Last Saturday, Shileau and I spent the morning in the garden, she doing a bit of exploring, but mostly just laying in the sunshine, watching me wander about, listening to the birds and the bees going about their spring rituals. Our vet and an assistant showed up around 11, and then, just like that, she was gone.
‘A four acre walk’ is how Shileau and I often started the morning – heading out the door to greet the day, walking the perimeter of the property, she scuffling about, sniffing coyote or rabbit tracks, me looking to see if anything new had sprung from the ground, or was about to burst into bloom.
Shileau came to us as a two year old puppy, rescued from the southern U.S. by the Oakville, Ontario based Lab Rescue organization. She was shy and fearful of a lot of things – mainly loud noises at first, but also, we discovered, other dogs. She suffered from something called ‘fear aggression’ – meaning that her fear led her to be overly aggressive. She did have doggy friends, but it took a while, with several stressful (for us) meetings, before she was comfortable with another dog. Dog parks and even greeting unknown dogs while out for a walk was a no-no! (And yes, we had trainers and brought her to classes etc. Turns out fear aggression is not uncommon.)
Like most labs, she had a great nose, and could follow a critter trail all day if allowed! Unlike other labs, she wasn’t a fan of water. Oh, she loved to splash around in puddles and the drainage swale that runs through the property, slurping up as much water as possible along the way, but she didn’t like swimming in the lake. Perhaps she had an innate fear of the dreaded ‘undertoad’ that can be so dangerous along this stretch of the north shore of Lake Ontario.
But she loved the yard, the gardens, walking with me as I walked from one end to the other.
And she loved the woods…
And, of course, she loved road trips.
As recently as last fall, Shileau was running around and climbing stairs normally. She had been dragging her left foot a bit for a while, but we didn’t think much of it until she started to become noticeably wobbly when she was out and about. Then we noticed that her left rear paw would be upside down – she was resting and sometimes walking on the top of her foot, the toes were curled under. She stopped wagging her tail, her tail curled under her body more and she had difficulty standing up in the morning.
Our vet said all of these behaviours were symptoms of spinal stenosis – a condition well known in people, but like many human diseases, it can also appear in dogs. We agreed that, given her age, the most prudent course of action was to try various medications, including pain killers, to make her as comfortable as possible for as long as was humane and practical.
One of the most difficult decisions was to bring her bed downstairs. Like many dogs, Shileau had spent all her time with us either sleeping on the bed with us, or in her own bed, right beside ours. But to get to that bed, there was a flight of stairs. And, for as long as we could, we helped or carried her up the stairs each night. Most nights she would wake up several times, and pace around until we helped her downstairs, for a drink of water. Or a few bites of food. So we brought her bed downstairs, and listened, the first few nights, as she paced around after we went upstairs, trying to figure out how to get over the baby gate we had at the bottom of the stairs.
In the end, I think she appreciated being downstairs. It was a lot less stressful for her, not having to manage stairs. Plus, after I moved my office home to avoid getting COVID, her bed was right there, beside me, all day. It was comforting for me to be with her during her last few weeks. I can only hope she didn’t mind me hovering so much.
As anyone who shared their home with a dog will tell you, their death is like losing a family member. A companion who wanted nothing more than to be with you, who somehow knew when you were sad, and who knew when you were happy. For whom you could forgive any perceived fault or transgression, knowing they did the same for you. Shileau will forever be in our hearts and in our memory.