"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." Anatole France
"How lucky I am to have(had) something that makes saying goodbye so hard." A.A. Milne - Winnie the Pooh
I love these two quotes as they speak so directly to my incredible journey of love and learning with my beautiful girl, Shelby. I have long been a believer that nothing in life happens by coincidence. I'm also of the mind that animals not only come into our lives to make it a bright and beautiful place, but to teach us the values of respect, kindness and humility. It might sound trite, but Shelby taught me the meaning of unconditional and true love. No human has ever come close. It was a four-legged, fluffy, affectionate and sometimes stubborn Sheltie, who gave me this most precious and scared gift.
Love continued to bloom. I first met Shelby when she was four weeks old. She was soft, cuddly and not too sure about this human that was holding her. With every weekly visit, I watched her personality emerge along with the traits that would morph into a stunningly beautiful soul. I was totally smitten.
Sheltie's are a smart breed. Shelby was a quick study and she mastered 'puppy things' easily. She was quiet, polite and very sensitive to the moods and situations around her. We were a perfect match. Shelby was an 'old soul.' So much so, that a friend remarked that perhaps 'she had been here before.' She just seemed to know what was expected of her. Frankly, I think she knew more about life than I ever will. She had a look that would reach deep into the depths of my soul.
Life ticked along ... we shared lots of love, she met my friends and we went on adventures ... even if it was just a short walk in the park. She loved going to the lake (Lake Huron) and visiting with 'Grampa and Grandma.' She could run, run and run some more. Her energy was boundless. At the end of the day, she was a tired but happy puppy.
At an early age, she realized that cheese was among one of her favourite treats. I am convinced that her love for cheese was wired into her DNA. I simply could not open the cheese drawer in the fridge, without having a little someone instantaneously looking for a hand-out.
As I said before, Sheltie's are smart dogs. It still puzzles me as to how she knew that I was reaching for the peanut butter jar in the kitchen, while she was asleep in another room. I could open the cupboard many times a day and she wouldn't flinch. Touch the jar and her little legs were flying to get to me. Similarly, if I happened to rattle the Cheerio jar ... well, you know what happens next.
On a cold day in February 2018; life as we knew it changed. I had dropped Shelby off at her vet's office. (Shelby loved going to the vet. She was always eager to meet everyone and share 'her positive puppy energy'). She had some routine blood work done in preparation for her spay. What I didn't expect was a call telling me that her kidney enzymes were very elevated. A day later, an ultra-sound would show that at six months of age, Shelby had the kidneys of a 14 year old dog.
Shock, panic, sadness and a whole host of emotions rolled over me within seconds of hearing Shelby's diagnosis and prognosis. The words special diet, monitoring and keep her comfortable didn't register. All I knew, was that I had a very sick puppy and we had best make every minute count. Therein lies the gift. Life became about living in the moment, being intentional and not fussing with the meaningless and frivolous trivia that often marks our days.
I am fortunate that I can work from home. This turned out to be a real blessing. We were able to spend so much more time together. Yet, another gift. As a supporter of our local Humane Society, I decided that Shelby should become a 'pin-up girl.' Her thick and rich sable coloured coat, the white blaze up her face and those dark and penetrating eyes would make her a great calendar girl. Each year, the agency would host a contest for pets (actually, for their humans), to raise enough money to get their picture on the annual calendar. Shelby would be Miss August 2019.
As we moved toward her first birthday, I went into party mode. Friends were invited to the 'dog house' for a paw-ty complete with frisbees for plates, ruff-age (vegetable platter), chocolate covered paw-berries and a whole host of other homemade treats. I spent weeks planning, creating and hosting her party. I was having a blast. Shelby, on the other hand, was content to be the kitchen and hoping that some tasty morsel would land in her direction.
As days moved into months, Shelby's health continued to decline. She was losing weight and she became a picky eater. However, she was still eager to go for walks and herd me around in true Sheepdog fashion. My first real clue that our time together was running short was when she no longer dropped Mr. Rooster at my feet. She had also taken to the notion that Mom's bed was pretty comfy. (Up until that point, she was never on my bed). There was one particular day that she was nested into my pillows and she looked at me with her dark brown eyes as if to say to me, 'I've done what I have came on this earth to do and it is now time for me to say good-bye.' With heart crushing sadness; I granted her wish.
I had built a wonderful relationship with Shelby's breeder. We had bonded over this horrible fluke of nature. She loved Shelby as much as I did. We had arranged for Shelby's vet to come to Shelby's 'birth place.' Up until the vet's arrival, Shelby was able to play with her Mom and some of her siblings, have a peanut butter treat and then quietly nestle in my arms. As far as death goes, Shelby's was beautiful. She was in a lovely living room with the sunshine streaming in the windows. She was surrounded by her favourite toys, her blanket and the people who loved her. I held her, kissed her and told her to have a good puppy sleep, Mom loved her and that I would see her on the other side. She passed away on February 28, 2019. She had just celebrated her 18th month birthday.
To be honest, I don't remember much about the rest of the day or the days following Shelby's passing. There is not a day that goes by that love doesn't trickle down my cheeks, look for her running to the frig for a piece of cheese or see her cuddled up asleep on her bed. The hardest part of all is not seeing her bright and expectant face at the door when I come home. My usually lively comment, 'there she is ... there's my puppy dog' rings hollow.
Shelby gave me so much more than I could ever give to her. She chose me. One evening, several weeks ago, I was very distraught about Shelby's passing. The day after, a white feather appeared out of now where in a most unusual place. I took it to mean that Shelby was fine. I took comfort in this very strange experience.
Our love for each other will never be broken. There will always be a golden thread that connects her heart and soul to my heart and soul. Yet another sacred and precious gift
It is my wish that the Rainbow Bridge had visiting hours.
August 26, 2019 - Happy 2nd Birthday from across the Bridge, sweetheart.
September 27, 2019 - Your little sister Landi was born today. I know that you are smiling from across the Bridge. You are her guardian angel. The two of you already have a love story.
February 28, 2020 - One year ago today, our earthly love story ended. Your love for me and your little sister, Landi, shine down for across the Bridge. I love you sweetheart.
April 23, 2020 Missing my beautiful girl today. Landi is very much your sister. Lots of sass and attitude. You must be proud of her. I love you sweetheart.
August 26, 2020 Happy 3rd Birthday sweetheart. I carry you in my heart always.
October 22, 2020 Miss you, honey. Love you so much.
February 28th 2021 - Two years have passed. You are in my heart and soul forever. I love you, sweetheart. Have fun across the Bridge.
February 28th, 2022 - I love you past forever. I hope you are having fun across the Bridge. Miss you.
June 6th 2022 - Landi and I are charting a new journey. We know that you are where we are. Always together... forever.
September 26, 2022 Happy Birthday, sweet girl. I love you beyond forever.
November 21, 2022 Your sweet Mom crossed the Rainbow Bridge today. I know that you were there to great her. Mom and daughter re-united forever.
September 26, 2023 - Happy Birthday sweetheart. Mom misses you every single day and loves you beyond forever.