Life has lots of twist and turns, joys and challenges that are filled with memories of special times and places. Losing those we love is always difficult and having to make touch decisions on their behalf is even harder.
After twelve wonderful years with our Dalmatian, Shelby, we drove her to the veterinarian for the last time yesterday. I can imagine what you’re probably thinking; a Dalmatian, aren’t those the crazy, hyperactive dogs that are dangerous around children?
I can’t speak for the breed because Shelby is the only Dalmatian I’ve ever had. You see she never knew she was a dog and we never bothered to tell her. I never saw the need and quite frankly, neither did she.
Our story with Shelby could be considered a meeting of chance, but we know otherwise. Just a few weeks before Kristi and I were to be married in 1998, this beautiful Dalmatian came strolling out of the woods, adjacent to Shelby Farms in Memphis. Mid-sized, with perfect, quarter-sized black spots distributed evenly on her soft white coat, she approached a group of employees behind Ballet Memphis who were outside smoking and eating lunch. Timid at first, she slowly made her way toward the group, as it was obvious she was famished. Covered with ticks and thin from what was lack of regular nourishment, she was a mess. She quickly and quietly gulped down bites of Chick-filet sandwiches offered her by those eating, even consuming one person’s entire lunch. Kristi was working there at the time and being the resident animal lover and magnet for the lost and found of life, she immediately assumed control of the situation by taking this beautiful Dalmatian to her parents’ house until a suitable owner could be found. It was only temporary – just until one of the nearby construction workers who happened to be around that day could check with his wife and make sure they could adopt her. Naturally, Kristi called to tell me about the situation and that she had even found a possible owner. But in the meantime she wanted to make sure the “dog” was cared for and fed.
“Kristi, the last thing we need is a dog. We’re about to get married and we live in an apartment”, I pleaded, not wanting to add to our already hectic pre-wedding schedule.
She wasn’t fazed and was confidence of this animal’s fate. “It won’t be a problem, I’ve found someone who’s going to adopt her but you’ve got to come see her – she is so beautiful. Come over today because she’ll be gone soon”.
I think you know where this story is headed.
No one tried to talk me into agreeing to offer Shelby a home – no begging or pleading, no sad, tearful eyes. Shelby and I just bonded the first time we saw each other. The next day I called Kristi and told her to tell the other guy Shelby had found her home. We took her to the vet for her initial exam and promptly laid down a few hundred dollars we didn’t have to treat her for heartworms. For years Kristi assumed her role in this endeavor was to bring Shelby to her Daddy. That she did, but Shelby had plenty of love to go around. She never needed to be trained; as she quickly understood her boundaries and performing such mindless “tricks” on command were for household pets. We rarely had her on a leash when she was outside; a direct violation of Germantown’s animal ordinance. In an apparent attempt to target Shelby’s curious nature and failed ploy to challenge some of the local cats, one of our neighbors complained to the city manager that one of the neighborhood “dogs” was not properly restrained on a leash as she walked up and down the sidewalk. Shelby agreed, she thought all the dogs in the neighborhood needed to be on a leash too. But then again, she certainly hoped she wasn’t being confused for a “dog”.
The stories are numerous with too many to even pick one, two or three more to share. But there was the time she met the Budweiser Dalmatian when they came to perform at the horse show near our home. Everyone thought it would be neat to see these two beautiful creatures interact. Sure enough, they were introduced and started in on the smell test. The visiting male Dalmatian finished sniffing and proceeded to look Shelby up and down for a moment. Then he stopped and looked Shelby directed in the eye, pausing, before he swiftly threw his nose up in the air and walked away; an obvious and overt snub to the most beautiful lady Dalmatian I am sure he ever laid eyes on. No problem, Shelby must have thought, as she quietly walked to over to the visitors bed and proceeded to relieve herself in solid form. It was classic and by far the brashest endeavor of her life.
Through the great times and amid a sea of chaos, Shelby was the one constant – always there, always loving. Although curious and inconvenienced, she never complained when we brought Roan and Mary Morgan home or introduced her to her first dog, Beau, five years ago. Her gentle nudge, a “moo” instead of a bark as her nose nuzzled against your leg was her way of demonstrating unconditional love and affection.
I looked at the Doctor and asked him to tell me I was mistaken and acting in haste – that he had a new miracle drug and Kristi could take her home and she would be back to her old self in a few days. He simply looked back at me and shook his head slightly side to side. He knew she was ready and most likely had other issues not visible or diagnosed. Shelby was a trooper. She knew her mission was accomplished and that she would be okay – that we would be okay. She laid her head down on the table and soaked up our kisses and gentle caresses like she had done a hundred thousand times before. We miss her already, yet there is a void she filled in our lives that will always be overflowing with her love for us.
Good girl, Shelby, good girl.