By Les Levoy
My wife and I first met Shelby about 16 years ago. We had just married and had a dog, Jesse, but wanted another. We agreed to go to a local shelter. One Saturday, we loaded Jesse in the car and headed for the Greater Birmingham Humane Society. We found Shelby. She was half black lab, half cocker spaniel. She was approximately 7 months old at the time.
We asked to see her and we took her out back. She and Jesse got along, and when you petted her she leaned against your leg. That was it. Shelby came home with us. She was a member of the family. Like young labs, she was full of energy and ate and chewed anything she could get her teeth into, even eating a hole the size of a large turkey platter in the kitchen linoleum floor.
She eventually settled down into a routine. Going for walks, digging for chipmunks in the backyard, sneaking upstairs to eat the cat’s food. Jesse gravitated to my wife and Shelby to me—who knows why. As the years rolled by, both dogs grew old with us. Jesse died a few years ago. Shelby was our perpetual puppy. Even after being diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live three years ago, she didn’t slow down. Shelby was going to outlive us all.
She would walk briskly during our morning walks, run around the yard, and tear through garbage with reckless abandon. You never really know about a dog’s health. Since they are natural pack animals, they’re wired to hide their failing health. If they showed weakness they would be pushed to the back of the pack. Around Christmas, I noticed Shelby was slowing down during our morning walks. Not long after that, she ate less and less, no matter what I tried. She completely stopped eating on a Thursday.
I took her to our vet that Friday, who agreed to keep her over the weekend. It might be a stomach issue. It wasn’t. With some medication, she had not eaten at all. The vet said it was time. Probably cancer. We agreed to put Shelby to sleep later that week. Nobody wanted to see her starve to death. We tried to make her comfortable. Petting her. Telling her she was a good girl, how much we loved her and were going to miss her. She died the day before we were going to put her to sleep. I was sitting next to her.
I think it’s a truism that many females look at their pets, especially dogs and cats, as their children. Guys look at their pets, particularly dogs, as their buds. I’ve lost my bud. About a week after she died, one morning, I woke up and went downstairs to my home office. The garbage had been tipped over and was lying on the floor. I know it’s probable our cat, Buttercup, was rummaging that night, but I like to think Shelby had paid us a visit and couldn’t resist.