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Subject:  A Dog's Tale Date:  9/7/2006  12:41 AM
Author:  1PanthersFan Number:  88641 of 123247

Warning. This is really long.

Shelby came into our lives a long time ago, in dog years. Heck, in human years, as far as that goes. My tallest son, the one who started college this fall was about ready to turn 5. The middle one was about 3 ½ or so. There was a beer store I used to stop at sometimes, to grab some brewskies to take home with me, and she apparently belonged to the folks that rented the apartment over top of the store. I'd see her every time I stopped by there, and broke my heart every time, it did. They had her chained to a car in the parking lot. Big, tow-your-car-with chain, too, not a regular dog chain. No grass or dirt for her to get to, only shade was under the car. Usually her water bowl was turned over from her draggin' that chain around it. I got so's I'd grab some ice whilst I was in the store (this was before bottled water was everywhere) and put it in her bowl. Usually got some Slim Jims or something for her as well. She didn't really seem all to skinny, considerin' her situation, but she seemed to appreciate it anyway.

One day, must have been last part of July… no must have been the first week of August, come to think of it, 'cause the lovely Angela and I were about to move into our first house. Not actually our house, and it was a townhouse, but never the less, it was out of our bug-ridden apartment and into something with a yard. Well, a court yard, flagstone and some grass, but an outside area with a little space. Anyway, it was hot as hell outside when I made my beer stop that day. Shelby was out there, chained to that car, on that asphalt. I bought no ice on that visit. After I finished my buyin', I walked over, took that chain off, put her in my truck, and that was that.

Had a minor conundrum here. Didn't have a house for three weeks and apparently I now had a dog. Fortunately for me, I had some contacts. My ex-in-laws lived not far from there. They had a nice place and they were dog-friendly. I dropped by the next day and explained my situation. They agreed to keep her for me until we moved into our new place. After all it was only three weeks. I stopped by to check on her every day. She was always glad to see me. Think she was wantin' some Slim Jims, but now that I knew she was eatin' right, we didn't go there anymore. She seemed a little disappointed the first few days, but after the first week or so she adapted. Reckon she was happy just to be off that damn asphalt. I know I was.

We moved into our new place the first part of September. I remember we had to be in the house in time for the kids to start pre-school/kindergarden. We could look out the front door at the school, it was that close. Soon as we dropped our first load of stuff at the house (and I'd forgotten this until my Mom reminded me the other night) I told my wife “I've got to go get my dog”. Off I went. Left the wife and kids at the house - “Sorry, hon, wish I could help you unpack, but I got something I got to do” – not my most shining moment as the man of the house, but there it is. I remember when I got there to pick her up, my ex's folks did not want to give her up. “She's such a sweet dog” my XMIL says,” Can't she just stay here and you can get another dog?”

Like that was going to happen. I told her no, that there was something about this dog that made her mine, couldn't really explain it as such, but Shelby (named after Carroll Shelby, the designer of the Shelby Mustang) was pretty much coming with me that day. She was coming home. When we got to the house she jumped right out of the truck and started rolling around on the ground, like dogs do, happy to be outside and happy to be home. We had a big tree out front that had those big pink flower things on it. Once she finished rolling around she had those pink petals scattered about her person. She was home. Took her to the vet soon after. He figured she was about 4 mos old. We decided her birthday was April 3, 1993.

It wasn't the easiest transition for us. While I'd grown up with dogs, it was the first time DW had ever had one. It was all new to her. And seein's as how Shelby was not really acclimated to bein' a house dog… well you can see where this is goin'. First there was the house training. That was an adventure. DW had always had cats and was used to the litter box thing, so the first time there was an incident… well it was not pretty. It was a learning experience. DW learned how to properly discipline a dog and I learned to stay out of her way while she was doing so.
Of course, the housetraining incidents were nothing compared to the chewing of the shoes. Never mine, naturally, always hers…and ALL of them. I swear, there was not a shoe Angela owned that did not have teeth marks on it. I suggested that maybe she should get shoes that did not appeal so much to a dog, and naturally that resulted in more (verbal) thrashings for me. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Looking back, not so much.
And then there was the dragging out the trash. Naturally, being a dog, Shelby went after the smelliest thing in the house. (Of course there was the diaper incident, but that came later). Come home and everything that was in the trashcan is now…not. I know, one would think you'd put the trash out before leaving, but there you go. Trash everywhere and one smelly dog hiding under the bed. Happy dog, though.
Like I said, not an easy transition. But one that was made.

Me and the boys (they'd gotten a little older by now, maybe 6 ½ and 5) used to take Shelby for walks over at the school. We'd leave the house and head for the back of the school, where the “little kids” playground was. We'd make our way down there and the boys would run around on the playground and Shelby would run after them. They'd get up on the ladder/ramp/slide thing and call Shelby. Of course, at this point Shelby was smarter than them. She knew she couldn't climb the ladder, but she'd still run around down bottom 'till they came down. Then she'd do her dog thing and snuffle them to make sure they were OK. Then they'd do it again.

As they got a little older we branched our excursions out to include the wooded area on the other side of the school grounds. Afterwards, we also branched out to the park up the road from the house. Of course, this involved the car, but we still got to climb on stuff and frolic in the woods. Shelby running loose in the wooded area (although technically this was frowned upon) and enjoyed finding the kids when she did not know where they were. It was all a great big game.

It turned out that I replaced the back fence in our townhouse while we lived there. Not something renters usually do, but it was a quality of life thing. I'd noticed that Shelby liked to stand by the back fence and just look through the cracks between the fence slats and watch the world. She'd stand there for 30 min at a time and just look. She really dug it. So when I replaced the fence, I cut a small window out, about 1 square foot, so she could look out on the world unencumbered. That was her favorite part of the house. She'd sit out there for hours and just look. No barking, just looking. Last time I drove by that house, that window was still in the fence. Shelby's window.

My shortest son was born in the fall of '94. Made Shelby about a year and a half. As you can tell, we weren't sure how this was going to go over, him being so small and all, but the thought process was, that since she'd been used to the other ones, the assimilation should go smoothly. If I live to be 100 years old, I'll never forget the first time they met. Shelby was on the bed, DW laid down on the bed with Shortest Son, and Shelby let out a low growl. Naturally, I had words with her. I explained to her that this was a new short person she needed to take under her wing and not some interloper (a little more animated of course). Turned out she was apparently more disturbed about the jostling of the bed than the jostler. She got up, sniffed the new addition, and proceeded to lick him twice on the face. She then laid back down and that was that. I still have a picture around here somewhere, of shortest son, about 2 months old, and Shelby, layin' side by side on the bed, both sleepin' like the babies they were.

One last story before we exit this phase, probably the most important story of Shelby's life.

There was a time, in this neighborhood we lived in, where there was a series of break-ins. Usually happened in the middle of the day, when folks were at work or whatever, and the “suspect was still at large”. Well, DW came home one day, with the still infant shortest son, and noticed as soon as she opened the car door, that Shelby was raisin' a ruckus. Sounded louder than usual too, she recalled later. She gathers up infant son, goes up to the front door, and there, hiding behind the shrub in front of the house, is a man with a screwdriver in his hand. She naturally inquired as to his intentions, at which point he mumbles something unintelligible and runs away. DW goes in the house and Shelby is freakin' out, barkin' like there's no tomorrow and just generally not having a nice day. It's not 'till later, that she notices the front window is open, which explains why Shelby sounded so loud upon her arrival. Seems this guy had gotten the window open and Shelby started explainin' to him that this was not the place he wanted to be. They wound up catchin' the guy about 3 weeks later. Turns out he was on parole from a previous rape conviction. And he would have been in my house when my wife got home with my infant son. On that day, Shelby earned her keep in my house for the rest of her life.

Well, life went on from there. We had a cat join our household (another story, turns out he wound up being the oldest critter we had) and as it always goes, it was time to move on. We moved again in the fall of '97. Shelby is 4 ½, short son is almost 3. Tallest son is pushin' 9. Middle son is getting close to 8. SS has never lived a day with Shelby, other two would be hard pressed to remember a “Non-Shelby” time of their lives. She is now so much a part of our lives that it is as if she has always been there. And that's the way it ought to be.

Our next house (again not actually ours) was an actual house, with side yards and everything. OK, I exaggerate, it had a driveway between us and the houses on each side, but at least it wasn't attached, and it was a better neighborhood and there was real yard. A yard with grass. All grass and no flagstones. Shelby was quite happy. We were moving up in the world. There was a little neighborhood store there, that made the “bumpin'est” sandwiches you ever had. Was run by a Vietnamese couple that had come over in the early 90's. Shelby used to love going to the store. Not so much the destination, but the journey. We'd have to leave the house, go through the parking garage at the end of our block for not one, but a full 1 ½ levels, through the empty lot behind the garage and finally to the store. I would have never noticed this myself, but do you realize how many smells there were in that walk? Shelby sure noticed. And boy did she like it. And sometimes she even got a half a sandwich.

She also discovered that the fence at this house was somewhat less that adequate for keeping her in. At first she'd just jump over and check out the neighbor's yard and then come back. Then she realized that “Hey, they got no gate!!” Off she'd go to explore the neighborhood and inevitably off I'd go to fetch her home. Got to be a ritual. She always went the same way and I always knew where to find her. She loved to go on a walkabout, she did.

Roxanne came to live at our house around then. The lovely Angela decided that the middle son needed his own dog (don't ask me why, but there you go). She was a handful from the start and Shelby, being used to bein' the only dog in the house, wasn't real sure what to make of all this. She was definitely standoffish at first, her bein' the queen bee and this upstart little pup doin' puppy stuff, all “in your face and eatin' your food and generally makin' a nuisance of one's self”. She had a couple of conversations with that pup, she did. But I still remember the day I looked in the back yard and for the first time saw the “queen bee” wrestling with that upstart pup. They were best buds ever since. Shelby even taught Roxanne the “jump over the fence and go out the neighbor's gate” trick. Like I needed that. But there you go.

Time went on and Buster came to live with us. Shelby was OK with him since he was a guy. She was still top chick in dog land. By the time we moved again, she was alpha female of a large pack. Three dogs, a cat, one snake (dogs are very good at finding your escaped Boa Constrictor, by the way), three kids. She'd outlasted a half dozen birds and slept on whatever bed she wanted to. Life was good.

August of 2000 we made our final move, to Casa Bateman. ½ acre where all dogs could run and romp and roll around in the grass. Big fenced yard, squirrels all around, Shelby was in dog heaven. Took her about 6 months to figure out she could get over the back fence into the neighbor's yard. I spent about 6 weeks worth of weekends and a couple of grand putting up that 120' worth of fence in back. Reckon it was her contribution to the upgrading of the house. She was so kind as to point out a flaw. Thank you, pretty girl. She was 7 ½.

My mom lives in North Carolina. Shelby has made many a road trip with me down that way. First trip she made, the neighbor's Lab took a shinin' to her. Big dumb dog named Bubba (what else?). She explained things to him to start with, and after that he just kind of hung around, waitin' for some attention. Shelby'd go out and sit in the truck and Bubba'd stand with his front feet on the door, the closed one 'cause he learned better than to go to the open door, and Shelby would get out and play with him occasionally. City girl, she was, so she only had so much tolerance for a country dog, but they'd get along sometimes. Her terms of course. He didn't seem to mind.

Shelby made a few trips to the outer banks with us. She liked being out along the beach. We'd go walking at night, after the sandcrabs came out. First couple of years she was fascinated with them, but after that she just didn't want to step on any. One thing I found out is that when you go walk on the beach at night, all the access points look the same. Another thing I found out is that your dog always knows the way home. We'd walk a while, I tell her it was time to go back, and she'd take me home. I'd still be wandering the beach if it wasn't for her. There'd be sandcrabs, and pelicans, and me. I've got a family photo on my living room wall even as we speak, that was taken at that beach. There's my grandmother, my mom and dad, my wife, all my kids, me and Shelby. All decked out in red, white and blue. Very patriotic, we are. Got to be where she couldn't travel by car too well anymore. Haven't been back to the beach since.

Life went on. Angela got sick. Lot going on still there, but we are dealing. Tallest son went from middle school to high school. Middle son went from elementary school to middle school to high school. Shortest son went through his entire elementary school here, and has moved on to his second year in middle school. We lost one rabbit (Steve is a whole 'nother story. Best rabbit I ever had). We got another, then another. Were supposed to both be females, but we got a surprise. Shelby wasn't quite sure what to make of all the rabbit activity, but we all got along. The rabbits would hop around on the deck and Shelby would step over them, give them a sniff now and then, but that was about it. We got 8 surprises three years ago this Thanksgiving week and lost Buster the following Wednesday. Shelby's pack got much bigger and much smaller all at the same time.

As an aside, I was sitting in the bedroom watching TV one night. Our bedroom has a sliding glass door that opens onto the lower deck that Shelby learned to open with her nose (never could get her to close it, though). So I here the door open, Shelby comes running through the bedroom, I don't think anything of it. I'll just get up and close the door next commercial, like I always do. All of a sudden I here middle son start shrieking from the living room like the house is on fire. I go dashing out, and there, in the middle of the living room, is a 'possum. Shelby's done cornered it in the yard and brought it in to play with. That wasn't the last time I had a 'possum in the living room, but it was the first.

Well rabbits came and went, and we had some ducks grace us. Shelby was not quite sure how to react to the duck. She'd never seen one before up close, but as I figured it would be, it was all good. Guess she just was beyond being surprised at anything around here anymore.

She still liked to get out a go for a walkabout. Someone leaves the door or the gate open and off she goes. Never went too far and always came back. She got out once during the winter when the pond was froze over and gave me a stroke. All I could see was her going through the ice. 'Course, her bein' no dummy, she went the other way. Came home pretty quick, too, 'cause it was cold outside.

Speakin' of the cold, her bones started botherin' her winter before last. She started bein' slow to get up off the floor (or down off the bed), and she wasn't real crazy about being outside for too long. The next spring she wasn't real crazy about the rain either. Age was catching up to her, it seemed. She started getting sick (stomach issues) a bit more than we were comfortable with, so we spent some time at the vet. Went from Purina to Pedigree to IAMS. She stopped getting rib bones and her every so often steak and her stomach calmed down. She was slowing down a little but she was still pretty spry for an old dog. She had no qualms about wrestling Roxanne to the floor or chasing squirrels. Open the sliding glass door in the morning and her and Rox sound like a heard of Buffalo going across the deck and down into the yard. Don't stop running until they hit the fence. Long as it's not too cold anyway.

Noticed this past spring she was sleepin' more than usual. She'd still get out and roll around in the grass, but there wasn't a lot of dashing up and down the stairs anymore. Her back legs would give out every now and then, mostly while she was navigating the stairs. She didn't wrestle Rox as much as she used to (n she never stopped altogether) and sometimes those old legs would give out during the match. It took her some time to get up on the bed, but she always made it. And there were a lot of days when she was just like her old self. She never hesitated to talk to me when I was not paying the attention to her that she felt she deserved. So I'd stop my typin' or whatever, and roll around with the dog.

Little more time passed. We lost Mo (the cat) on summer solstice. Seemed very poetic as he was almost 21. Longest day for the longest cat. The running around the house critters were down to two. Shelby wasn't venturing outside too much these days. The heat started to get to her. She preferred the AC and a nice soft couch. OK by me. She earned it as far as I was concerned.

Saturday a week ago Shelby got sick, started throwin' up. At the time I figured she had some more stomach issues. She'd get those from time to time, but they'd pass in a couple of days. I figured if she was still sick on Monday, we'd go see the Doc and get some of that prescription food.

Sunday came and it was obvious something else was up. She could barely get herself up off the floor. It was like her legs just weren't working right. And she lost control of her bladder. I knew right off there was a spine issue. I went through this before, 15 years ago, with Maggie. Maggie got tumors along her spine and had the same issues. Shelby wasn't as bad. Once she got up she could get around. But it was slow. I spent a lot of Sunday carrying her outside. Her, bein' like she was, would come back up the steps, so Angela blocked off the upper deck so Shelby would have to use the ramp. As long as she got outside regularly, the accidents were not so much.

Monday came and we took her to the emergency vet. Took her straight there 'cause I knew she needed X-rays. No sense in going to the regular vet, as he'd just send us over there. By this time she couldn't stand on a smooth surface. Legs did not have the strength. The tile in the vets office did no good, so I carried her in. They took her back and did the X-rays. Found no tumor, much to my surprise. Vet said it could be a slipped disc or something in the spinal column. Said she didn't appear to be in any pain (which I was extremely happy to hear), it was just nerve loss. Gave us a referral to a neurologist next town over. I carried her outside and we walked for a long time while Angela was settling up with the docs. Slow going, but she was up and about.

Tuesday day came and went. Tuesday night came about and Shelby was bedded down in my bedroom with me. I heard her get up and open the door (still didn't close it) and go down the ramp. Good on so many levels, I thought. She got up on her own, she went down the ramp, she's out in the yard doing her business. A few minutes later I heard her barking a bit outside. She went back up the steps and was stuck on the top deck. I went out and carried her in. I could tell she was worn out. We went back in and fell back asleep until about 3AM at which time my mother-in-law woke me up. Shelby was in the bathroom and couldn't get up off the floor. Rox found her and went down and woke Gram up, who in turn woke me up. Her breathing' wasn't real good, guess she'd been trying to get up for a while. I gathered her up and took her in the livin' room and laid her down on her blanket beside the couch. I laid down beside her and kept my hand her so's to monitor her breathin'.

Shelby died at 5:15 last Wednesday morning. By the time she went, everybody was up and around her. The last breath she drew in this world was with her whole family around her, tellin' her they loved her. She just wore out. She took her last breath, and she was gone.

Shelby was with us for almost every life changing event we had as a family. She grew up with my kids. She traveled with us from the not so great days, through the growing pains and into our present lives. Casa Bateman is feels empty tonight, as I finish typing this, as it has for the past week, and I imagine will for a while. I loved that dog like she was my blood and I miss her like… well I don't know what like, but it hurts an awful lot.

It's taken me the better part of a week to finish this. I type some, I start to cry and then I don't feel like typing anymore. It's helped some to get it out of my insides and down on cyberpaper, though. There was a couple of things in there I'd forgotten, and I don't want to do that. Shelby deserves every memory she delivered.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read this.

"If there are no dogs in Heaven,
then when I die I want to go
where they went."
Will Rogers

April 3, 1993 – August 30, 2006


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