The Lives of Dogs
August 26 was National Dog Day, and for the first time since I moved to Delaware in 2005, I had no doggies of my own to celebrate. This year has been a rough one for us; we lost both of our beloved German shepherds. Our 11-year-old, Sydney, passed away unexpectedly in January. Abby, who was 13, died in June. They were both the best girls and loved each other as sisters.
I miss them both terribly, each for different reasons. Abby taught me so much about how dogs love unconditionally. We got her as a little sausage from a responsible breeder in western Maryland. She was so cute and the sweetest little girl. But she was also very stubborn. Despite her obstinance, she graduated at the top of her class after vigorous (and months-long) obedience training.
Abby’s line was Belgian, so she grew into a big, burly girl with forelegs the size of small trees. She loved baby carrots and string cheese, her treats of choice, along with sour cream and whipped cream. But her favorite thing was a ball; she was obsessed. We would spend hours in the backyard throwing the ball. She always brought it back.
Much to our chagrin, we discovered Abby loved men. Friends, relatives, contractors, you name it—she was a shameless hussy once she was introduced. She was the biggest flirt whenever a man was around. She’d immediately turn to butter, begging for belly rubs. My brother-in-law was basically an Abby pork chop.
After a few years, one destroyed love seat, and two holes in the wall while we were at work, we thought it would be a good idea to get Abby a sister. We adopted Sydney from a local shelter. They got along beautifully at the meet-and-greet. At home, they happily shared hedgehog stuffies and gave each other baths.
But on a few occasions, they fought to the point of drawing blood. It was scary because we couldn’t intervene; there weren’t enough pots to bang or buckets of cold water to throw to separate them. We decided to let Sydney stay with us and did our best to enable them to work out their differences with more appropriate behaviors. The fights were blessedly few and far between, especially as they got older.
Sydney taught me even more about how dogs love. She’d had a rough beginning, which I identified with, and she knew we were giving her the chance to be loved the way every dog should be. She let us know every day how grateful she was just by being so full of joy. She was never grumpy and never let us know she had an auto-immune disorder. We found out by accident during a routine vet check. She was put on medication and went into remission for years. She was such a sweet girl; such a good girl. She loved the ball, too, but the most fun thing for her was tug. She was the most joyful dog I’ve ever known.
I don’t measure my grief by the number of boxes of tissues I’ve gone through, or the pain of my heart that broke two times in relatively short succession. For me, it’s the silence. There is an astounding lack of sound now in the house—no panting, no paws running across the floors, no officious German shepherd barking at the door.
We have three absolutely delightful kitty boys still with us, thank heavens, but they don’t make much noise. Except at dinner. But Pi, who was close to both Abby and Sydney, went upstairs after Abby died at home and let out a hair-raising, mournful meow/howl. These days, JoJo likes to sleep in Abby’s spot by the sliding glass door to the back deck. I think Charlie is simply relieved. He never learned that if he didn’t run, they wouldn’t chase.
If you are blessed to love and be loved by a dog—on National Dog Day or any other day—give them some extra attention, one more toss of the ball, another walk or treat. You probably do already. Because you already know a dog’s love—and if you know, you know ▼
Beth Shockley is a retired senior writer/editor living in Dover with her wife and furbabies.
Photo (L-Sydney, R-Abby)