I’ve put off writing this post for nearly a week now. I wanted to write it when my emotions were still raw and on the surface so that I didn’t forget my feelings. That’s my biggest fear – forgetting how I felt when he was alive and when he died.
Warning: This could trigger some unwanted feelings if you’ve been through the death of a loved one. I am not responsible for any tears beyond this point…and it’s a really long entry!
My dog, Shelton, passed away on June 4th last week. He was 13 years old, and he was my first child. Shelton was never “just a pet” to me or anyone he came into contact with. He had this way about him that people truly saw a personality in him. The impact he had on others still amazes me, especially those who only met him once. I was lucky to have nearly every day of his 13 1/2 years to experience his love, snuggles and attitude. Oh, his attitude!
On June 6th of 2012, David and I started a Facebook fan page for him. I think it started when we created fake text messages from him that were “sent” while he was home alone, and we were at work. We had both started posting a lot of pictures of Shelton on our own pages and thought it might be annoying people, so we started the fan page so that people who wanted to see his “posts” could see them and people who didn’t wouldn’t be forced into our fascination with Shelton.
People tell us that we certainly gave Shelton quite an attitude, but really Shelton just showed us his attitude in non-verbal ways. Sometimes we could just look at him and know what he was saying to us. It sometimes seems silly, but I know that we’re not the only two people who felt this way. Shelton just had that way about him.
As part of my grieving process, I want to share my memories here before I forget them (since I’ve been struggling lately with forgetting things or fear of forgetting things).
Shelton was born November 6, 1999. I picked him out when he was just 2 days old. A friend had a Maltese, and her friend was a breeder. Her name is Amy. I had met Amy a couple of times and knew that she bred dogs. I had never ‘bought’ a dog ever, and at that time in my life I couldn’t imagine paying for a dog. But that seed was planted when I talked to Amy and saw how she was more than just a dog breeder; she really loved all of those dogs. Also at that time in my life, I was still a newlywed to my (now) ex-husband, and our jobs kept us from seeing each other much because I worked days, and he worked nights. Playing with our friend’s Maltese was what made us decide that a Maltese was what we wanted.
Shelton was all of 2 ounces when he was born. I have a photo of him 2 days old, resting in the palm of my hand. That was before digital photography was popular, so I don’t know where the photo is now. He was tiny! We decided on his name the evening that we picked him out. People ask me all the time where he got his name, and honestly, it just popped into my head and just sounded right when I said it out loud. When Shelton was still a puppy, people would often comment that ‘Shelton’ was a big name for such a small dog, but it was just the perfect name for him.
We brought Shelton home when he was 8 weeks old. He weighed 13 ounces – not even a pound! He weighed as much as a can of Coke and seemed even smaller than that. It was just after Christmas when he came home to us, but we left our Christmas decorations up for him, and he even had a stocking that he fit in perfectly. He was a tiny ball of fur!
About 2 weeks after bringing him home, he wasn’t eating. I knew something was wrong. He was weak and shaky. I had tried putting some flavored vitamins on his food, but that wasn’t working. My husband took him to a nearby vet, and they said his glucose was low, so they pumped him full of sugar water. Of course his glucose was low; he hadn’t eaten anything! That night at home, he was even worse, and I was scared. I called Amy, and she asked us to meet her at her vet. The other vet had pumped so much sugar water into him that it almost sent him into a coma. Come to find out, Shelton just didn’t like the food we had given him that he would rather starve than eat the food, which by the way was a top of the line food but still wasn’t good enough for him. Amy took him for another 2 weeks, and he did fine with us after that…and after we got him some other food that he liked.
Shelton came into my life at the perfect time. As I said earlier, my husband and I were working opposite shifts, so I was coming home to an empty apartment most nights. When Shelton came along, he put meaning into my life because I no longer came home to an empty apartment. When I got home, he was a small bundle of excitement and energy. His whole body wagged when I got home! In 13 years, this never changed. The day he died, he was still running around the house as if he had won the people lottery!
Shelton really only took to two dogs in his lifetime, both of which were already around when we got him. One was my parent’s dog, Chauncee, and the other was my aunt’s dog, Zinni. Shelton only tolerated other dogs, including his brother, Copper and sister, Penny. With Chauncee, he would snuggle up to her on her bed at my parent’s house. It was so funny to see this tiny, white dog lost in the black fur of Chauncee’s. Zinni was a Westie, so Shelton looked much like her puppy. He would follow her around, and she would protect and care for him.
Shelton’s larger than life attitude extended to other dogs, as well. I have seen a German Shepard and a Pit Bull bow away from Shelton’s mighty barks. It was funny to see that he didn’t know just how small he was. Crazy!
When my ex-husband and I divorced in 2008, Shelton, Copper, Penny and I moved in with my parents out in the country. Shelton always loved exploring everything there was to explore at my parent’s house, but he was definitely more of an inside dog…or really, a couch dog. He always had a blanket to lay on at Grandma and Grumpy’s house. He always wanted the softest place to lay, even if it meant lying on my mom’s pillow or blanket on the couch. One time at their house, he had just come home from the groomer’s, and was sparkingly clean and white. Someone had put a bowl of chili on the end table to go back to the kitchen to get something. Shelton climbed onto the arm of the couch and proceeded to claim that bright orange bowl of chili as his own. His sparklingly clean and white fur became a soaked orange mess! As much as he hated baths, he sure liked to get dirty and often had a second bath after coming home from the groomers because of this. One time he rolled around in poop, and another time he got grease from the dripping grill on his head.
In 2011, David and I moved into our house together. My parents kept my dogs while we settled in. We had plans to take all three dogs after we got a fence installed. A couple of months later, we decided to go ahead and bring Shelton to the new house, because he has never been known to wander or run off. 2 years later, Copper and Penny still live with my parents because they love living in the country so much, that I feel they would never like living in the city. We have a small yard in Nashville, and my parents have 26 acres in Mount Juliet.
David has never really liked dogs much, or any kind of pet, but before we moved in together, he began to “not dislike” my dogs and tolerated them. Of course, this wasn’t good enough for Shelton, and shortly after Shelton moved in with us, David’s attitude toward Shelton began to change, and he really started seeing that Shelton was more than just a dog or a pet. Shelton really took to David, as Shelton has always been a man’s dog, despite his tendency to be a little prissy. Shelton and David were quite the pair of buddies. It was both amusing and endearing to see how much David loved and cared for Shelton, especially if you knew David’s attitude toward pets in the past. His family even saw the difference in David.
In 2012, David and I got married. I’m not sure when we made the decision, but we both knew that Shelton needed to be in our wedding. In fact, Shelton was the only one in our wedding, as we didn’t have a bridal party or groomsmen. Shelton walked us down the aisle on February 29, 2012, and we officially became a family. Even before Shelton’s death, the photos of him in our wedding made me smile. We even bought him a tiny tuxedo!
In the past year, I have really started to notice Shelton’s old age setting in. Not many saw it, but I knew he was changing. He had slight cataracts for the past few years, but they hadn’t been bad enough for surgery. In the past few months, his hearing had gone quickly to almost nothing. He no longer heard the door open when someone would come home, and his separation anxiety had grown tremendously to the point where you couldn’t leave him in a room by himself if he couldn’t get out. It broke my heart to watch him on our house cam, as he barked and howled, making sounds I had never heard him make. I sometimes saw him just standing and staring into space, and frequently he would be walking or running, and his legs would fall out from under him.
On Monday, June 3rd, David and I came home from work like usual, and Shelton did his usual running-around-the-house–so-excited-to-see-us routine. I even played with him for a couple of minutes, then I went into my room to change clothes, and Shelton followed me. I saw his back leg fall out from under him like I had seen before, but this time he couldn’t get back up. I bent over to help him back up, then that same leg went back out straight, and he started having a seizure. Several people asked me how I knew he was having a seizure, and all I can say is that I just knew. It was obvious to me what was happening.
I screamed for David, and held my finger between Shelton’s teeth so that he didn’t bite his tongue, which I later found out isn’t recommended in case he bites me, but at the time that just seemed like the right thing to do. David ran into the room and held Shelton close while I called the Emergency Vet. David said that he wouldn’t have even thought to call the Emergency Vet, but oddly enough I had just looked up their number for something else just a couple of weeks ago, so I guess it was just in my head.
Shelton came out of the seizure, but I couldn’t tell you how long it lasted. It felt like an eternity, but it was probably just a minute or two. We took turns holding him while we both got dressed again, and off to the Emergency Vet we went. Shelton was panting and shaky but mostly stable. He ended up having yet another seizure before we made it to the Emergency Vet but had calmed down again by the time we got there.
We arrived at the Emergency Vet around 8pm. They ran blood work and found that he was slightly dehydrated, and his platelets were more than twice the normal range. She gave him some subcutaneous saline for the dehydration and thought he was stable enough to go home, with plans to visit our regular vet the next morning. They did offer to keep him there but said that he would probably be more comfortable at home with us. They sent us home with a dose of valium to give him if it happened again. We left about 10pm, exhausted.
We were too keyed up to go to sleep right away, but we got into bed with Shelton and just chilled for a bit. I turned the lights out at 10:45 and had a hard time getting to sleep. Shelton slept right by my side, and sometime before 11:30 I must have dozed off, because at 11:30 I awoke to feel Shelton seizing next to me for a third time that evening. I jumped out of bed and turned on the light. David jumped up right away and started helping Shelton while I went to find the valium. We administered the valium in a not-so-fun place, and he immediately pooped. We weren’t sure how much of the valium he took in, but we hoped for the best. Afterward, Shelton did come out of the seizure, but we couldn’t get him to calm down. It was like he was crawling out of his skin and just kept trying to climb higher and higher. I thought maybe he needed to urinate since he had so much saline, so we put him down, and he just kept walking in circles, running into the walls or behind the furniture. He did pretty much the same when we took him outside.
I knew something more was wrong. This was not my Shelton.
We called the Emergency Vet and told them that we were on our way back. We decided to leave him there overnight so that they could watch him and planned to pick him up between 6 and 6:30. We left the Emergency Vet’s office again at 1 and went back to bed around 2:30, even more exhausted.
When we got to the Emergency Vet’s office a little after 6, they told us that he had another seizure around 4am. We planned to go straight to Shelton’s regular Vet instead of waiting until they opened to call and make an appointment. Shelton’s Vet is 45 minutes away, but Brogli Lane Weaver and Alexander are just too good to give up and worth the drive. I’ve been taking Shelton there since shortly after we got him and had problems with the other vet pumping too much sugar into him.
My parents met us at the vet’s office to be with us. Dr. Brogli looked over the charts that were sent from the Emergency Vet, and he had pretty much the same possible diagnoses that the Emergency Vet had told us: Possible cancer in the form of a brain tumor, inflammation or infection. He said that we could get an MRI done, but the treatment would pretty much be the same regardless of the outcome. He said he would treat him that day, and we were to call him by 2:30 if we hadn’t heard form him.
I called around 11 and left a message. Dr. Brogli called me at noon to tell me that Shelton wasn’t responding to the treatment and had another seizure as soon as the valium wore off. Basically he was having to continually be sedated in order to keep from having seizures. I asked him to continue treating Shelton until I got there at 2:30, and we were going to hope for the best in the next two and a half hours.
David picked me up from work, and I called my parents to ask them to meet us there at 2:30 and asked if my brother could meet us there, too. I was pretty sure that we were going to have to make a hard decision. And I was right. Dr. Brogli said that Shelton had not improved and was exhibiting behaviors that he had a brain tumor. He would push his head down and run into things. He was also pretty sure that Shelton had lost his vision and would probably be permanent, even if he lived. He said that we might have a few more days with him, but we would have to administer valium several times a day. I asked him the most important question of all, which is what I truly respect about Doctors Brogli, Lane, Weaver and Alexander – What would you do if this were your dog?
At 3pm, with his family surrounding him, I held Shelton in my arms one last time while he left this world and went wherever it is that dogs go when they die. I’d like to think that it’s a pretty awesome place, but everyone has their opinions on where that might be.
This is the third animal that I have been part of his or her passing, and it doesn’t get any easier.
We took Shelton home to my parent’s house and buried him in a beautiful spot under the trees in the woods surrounded by the most beautiful field of daisies I’ve ever seen and next to our cat, Sam. Shelton loved chasing Sam, so maybe that’s what he’s doing now.
Over the past week, I have gone in and out of all of the stages of grief. I know it’s normal, as long as you don’t stay in one stage for too long at one time. I think today I went through all of them at one point or another. I’m still denying that he’s gone, and sometimes I’m angry that he was taken from me. I’ve also bargained and most certainly been depressed. Every once in awhile, I actually move into acceptance, but it doesn’t last long before I’m feeling something else. I’ve cried so much since June 4th, but a little less every day. There are so many reminders of him around the house. He was a fixture in our home, and you just can’t erase him like he was never here.
A few days last week, I posted from my Twitter to his when I was thinking about him. I know it seems weird, but it was the only way I knew to get those feelings out. It was hardest the first time we came home, and he wasn’t there to greet us at the door. I nearly fell apart. I thought of him when I made popcorn, because we always shared the snack together. One of his beds is still on the couch between where David and I sit. I haven’t had the heart to move it just yet. His blanket is still on my bed and probably always will be.
The truly awesome thing in all of this is that David gets it. He understands all of these feelings that I am having and shares them, as well. There have been several occasions where I just bust out crying, and he doesn’t ask why. He just holds me and comforts me. This is huge for me, because I don’t like crying in front of ANYONE, and I especially don’t like having to explain my tears and emotions. I know it will get better, but we have to go through the mourning process to get through it together.
Shelton, you have truly been a joy in my life. I never thought I could feel this way about “a dog,” but you sure proved me wrong. I hope you’re happy wherever you are and that you have the comfiest bed in a warm and sunny spot, just like you enjoy the most. I love you, my Pookie! <3
“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”― Josh Billings