I know it’s been forever since I last posted, but if you follow me on Facebook or elsewhere, you know that life has accelerated beyond my ability to juggle this blog among other responsibilities. However, this weekend, our beloved companion, Miss Shadow Wharton, passed away from complications stemming from a collapsed trachea, and intestinal cancer. She left with Amy, Lila Murphy, and myself present, and the ever-gentle Dr. Ward presiding.
Not long in to my relationship with Amy Cole, I decided to move down to Dallas to pursue a Master’s Degree in Sports Marketing and Management, along with work at the Dallas 2012 Olympic Bid effort. I moved back to Dallas in 1999, and she followed around Easter of that year. We lived in a rented townhouse in North Dallas, joined a health club, and she began making friends. However, throughout the year 2000, with my continued pursuit of an education, mountain bike racing, and even a little road racing, there were hours and days when, before she found a job that she liked, when she was alone, and lonely. Finally, in early 2001, after we had moved in to the townhouse in Uptown, we came to the conclusion that we could own a dog, and that it would be a great opportunity for her to get out in to the neighborhood, and meet people.
We looked in the newspaper, found a breeder with a dog that was the last remaining pup of her litter, out in Garland, and made arrangements for a visit. “Rhetta’s Little Shadow”, with a Mom named Easter, and a brother named “Rocky” from a previous litter, had been the runt, and at four months of age, was quickly learning about getting stepped on and over by all the other rowdy dogs in the house. She was scared of us at first, but after about 20 minutes of coaxing, she leapt on to the covered sofa, and rolled right over, asking for a belly rub, which we both gladly provided. It was love at first sight, and two or three days later, I picked her up, and drove her home. The entire time in my lap that day, she was stiff, as if she had no idea what was going on, where her brothers and parents were, and what new sights and sounds awaited. The rest of that day, I had her on a lead in the garage, with the door open, while I worked on some bicycle stuff, and she never moved. Finally, when the setting sun hit her just right – she relaxed, lay down, and soaked it up.
That evening, when it was time to go to bed, Amy and I decided that it would be best if Shadow were to learn how to stay in her kennel. We set it up out in the office, down the hall, and TRIED to go to sleep…. That lasted, maybe, one night! Her yapping and crying and pleading, followed by her EXPLODING bowels in that cramped space, led us to try a different approach the next night. This time, we tried to put her on her newly-purchased pillow, on my side of the bed, just so she’d know that we were there, and be satisfied to be in the same room with us. Well – not so much. She couldn’t jump on to the bed at that point, but she could run around all three sides, and put her paws up, and beg. After about two hours of us trying to calm her down, and re-set her on the pillow, we gave up. She was on the bed, and not just wedged in between us, she was UNDER the sheets, at the FOOT of the bed. We finally went to sleep, and woke up with her in mostly the same place – curled up under the sheets, sleeping but awake with one eye open, like we all know Bostons can do.
Later, Shadow would learn to move up and down the sheets, and even curl up in the backs of our knees. She was particularly fond of sleeping between Amy’s legs, snuggled up against her PJ’s. It was the beginning of a 13 year love affair with a dog who became “The Mayor of the Katy Trail” at some point, and a favorite of restaurants and shops all over Knox and the West Village!
Shadow grew up with us, teaching us as much as we taught her. She did,however, have some health issues early in life that led us to a Specialist, who dismissed her problems as “unsolveable”, and directed us to “return her.” Amy and I had completely fallen for her by that point, though, and we were not going to take that for an answer. So, on a rainy midweek day, I drove down to Texas A&M, where I spoke with a grizzled, experienced small-animal Vet Professor, who said, “He told you that? Well Hell, I taught him – I’ll just call him up and have a chat with him about his bedside manner.” I have no doubt that he did. He looked at Shadow, told me, “She’s got a stenotic trachea, and her lollygagger is stiff and to the side, and her palette is soft. But there’s no need for surgery – it wouldn’t do any good anyhow. You’ll get twelve or more good years out of her. That’ll be Fifteen Bucks!” It was the best money and time I ever spent on that dog.
Because she was older when we got her, Shadow NEVER had accidents. But on September 11, 2001, I was stepping out of the shower, one foot in, one foot out, when I saw the crisis unfold on the television, and started screaming. Shadow, not knowing what was going on, had her last accident – it was an appropriate distraction for that day, and having her there for loving and affection while we watched the whole thing on television, was extremely comforting. Later that month, Shadow hooked up with her Boston Cousins, Bob and Jack, over at my brother’s house, and we all laughed and cried and basically got drunk on red wine, watching the three dogs celebrate Shadow and Jack’s birthdays, eating a doggie-cake from a local pet bakery. Bob and Jack, being boys, devoured it. Shadow was content to sit in my mom’s lap and lick her portion, nibbling here and there. We have pictures somewhere, and I’ll post them if I can pull them all up. Some may need to be scanned.
We also have a photo of Shadow with her ‘Aunt’ Polly, our first Boston. Polly regarded other dogs as pests, but the photo of Shadow trying to get Polly to play with her is priceless. Polly passed away in my arms in 2005, I think, right before the holidays. In many ways, we thank her for setting us on the Boston path.
Shadow grew up on daily walks around Uptown, and the neighbors and myself soon took over an abandoned, gated yard on the corner of Elizabeth and Travis. Over the years, she made friends with other four-footers, some in passing, some forever. One night in the 00′s, we went to a Tsunami Relief fundraiser, and bid on a dinner cooked by the host. They had two dogs in an 800 square foot space, but Shadow and “Chagall”, a Spononi, played the entire night together, running up and down the stairs, under the couches, outside, inside, and in the (small) patio. Their antics only made the evening greater, as we laughed harder with each and every slice, dice, cut and romp. Shadow had another friend, Caesar, who started off weighing just as much as she did, and later, as he grew to over 150 lbs! (He was a St. Bernard), he greeted her just as softly, and frequently plopped down to let her run all over and around him. His licks were so slobbery, they required a bath almost immediately! The one time that she ‘ran away’, she ended up at the Dog Park, only to be immediately recognized and returned. Her longest friend from the neighborhood, Sydney, also grew up at the dog park, and we frequently met Jen on walks. Amy and Shadow made friends with Maria and her puppy Bella, and we would all meet for neighborhood chatter at the park. But people move away, and dogs tend to grow old, and it was obvious that Shadow’s throat wouldn’t let her enjoy hot weather nearly as much as cooler temps, so eventually, with her leading the way past the dog park, we moved on. I hope one day it’s designated as a public space – it’s small, well kept, and private and peaceful.
Our travels in the decade frequently required us to be gone for a week or two at a time, and when those trips occurred, Shadow would stay with her “Grandma” and “Grandpa”, Betty and Vic Colburn. Betty had been my Dental Hygienist for a long, long time, and her side job of caring for small dogs, along with her location close to D/FW airport, was perfect. Amy and I became friends with them, inviting them over for holidays, staying after our trip had ended to retell tales in the back yard, while Shadow played with the other dogs. One of her best friends at that location was “Duke”, an Australian Shepherd, who lived just behind the Colburns. She and Duke became fast friends, and Shadow, smart as she was, learned to bark at the back gate, until either Vic let her run across to his house (he had a doggy door, and she made herself welcome!), or he’d run over to the gate from his side of the lawn. They played, they chased each other, they took naps together, and he cared for her and she for him. It was a true, doggy friendship.
One of my clients, Lila, ended up becoming friends with Amy, and they kept that friendship alive as Lila moved from Dallas to Ft. Worth, and then back again, with a detour to Pittsburgh! Cassie, her terrier, welcomed Shadow to their home many a time, and she and Shadow, knowing what an awesome cook Lila was, ended up at her feet frequently, begging for handouts. With faces like theirs, who could deny them?! You’d think they were lacking for everything!
I think the one special thing about Shadow’s personality, that she just sort of fell in to on her own, was her LOVE for stuffed hedgehog squeeze toys. She frequently would take a new one, chew off the eyes and nose, and then turn it over to the rump, where she would literally nurse herself in to a stupor. She was most at peace and happy when surrounded by people she loved, and nursing, semi-conscious. I think we went through the company’s entire stock of hedgehogs, because as she grew older, they were harder and harder to find, and she shunned unauthentic replacements.
We had a scare in the mid-to-late decade of the 00′s. As Shadow grew older, her snoring grew louder, and she developed sleep apnea, often not breathing for a minute or more at a time when in slumber. One spring, it got so bad that we took her back to the specialists (our first mistake), and under their supervision, they recommended all sorts of tests and diagnostics. I think the total bill was over $5000, but after it was all over, we ended up with a dog that had a palette surgery, slight stenotic nares fixes, and… she still snored. We promised her NEVER AGAIN, and resolved to keep the house cooler to accommodate her breathing disorders. She took up stations at the top of the Sofa in the loft, and also at the top of the chair facing the private street, and watched the world go by, sunning herself, sleeping with one eye open, watching me as I worked first on my Master’s Degree, then on my business as a coach for OnlineBikeCoach.com, and then as a consultant for a power meter company. She was privy to my rants, frequently appeared on Skype for conversations with clients in South Africa, England, Germany, and elsewhere. EVERYONE heard her snores, and we eventually had to have her leave the room.
Shadow was also quite the traveler! Her diminutive size made her perfect for stuffing under the seat in front of aircraft, and she took her first flight with us in 2002, flying to Charlotte, NC, so we could drive back together as a family, to Dallas. Later, she drove with us all over Texas as we went to bike events, and even flew to Seattle, Twice, over the holidays, to visit with Amy’s family! We stayed at the Hotel Andra downtown, which was VERY pet-friendly, and she made herself right at home! Amy recalled that the first time we stayed there with her, we taught her to exit the elevator to the right, but that the second time, we had a room to the left — and she still, based on her incredible memory, went RIGHT as we exited! This dog was SMART! We took her for an incredibly long walk on Christmas Day, going all the way to the sculpture museum, and then to the sound, so she could see and smell the ocean. When I unthinkingly tossed a stick in to the sound… SHE CHASED IT! We have it on video somewhere, but it was like, OH NO! SHADOW! NO! YOU’LL FREEZE TO DEATH! But she was SO ALIVE on that trip! You could tell that she was just soaking all of it in. Family, food, sights, sounds, smells, aromas, all of it. Amy has a special knicknack shop that she enjoys, and the woman there has a dachsund who is the shop dog. Sam and Shadow finally got to meet those two times, and it was really fun to watch them, and know that they knew their parents enjoyed each other and enjoyed them. Just last week, I got a photo of Sam from Amy. I’ll include it in this post.
From an early age, Shadow learned that her dad was a cyclist and a cycling coach. She traveled with me everywhere, to clients’ houses, to the Bike Mart, to races and rallies, all of it. She was a regular guest at all Richardson Bike Mart’s, and the staff at all the locations knew her well. The South store had treats for pets, and she would make a beeline for the spot, and then set up barking when no one was immediately available. Oh lord, her muffled bark was special. Not too loud, but just enough to get attention. And her pawing — I think I taught her to be left-handed, teaching her tricks, like “Sit”, “Howdy Do!”, “High Five”, and “Rollover”. At the studios, she grew accustomed to the music, spent her time walking through and between all the moving parts and wheels and cranks and cleats, and was never once struck. She’d frequently lie down on someone’s jacket or purse, and start snoring, which just meant you had to turn the music up a little louder! People brought treats of their own, and she knew the JCC inside and out. She’d never run away, but she did know how to get from one studio to another. Kids frequently made their way to the studio, just to see her and pet her and give her treats. Just to cover our bases, we not only had her blessed at St. Michael’s, we also had a Rabbi do a prayer. I think they worked. I know she’s up in heaven. In late 2008, she actually traveled with us down to Fredericksburg, TX, where she MADE FRIENDS WITH A CAT! THAT was a surprise, but again, she had a blast!
I can’t let this story continue without a sad side note and prelude to the final years. In 2009, my wife began to have trouble with her back, her legs, and her chest. The diseases and maladies remained a mystery, and combined with her frustrations at work, along with my own ambitions and doubts, the marriage began to fray. I blame myself for this, and I’ll never forgive myself completely for the frustration and neglect I showed to Amy and the relationship, but the pain of the injury and the pain of the hurt I caused never quite healed, and we separated in 2012. Through this period, Shadow remained stalwart, loving us both equally, and realizing that her time on the bed was over, she learned to sleep in the open closet, where her snores were muffled by the clothing. She’d start on the bed, but once the noise became cacophonous, we’d stir her, and say “closet’, and she’d hop off and trot away. In the mornings, we would wake her up, which got progressively harder to do as her hearing went, and she’d relocate someplace closer to us, or go back once her walk was done. When I moved out, Amy and I agreed to share custody, and Shadow continued to be our companion for the next two years. She always greeted Amy with kisses, and always met me at the door on Sundays when I would pick her up, with a scramble to the sofa we shared. We always talked, and she loved that “Family Time”, of the three of us together.
When Vic died last summer, we took a hedgehog to the Cemetery, and had it placed next to his urn, so that he and Shadow could be together in the afterlife.
In the last year, from about the time that I moved out of the JCC, Shadow’s breathing slowly became more labored, her eyesight grew worse, and her hearing faded. She had developed a notch in her spine at some point in the last years, and this inhibited her a bit from jumping up and down places. We accommodated her with a ladder (which she never used), and lots of picking up. In October of 2013, she choked on a piece of chicken, and almost died. I was able to pull the piece out just in time, but she lost her bladder as she neared asphyxiation. It happened again in January of 2014, this time she went completely limp as well. We performed a sort of CPR on her, and she revived — and acted like a puppy for about three days, full of energy and sort of desperate. Her begging only grew worse, and my early mornings at Denny’s were not complete until she’d scarfed down one, then two, then THREE, and finally FOUR freakin’ sausages! Yeah – I know, that probably contributed to her demise, but I’m tellin’ ya, you can’t deny those eyes, or that bark, especially after TWO close calls!
At some point in the last two weeks or so, I really noticed that Shadow was almost completely deaf. She’d flinch when you picked her up. I also notice that she was probably completely blind in the right eye, and mostly blind in the left. She began to have accidents almost nightly. Her snoring grew worse, as did her restlessness. I’d frequently get up earlier and earlier to intercept her accidents, but I was usually too late. Then her bowels began to get runny and were diminished. In conversations with Amy, who was dealing with struggles of her own with her aging mom, she also noticed the blocking. She seemed less hungry. She drank incessantly, but only small amounts. She aspirated everything that wasn’t soft-solid, like eggs. Her breathing just got worse. Finally, last week, when the weather turned, I noticed that she went from a rough respiration to wheezing perpetually. I knew that this was probably it. Amy and I stayed in contact the last week, and on that Friday, when I handed her over, she sounded horrible. After about an hour at home, Amy took a look at her, and noticed that her tongue, normally pink, had turned blue. With an E-clinic about 100 feet away, she took her there, and called me with the news.
Oxygen at 82%.
Liver count, 8x normal.
White blood count, way above normal.
X-rays revealing white blocks everywhere in the abdomen.
There was only one cause- cancer. It was time.
We kept her in an Oxygen chamber until that morning, so she could breathe easier, but her rate never went above 89%. Amy was supported by Lila, who came over, helped her get Shadow, and drive up the street to Dr. Ward’s Clinic, where I was waiting. Dr. Ward, our lifelong vet, through four Bostons, was his usual awesome, sweet, soft self. We went to the back, where I’d gone to hold Brian’s dog “Bob”, as he went to sleep, years before, and we said our goodbyes. Shadow licked each and every one of us, multiple times, and licked the hedgehog we’d brought with us, in a final farewell. As the barbiturate was being administered, I was able to pull a prayer that my good friend, P.M. Summer, had given me, and read it out loud. Here it is, re-written with his permission:
Heavenly Father God,
Thank you father, for Your gifts of Creation and of life. You animated matter to reflect Yourself. You gave us life so that we could be in Your image, and gave us companions in the form of animals so that we might see Your love for us reflected in our love for our animal friends.
They love us, as we love them, only more so. They trust us, more than we can trust. They protect us, as best they can. They nurture us, as we provide for them, doing what is right and loving for them.
You have given us authority over them, not to abuse or destroy, but to love and care for, just as you have intrusted all creation to us.
We thank you for Shadow, good and faithful companion. Beloved friend for an all too brief period in our eyes. But in your creation, there is no “time” in love. Love is timeless, and Shadow will not only always be loved by Amy and Richard, she will always love them.
As our times end, so all life in this age must come to an end. You have appointed us as shepherds to care for the ones You have put in our charge. To feed, to nourish, to protect… and to cause pain to cease when that is the only recourse. In the wild, nature moves quickly, but in the world of humans, nature is delayed, often painfully. As good shepherds, our task can be difficult. But loving.
We thank you that Amy and Richard’s love for Shadow extends to what is best for her, and that the pain they feel is mitigated by the pain Shadow will no longer feel, as You call her to a place where all life eventually returns… to You.
In your son Jesus’ Name, in the Unity of the Trinity, and in the great act of love You have shown us, we commend Shadow to your eternal care. Thank you, Father.
And with that, she relaxed, and left us.
Love for a pet is a wonderful but awkward thing. It’s a parallel to our love for others. It’s also unconditional. We hurt others through our actions and words, but with a pet, that love is always returned with licks, pawing, howling, playing, teasing, tossing, and wagging. I am a very imperfect person, but I am so grateful for the gifts that Shadow gave Amy and myself, as well as others. I’m going to return to this post as I remember stories about her, like the time she spent the night with a neighbor because that neighbor had suspected that there was an intruder. Imagine that – Shadow was a guard dog! Grrr!!!!
Anyway, thank you for reading, and feel free to post your own stories about Shadow. Please don’t forget to include Amy Lee Cole (firstname.lastname@example.org) in any notes or condolences – in many ways I worry more about her, than myself. She was a special soul, who came to us at just the right time, and left the world a better place while she was in it. Amen.