If you are a pet owner and lover, then you will undoubtedly be able to relate to this post, though it may be considered an atypical interpretation of the word Shadow. Certainly my first thought, when faced with the word, was of my beloved, “Two Steps Behind” dog named, Duke. Because of his faithful, loyal, unconditional loving nature, I felt that he was owed this public tribute, as the second anniversary of his passing approaches. Duke was my tried and true companion for almost seventeen years, which for a German Shephard mixed breed, is pretty gosh darn good! He and I grew up together, so to speak, from the age of five weeks and twenty-four, respectively. At five weeks, he wasn’t even fully weaned yet and at aged twenty-four, though I thought differently at the time, I was just as naive and vulnerable as he was. Together, we faced challenges, shared triumphs and enjoyed daily life. And, ‘Shadow’ he was! So much so, that I wrote and published a book shortly after his passing based on his and my, ‘Two Steps Behind/Shadow-Type’ relationship. Without a doubt, he and I were meant to be together on this Earth. I am sure that many of you can attest to a relationship in your life like this, maybe your spouse, a friend, a pet in this case, wherein you knew immediately that you were destined to be in each other’s presence. Duke was one of those relationships for me, a much needed one–moreso than I even knew at the time that I adopted him from a local animal shelter nearly nineteen years ago. And so, here are some excerpts from the real life story of ‘a blonde girl and her dog’…
I remember the day that we picked you out at the shelter as though it were yesterday. You were the last little puppy in your litter, all tucked away in the corner of your pen. You were just so wee little. And so soft. And so precious. Needless to say, I fell in love on the spot. Little did I know that adopting you would be the beginning of the best friendship ever! A special bond never to be broken. Bringing you home was one of the best days ever. When we set you down in the backyard for the first time, you reluctantly began exploring your new surroundings. Before long, however, we revelled as we watched you play and frolick in the grass with Kayno, our 80lb malamute mix, barely visible against the green blades. You were so full of joy and energy. You instantly lit up my soul in a whole new way. I still have a vivid image of you lying in your and Kayno’s monstrous dog house after being tuckered out from all of the day’s newness. I can also picture the yellow tennis ball that we placed next to you while lying in the grass that day. The ball was to remind us of just how little you were at the time. We took a photo of the comparison, and the picture is still in one of our albums today. Now, it will become part of our story. This story.
The first few nights that we had you, we had prepared a comfortable box in the basement for you to sleep in, along with some newspaper on the floor in case you had to go to the bathroom, one of our biggest concerns. But, you were lonely down there and began whimpering despite the fact that we had left the light on for you. We could hear you from our bedroom and while I wanted to go and rescue you, we felt that we had no choice but to leave you there until you were housetrained. You had other ideas, of course, and I couldn’t blame you for not wanting to be by yourself. Somehow, you managed to climb out of your box and, obviously determined, you made it up a series of stairs–how long it took and how you managed, we will never know–but unbeknownst to us, you had arrived in our bedroom some time later. I guess that would’ve offcially marked the beginning of our ‘Two Steps Behind’ relationship. Nothing would separate us, no matter what. Everywhere I went, you went….that’s just how it would be and while, at times, I will reluctantly admit that I would be annoyed at half-tripping over you, the truth is that I loved having you there. I loved having you ‘two steps behind’. I hope you know that.
As our first summer together unfolded, I was grateful to be able to spend my days with you, often outside training you (which you caught onto very quickly), playing, laughing, running, learning–it was pure bliss! In the house, you would often sit with me on the couch, crawling toward my shoulder where you would vigorously lick my face and skin. I can still feel the wetness of your tongue and the heat of your breath, as you brought me to smiles and laughter, each and every time. Yes, it was a great summer indeed, which made it all the more difficult to leave you when it was time to go back to work in the fall. But, it was the beginning of our daily routine together—a routine that lasted for almost 17 years—one that I dearly miss and will not soon forget. A routine of feeding you, putting you outside to run around and play, greeting each other at the end of long days spent apart, and hanging out together in the evening. It was heavenly. Every minute of it!
Your younger years were filled with a lot of great experiences and hold a lot of very dear memories. Everything from playing catch with the ball to running in the school field to growling and hanging from your rope to backyard fires to jumping and licking me (and, often others) like crazy!! You loved ‘going for a ride’ in the car and were happy to come camping with us, despite the fact that we once tied you up (unknowingly, of course) next to a wasp’s nest. You and Kayno both got stung like crazy, but you never once hesitated to come along on the next trip. An example of how you were always loyal. Actually, our many times camping together were some of my fondest memories. While you would drive me crazy panting and pacing, as I gathered things at the door for our impending trip, the trip in and of itself was ever-entertaining. You relentlessly insisted on jumping into the driver’s seat, settling for the passenger side once we were set to go, unless we had company in which case you would reluctantly settle into your bed between the seats. The simple, joyful fact of it all was that you were excited to be my passenger. Now, who could complain about that?!
Your favourite dog treats, usually Beggin’ Strips, inspired a lot of great tricks and laughs. Sitting nicely (you had the straightest posture ever!), shaking a paw, playing dead, rolling over (faster than one could imagine) and hiding by the curtain. No doubt about it, you were ‘smarter than the average bear’, as they say. I also remember taking many a walk together in our old neighbourhood, not often enough maybe, but I always felt safe and proud to be seen with you. Children would see you, and point and exclaim, “Nice puppy” or , “Can I pet your dog?”. Everyone loved you. Who wouldn’t?!
In your later years, when your health began deteriorating and your routine of meds ranging from pills to shots to aid your ailing hips kept us busy, we still had a special place in each other’s heart despite all of life’s changes for both you and I. We continued to camp when possible, ramp and all to accommodate your senior needs, and hang out together at home, where we would still play hide ‘n seek and chase around the dining room table. One of Darren’s (my husband’s) favourite memories of you was when we had you at the lakelot (after a shifty drive in the backseat of the truck—not one of your favourite places, since you weren’t next to me) and we ran you back and forth on the grassy hill, the way you had done so many times before in your younger days. The difference being that it took you a full three days to recover. Indeed, we had a great many laughs over your antics and infectious personality. My dad and I had always said that you were near human in your ability to understand and articulate your feelings through your patented eyebrowed expressions. I think others who knew you would also have agreed that, more often than not, you seemed more human than dog. You had a soulfulness that was beyond words and we all knew and felt it.
Unfortunately, your last winter out in the country was gruelling weather-wise and despite predictions by many that you might not make it through, you did. You enjoyed being an inside dog and slept a great deal of time on your carefully selected orthopedic bed. No one would believe us whenever we repeated your age. Even the vet office said that your age was remarkable. I disagreed. It wasn’t your age that was remarkable; it was you who was/is remarkable. A goofy blonde girl like me couldn’t have asked for a better dog! “You are the best doggie ever,” I would always say.
When asked about my favourite memories with you over the years, I simply could not choose. But, I can tell you that I dearly miss tiptoeing around you, as you used to watch me get ready each and every morning, followed by my saying, “Bye, Dukie. Have a really good day. See you when I get home.” And, at the end of the day, I still miss coming home to your barking and prancing, happy to see me, good day or bad. I also miss ‘nooking’ my forehead into yours, looking into each other’s eyes—windows to the soul, without a doubt—while stroking your super soft ears and saying, “You have such so–oft ears!” And, when I was/am sick, I remember the many times that you comforted me with your compassionate eyes and knowing ways, whether it was to stay close by my side or asleep on your bed, so as to not disturb me from resting. Christmastime certainly isn’t the same, that’s for sure. When at home together, you and I would indulge in some ‘Pillsbury’ cinnamon buns, as part of our Christmas morning routine. Then, I would help you to unwrap your present, none other than Beggin’ Strips, of course. Some people said that I was crazy to wrap and write your name on a present, but you and I knew better. You knew exactly which present was for you (okay, so you could probably smell it), but just the same, it was another example of how you were near person-like to me. Your many acts of selflessness throughout your lifetime have not been forgotten either, whether it was from when I travelled and had to leave you behind, or from when we moved out to the country, a year before you passed. You always went along with whatever was decided to accommodate me and my needs–you were my faithful companion. Each and every day.
Because of all that you brought to my life and more, I promised you that I would not let you suffer in the end. While I had hoped that when it was time for you to go, you would go peacefully on your own, I knew that there was a real possibility that I would have to choose. A beyond impossible choice, yet I wouldn’t allow myself to keep you here just for me, as the vet had reiterated. You deserved more and I owed it to you as my lifelong ‘fur’ever friend. It was no surprise to me that the day that we had to say goodbye to you, May 26, 2014, the world wept. But, after the daylong rain, came the most vivid rainbow that I have ever seen in my entire life. I can only presume that it was your way of letting us know that you had made your journey safely. From that experience, it was clear to me that the colours in heaven were extraordinary, just like you. I sincerely hope that you knew how much I cherished our seventeen years together, and I also hope you know how very much I loved you, and still do! We will meet again someday my beloved ‘Dukester’ and in the meantime, I want you to know that I will take comfort in the fact that:
“You will always be ‘Two Steps Behind’ in spirit, and that I will ALWAYS be your ‘mama’!” A shadow in time reflected by two feet and four paws–a blonde girl and her dog named, Duke.