once upon a time, when i was a wee little kiddo, we had a german shepherd named Sheba. to my 2 feet taller than the ground eyes, this dog was the most enormous gentle giant to ever walk the face of the earth. when my brother or i fell over, as toddlers often do, she was right there leaning over us, making sure nothing was really hurt. she tolerantly and patiently allowed us to use whatever part of her was a convenient handhold – fur, mouth, whatever – to pull ourselves back vertical. she was an amazing guardian and an a+ babysitter. my 4 year old self was far too young to actually understand death when my mom had to explain to us how sometimes, when people are sick, they’re sick in their minds and not just their bodies. some crazy man, peeved over deed restriction changes or something, had poisoned several dogs in the neighborhood.
flash forward a dozen or so years, to the end of my sophomore year in college. my then-roommate and i had just moved out of the dorm and into the little house 3 blocks from campus that i’d occupy for the next 7 years. i was all kinds of giddy to be free of the dorm’s pet restrictions (ineffectual though they were, just try keeping animals away from a pre-vet student), and had a burning desire to get a puppy, so i was perusing what the local animal shelter had available. halfway down the center aisle on the left, there was a little sable & white sheltie with 3 white-on-cream pups with her. the pups were cute as buttons, of course, but at about 10 weeks old, their constant inescapable antics were getting annoying to the old girl. having volunteered at this shelter before, i knew where all the equipment was kept, so i grabbed a leash to take her outside to the exercise yard for a few minutes of kid-free relaxation. when we got outside, i took her off the leash to let her run around. she nosed in a corner for about 90 seconds, just long enough for me to settle down onto the curb, then turned around and made a beeline for me. she hopped right in my lap and gave me that look, and it was all over.
i took her ID card up to the front desk to start the adoption process. “oh, this dog is heartworm positive,” the receptionist said, “hopefully, a vet will be willing to do her treatment for whatever the shelter will pay, but we can’t put any kind of guarantee on this dog’s health. do you still want her?” of course i did, she had, after all, already informed me we belonged together. they did manage to find a vet to get her treated (a rather dangerous and rough intervention – the treatment at the time involved intravenous dosing of an arsenic compound), and we were good to go. “it says here that she’s 6 years old,” i was further informed, “and her name is Sheba.” now, i never believed the dog had been reincarnated, their personalities being so different after all, but i’ve always thought i got my childhood dog back when she came to live with me.
and so we had many wonderful adventures. this picture has been under a little window on my mousepad for years:
that little look – the one where her face says “aaaah, yes, well, i see you’ve caught me on the furniture,” while the tail is wagging anyway – is her in a nutshell. after a few short days of figuring out crate training, she had the run of the house and the safety of her little cave. the neighbor’s dog taught her to bark at squirrels, and i will never forget the amazed look of comprehension on her face once she figured out what all the noise was about. once, on an overnight camping trip to a local lake, she got so be-stunk with dead fish that she had to get a forced bath in lake water with dish detergent – though her grin with oily, spiky fur sticking out everywhere said she didn’t regret a thing. strikingly clever, words dropped in a casual, conversational tone of voice were all that were necessary to get her do do most things – people never failed to be mightily impressed that a “hey sheba, go to bed,” sent her unerringly for her crate. she was always an awful racist/sexist, barking at black men but never women. she would leap through the open windows like an agility champion when called to race out in the front yard. thunderstorms scared the crap out of her, and i would be awakened in the middle of the night by 30 pounds of vibro-dog slamming into the back of my legs as she leapt to the apparent safety of the bed. she was every bit as tolerant and patient as her like-named predecessor when rushed by little kids…or when palpated for bony prominences by budding veterinary anatomists. cat-lover friends told me, “well, if every dog was like this one, i’d actually like dogs.”
she saw me through 3 addresses, 2 states, 3 love affairs, a pair of degrees and a residency, the hell of ACLAM board prep, triumphs and illnesses, and some rather amazing parties. twelve years, one month, and five days. two-fifths of my life has been shared with this amazing daughter of mine.
goodnight, baby, i miss you so much already.