; german born & bred, quality dogs)... but she had this overbite and overbites do not a show dog make. i first met shiloh when i came home for the summer break. i hated her name (sorry dad, but i did and still do), but all our dogs (all shepherds) had historical/ native american-ish names (dakota, cheyenne, scout... well, he was a border collie with issues, but that's another story). and she was nice enough, in that she was small and SUPER fluffy... but my first impression of her: "not cute". her face was weird. her coloring was coming in too patchy. her nose was too long. and goodness! that overbite! we spent the summer putting her in dresses and when i went back to school, well, yes, i missed her. it wasn't long after that that shiloh became the "underdog" for realsies. oh my goodness did the other dogs lay into her. she was picked on regularly. dakota, my dad's baby and the alpha female, queen of the dogs, used to "correct" shiloh with little "love bites" on her snout. the other dogs chased her around the yard and nipped at her. my time with shiloh was limited to winter & summer breaks, but i started falling deeply in love with her. her hair was still so patchy--- you could see that she was supposed to be a beautiful dog; long haired like her parents, but the miami heat and active lifestyle was stunting that. dakota's love bites had knicked little patches of hair off her muzzle forever. shiloh was, in my opinion, better than all that. maybe like me, she needed to be saved from miami. so, when i graduated from mica, and got my first off campus apartment, my dad packed a truck with all my stuff, my adopted hamster (cornelius rex bojangles, r.i.p.) and my new dog, shiloh...all patchy haired & pocked, over bite and all.

for years it was just shiloh and i. life in the north (technically the south, but more north than miami and dogs don't care about mason dixon lines), agreed with her. her coat filled out. her muscles plumped and her gait became more confident. her eyes were shiny and she was a happy dog. probably reacting to years of bullying, shiloh's favorite activity was "barking and lunging"... we liked to say "she's a little dog aggressive". walking her was like playing Frogger™, but in lieu of cars and logs, we were dodging dogs, cats that were as big as dogs, plastic bags 3 blocks away that MIGHT be dogs... luckily, she was an otherwise low key dog and tired quickly, so walks were usually a brief affair. a couple years after shiloh moved to baltimore, i decided she needed a friend to play with during the day and i needed a warm furry thing who WOULD cuddle up to me on the couch (despite the many coaxings, this dog would not jump on the couch or sleep in bed with me). i went to the MD SPCA and met Finnegan, a tubby grey tabby, who purred and purred and purred. unfortunately, shiloh didn't agree that she needed a friend, and finn didn't agree that i needed a pet to snuggle with me. they never fought, but then, Finn never left the back of the apartment. he spent every moment on the table, unless he needed to get to the bathroom to find his box. the two of them maintained a "don't ask don't tell" policy in regards to each other. so, it was just us 3...until aj moved in with us, and shiloh fell just as hard for him as i had so many years before. "daddy"... that's what we called him. "shiloh, go with daddy", "shiloh, daddy has dinner", "daddy! shiloh needs the boogies taken out of her eyes". we had a very happy home.
as a family, we drove all up and down the east coast. shiloh became a part of our extended families. we stayed with friends in maine and she was welcomed. we visited our buddies from college and shiloh stretched out in their living room. she'd spent quality time down the delaware & jersey shores. she was always a great road warrior; never got car sick, never broke into the cooler & only ever whined if we went slower than 40mph. she loved maine. we took her to portland a number of times and showed her the water we were going to let her swim in. she went on the longest walks up there--- never seemed to tire in portland. and for the trips she couldn't join us on, we were fortunate enough to have the most amazing pet sitters to look after her. shiloh loved every single friend of ours. it's a shepherd trait--- to be wary and observant, to hold their cards close to their chests at first, but to take cues from their human parents and fall in line with them--- they're the most intelligent, most sensitive and most loyal of breeds. everyone loved shiloh. i can't tell you how often complete strangers would cross the street to tell me how beautiful she was. there's a guy on our street, we call him "man who walks", because that is honestly all he ever does... it's not pacing or working out; he's really built, but you just see him out walking, like, all the time. anyway, he never speaks, ever. but he did once; to say how beautiful shiloh was. and she was. she had the softest, thickest black hair; beautiful markings and unspeakably amazing "magic hairs". if she lived in her home land, she'd need them, but here in baltimore, the ridiculously long blonde hairs that grew between her toes served only to make us giggle. of course, no one ever knew what she was. aj and i finally decided that we were on boiling point™ (a cable show that tests peoples patience)... "is that a collie/chow?"; "pretty dog, rottweiler/akita?", "what kind of dog is that?" (a longhaired german shepherd) "no, that's like a shepherd/collie mix".*for the record, world at large, shiloh was a LONGHAIRED GERMAN SHEPHERD* (not, btw, a "sherman shepherd" as the baltimore city office of licensing insists she is). whatever you want to call her, shiloh was always a puppy. this dog NEVER looked old... in fact, she seemed to get younger with age. she had this way of running back up the house stairs after walks... it was olymipic in nature; we actually made a competition out of it and started scoring her on her leaps and twists and bounds up the stairs. she ran down the hallway like a 10 month old. she never stuttered jumping into the car. snow was like a magical elixir... i so wanted our girl to get the chance to live in portland, to have a maine winter. she never let on that she was getting older, no matter what calendars might say. she was never sick; her hips, the danger zone for dogs like her, were tip top; she never slowed or showed any sign of age and THAT'S what made all of this so difficult.

on thursday, january 17th, we were preparing to go out of town for aj's birthday. we had a sitter lined up and there was no reason to suspect anything out of the ordinary. we were in the kitchen and heard a commotion in the hallway. it just sounded like her nails scratching the hardwood, like she'd slipped and was trying to get up. it took her a minute or so, but she did get up and walked slowly to us. i spent the next day at home, to keep an eye on her, but she was fine. she was perky and running around, wagged her tail when our little friend estelle came over. we both felt more than confident leaving shiloh for the weekend. our friend was watching her and we were only going to NJ, so we'd be close by. we never got a call that anything was wrong, and we both assumed she'd just slipped and startled herself.

our friend did report that she'd not been interested in eating much... but that was normal; she usually got a little anxious when we were away and took a day or two off from eating. he also said she'd had an accident (of undetermined origin). none of this was abnormal.

we were so excited to see her and talked about her the whole ride home. normally, she'd be hanging out at the door, her collar jingling and her nails clacking, but when we got home and opened the door, her greeting was lack-luster. she was happy to see us, but not as energetic. she looked weird to me, but i couldn't place it. later that night, i pet her back and noticed how pointy her spine was... she'd lost a substantial amount of weight. there was something else too, but i couldn't place it. the one thing i COULD place was how worried i was. i didn't say it out loud, but it just felt wrong... she was sick, something was off, she needed help. we were getting ready for bed when aj said, "i don't want to upset you, but i think we need to make an appointment at the vet's". i immediately started crying. my first thought was "he's right"; my second thought was "whenever anyone finds out they're sick, they die". dramatic, maybe, but it's just always struck me that way. i couldn't shake the feeling that taking her in there was sealing her fate. of course i KNEW not taking her in would also be sealing her fate. the next morning, i called and made her appointment--- what's wrong with her? she just doesn't seem herself, was my answer. but then again, that morning she seemed totally normal again; much more affectionate, ate her food and begged for mine. when aj got home from work, we put her duck blanket in the car and headed off to the vet. her appointment was for an hour before closing. the receptionist had already told me they'd take blood and might need to keep her over night to run tests. no problem. in the exam room, the nurse took her temperature (normal) and asked about symptoms: vomiting? yes (we'd found an old specimen near the front door), sneezing? yes, on the ride over actually, loss of appetite? certainly. we weighed her--- 59lbs. she'd been 80 lbs 6 months before, and never, in the 6 years she lived with me, been less than 70lbs. the doctor came in and listened to her heart... she couldn't hear it. she asked about shiloh's abdomen... was it always so bloated? no-- and it was that moment that we both realized why she seemed so weird to us; her stomach was huge and hard. i couldn't place it before that. she felt around and said her spleen felt enlarged. the doctor informed us that x-rays would be necessary. so we waited. i could hear her conferring with another doctor. heart? spleen? blood? i had to wait outside. i couldn't stop shaking. when they called us back in, shiloh wasn't in the room. the doctor was stoic. i was a mess. she put up the first x-ray and showed us shiloh's heart--- fittingly poetic and tragic, her heart was easily twice as large as a normal dog's. her heart was enlarged, the sac around it filling with blood. it couldn't be drained. the condition is unfortunately not abnormal in shepherds. it was likely caused by a tumor at the base of her heart. the enlarged heart was affecting the blood's ability to get to her other organs. there was cancer in her blood. the word cancer set me off. i apologized to the doctor and she apologized to me. another x-ray. her esophagus was being squished by her heart and lungs. another x-ray. her spleen and liver were also double in size. they were poking past her rib cage. her stomach was bloated because there was excess gas, fluid and waste not moving out of her system. she had no appetite because there was no where for the food to go. aj asked the dr what we'd do next. the answer i didn't want. the most we could do would be to try a drug for her heart, to thin the blood and make her more comfortable... but she'd need to be put to sleep. she left us alone and went to get shiloh. we held each other and cried our eyes out. not our baby. we decided we needed to take her home with us... shiloh walked into the room tail wagging, tongue out, perfectly normal. like she had no idea what was going on. of course she did.
we'd pretty much decided, aj and i, that as good parents, we needed to not be selfish and to have her put down soon, before her symptoms were more present, before her pain was more tangible. neither of us wanted to lose her so soon, if she had a few months left in her, but neither of us wanted to watch her suffer if she didn't need to. we stopped at mcdonalds on the way home to get shiloh chicken mcnuggets--- her favorite birthday treat--- she was only a few weeks away from her 11th birthday and i wasn't going to let her miss out on a party. that night, we made a bed on the floor in the living room. i took pictures and video like there was no tomorrow. we hugged her and cuddled her and watched happy movies. we ate "people" food and spent every possible moment with her for the next few days. i kept looking for signs that she really was sick. she seemed so healhy. she was a little slower. she slept a lot (but when didn't she, really?). she ate a ton (but then again, i was feeding her anything she wanted--- wet food, cheez-its, tiny cheeseburgers). i spent all day with her pressed up against my side, and my laptop on my legs, scouring the web for a similar story. every story of euthanasia featured a 16 yr old bichon, blind, incontinent, seizing constantly... where was the person who found out their best friend had congestive heart failure, cancer and just seemed "off". i was toggling between "i know what's right for her" and "i am being hasty". i found a site that described a pet's "quality of life" as being more than just the part they are responsible for... it talked about the parent's ability to afford (financially, emotionally, physically) the change in the pet's needs, and asked if the relationship between you had started to suffer. it mentioned that pet's might start distancing themselves or acting embarassed. sure enough, shiloh kept getting up and crossing the room to sleep alone in the corner. everytime she needed to pass gas (which was often) she'd leave the room. i had already started greiving the loss of my dog, i realized it was almost as if she was already gone. i read more about her condition and found that by the time the symptoms she was exhibiting start to show, the dog typically has 6 months max, but more likely a month. i read on another person's blog that they wished they'd been able to let their dog go with dignity-- so that her last moments hadn't been a stressful trip to the vet, a scared dog, yelling and crying. and i knew that was what i needed and wanted for our girl.

when aj got home from work friday night, we talked and cried and made the appointment for her, for saturday at 12:20pm. then we went to ruby tuesday and got a bunch of mini burgers. the medication shiloh was on was helping her comfort--- her stomach wasn't as bloated, her appetite had increased, she was drinking a TON of water and had to go out a lot more frequently... but for all intents & purposes, she seemed the healthiest she ever had that night. i went to bed sad, but assured. the next morning, we woke up at 9am, and aj called shiloh up into bed with me. the dog that almost never wanted to be cuddled, or tucked in, or squished in bed with us, jumped up happily and laid with me until i was ready to get up. i hadn't showered in days, and figured i'd do that after we took shiloh on her last walk. i was in pajamas still, and i grabbed my camera... i needed to have one last walk to remember forever. we let her lead the way. i held her leash, but she steered herself. we got to the median she usually goes in, and she walked down to the bus stop and just sat. she just sat... looked out at the traffic and sat. we laughed until we noticed our friend scott (who had just watched her for the first time while we were away the weekend before) and he crossed the street. she went right up to him and got her pets. he told us he'd told her he loved her everytime he left her that weekend. and once he crossed the street to go to work, she turned on her heels and went back in the direction we'd come from. i gave aj the leash, so he could enjoy walking her one last time, and i filmed the two of them from behind. she was skipping and moving like always. she looked confident, shiny and alive. i took a few pictures of them and then suddenly decided to stop about a block from home. we were approaching an apartment building where dogs usually began their walks and shiloh began her barks. no sooner had i tucked my camera back in my pocket than one of shiloh's most vocal nemeses rounded the corner. they exchanged barks and shiloh lunged as she always did. the guy crossed the street and i assured her over and over "shiloh, its not worth the stress". i looked away for a split second and when i looked back, she was flailing on the sidewalk, aj was kneeling next to her, her legs were shaking and straightening, her face looked strained. i started to cry while aj calmed us both down. everything's fine. everything's fine. she calmed down, and tried to get back up, but it happened again. a seizure? a heart attack? both? she'd lost control of her bowels. aj put his coat over her, and i stroked her face and begged her to hang on until we could get to the vet. aj ran to the house to get my purse and a number of wonderful samaritans came over to ask to help. i found myself trying to explain in as few words as possible: no, she's fine. she's sick and i knew she was. she was supposed to be euthanized in a few hours, but she needs it sooner. everything is ok.
i drove like the wind, while aj hugged our poor girl, wrapped in her duck blanket, in the back seat. i called the vet to say we were on our way and prayed that she would at least hold on long enough to get to the doctor, to be able to go out calmly and comfortably. she wasn't supposed to suffer. THIS was exactly what we DIDN'T want to happen. and yet... sad as it was, this was EXACTLY what i needed to see. we pulled into the lot and i turned off the car, she sat up and looked at me and out the window. she seemed "fine" again. a dr came out and brought her inside. when we walked in the lobby, i could see they'd already prepared a room for her; a quilt very much like the pattern on her bed at home, was already on the floor for her. in the days leading up to this moment, all i kept asking myself and my friends was "how do i just put her in the car saturday morning? how do i just drive to the vet? how do i just hand her over? how do i say to the vet- ok, do it now?"... but standing there in that moment, all i could think was "this is how".

they called us into the room and we sat on the floor around the quilt. shiloh came in and laid down on the quilt. she seemed calm and happy. the doctor told us matter-of-factly how the next few minutes would transpire ( i had already read it at least a dozen times already). they put the needle in her back leg, so aj and i could both lay near her face. we kissed her and pet her and told her she was so good, so brave and we loved her. when she and i had been alone, on the sidewalk back near the house, i told her i loved her and thanked her for being so brave; for holding on so long--- i knew she had been in pain and had been holding back so we wouldn't have our last days of memories be filled with fear--- but i also knew that she gave into temptation and allowed us to see her interior pain manifest exterior, so that i wouldn't think i had made the wrong decision. maybe that seems silly to other people, but i was there and i looked her right in the eye and she winked. there on the quilt, she went so quickly and so gently, that the doctor had to tell us twice that her heart had stopped. she just looked like she was sleeping. the doctor told us again that she was sorry but that we had made the right choice and i smiled because i KNEW i had. they left us alone with her and aj and i just sat with her, petting her and talking to each other about her and other things. it was so normal. i had been so afraid of seeing her body, or watching her "go", but it was easy. it was right. before we left, we folded up the sides of the quilt to cover her... the way we always did when she WOULD sleep in bed with us.

in the days since her physical body has been gone, shiloh has visited us in a number of ways: stray hairs showing up in random places; her smell on our gloves and jacket sleeves; my favorite song with perfect lyrics coming on the radio at just the right moment; other peoples' dogs looking our direction and pulling toward us; finnegan, who never slept in our bed ever, joined us saturday night after we'd fallen asleep and stayed all night long. aj and i still go on shiloh's walks with her, except this time, there's a lock of her hair in my pocket and her leash is folded up in my hand. we miss her, of course. the first time we opened the front door and no one was there. i miss the sound of the thump-thump-thump of her happy tail on the hardwood in the morning when she knows i've woken up. i dropped a piece of turkey on the kitchen floor last night and waited a few seconds for her to come get it before i remembered she wasn't there. i keep re-latching the bathroom door closed so she can't get in and get to finn's box. i find myself walking into rooms and calling "sally!" (or any of her other names) and then catching myself. aj turned to offer her a cranberry while we were talking over lunch today. sally liked her cranberries. i miss pressing my face in her soft hair. i miss her good/bad doggie smell. i miss sally.

i am, of course, sad for our loss, but i am SO glad that we made the decision we did when we did, that we were fortunate enough to spend her last days with her, eating and cuddling happily, that her final days were peaceful & stress free. that she passed with dignity & with her family. that i listened to my heart... she certainly had been listening to hers. and likely, mine.

shiloh, your loyalty, love & overbite will never be matched, and will always be missed. so much peace. xoxo mommy, daddy & finn.

"darie's shiloh little bear" (on paper), sally, sarah, sally anne, mary ann, mary ellen, mason, vern, gunther, morgan, sharky, sharklo, snug, snuggy, snuggybug, shilly, shilly bean, bear, little bear, beesu, beesu-beese, geesu, geesu-geese, patricia, margaret, peach, peaches, sweet girl, sweet bear, boots, bootsenfuss & shiloh. february 19, 1997- january 26, 2008

for more pictures of sweet shiloh, go here:



katie said...

no one wants to be the first to comment and neither do I, but I want to say with the sincerest of emotions that you and aj are beautifully loving, remarkably brave, incredibly giving, deeply devoted and forever inspirational. Thank you for sharing your story. My little Estelle so loved your girl. I have forever been jealous of the time she spends with you but now am envious of her time with Shi-o! ! ! It is clear that you will forever love her AND the memories of her. I am on my way to falling in love again with my cat. Thank you. Stay strong and continue to use this blog to remind us of your memories whenever it strikes you. i love you i love you i love you both.

AJ said...

Dear Shiloh,
Thank you for EVERYTHING. We are still laughing and smiling at your wonderful ways...even in these cold months, the apartment feels warm. We love you.

Dear Danamarie,
Thank YOU for this beautiful tribute to our girl-it is perfect. I love you.

Dear Katie,
Thank you for being bold and posting the first comment. What an amazing and loving expression for us and for Shi-o. We love you.

Thank you EVERYONE for all of your voicemails, text/email messages and loving support.

Hyperchondriac said...

Shiloh was a bundle of energy. I loved her very much, not only because she was the first one to get me over my fear of dogs, but she was the first dog I ever loved. She sat on the couch with me when Dana wasn't around, she chased Finn aroudn with me when we decided Finn simply neeeded some exercise, she posed for me when I whipped out my camera. I'm so sorry that I didn't get a chance to see her before she left. To me, she'll always be a 4yo puppy. I love you Shiloh.
Dana, I hope you are doing ok. Give me a call when you want to talk. *hug*

Ashley said...

I am so sorry for your loss, but am happy for all the joy that Shiloh has brought you and everyone whose life she touched. like the last poster, she was the dog that got me over being deathly afraid of dogs-after meeting her, how could I not fall in love with all dogs? She will be missed, but know that she is also with Leopold and Cornelius and Teddy Bear. She will continue to be loved and to love. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need anything at all. I'm only a few hours away and can drive out ANYTIME!

Stephanie said...

Hello Danamarie, and AJ,

Olivier and I were so sorry to hear that you lost your dear friend Shiloh.

You gave Shiloh so much affection and honored her by writing your love story with her that I feel she was lucky to have you and was able to have such a good life.

Thank you for sharing your story with us. I'm sure it was difficult to write at some points but we, as friends, appreciated your effort.