Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Runaway dog

Sheba found me when I was 12 and then she was with me until she died 13 years later. She saw me through high school, university and the first two years of a career. There were a few four month periods while I was going to uni or working between terms when for some reason or another I couldn't have her stay with me but other than that, she was my constant companion. When I was a kid, I didn't fully appreciate the duration of that friendship nor the scope of it and it wasn't until a lifetime later, after Sheba was gone, when I finally understood companionship was more precious than pretty much anything else that I realized what a thing it was to have had her by my side through all those formative years.

She showed up one day in the winter when I was tobogganing in the nearby ravine back in the days when kids could still go out and do stuff like that without having to have their parents there supervising. Of course I didn't know her name then. She was just hanging around, like a kid who didn't have any friends, curious about what we were doing and wanting to join in but not daring to ask for fear of being rejected. I didn't know much about dogs but I was pretty sure she was a Husky of some sort. When it came time for my friends and I to leave, instead of going back to where ever she came from, she followed me a ways and I beckoned her a ways and in this manner she ended up at my front doorstep.

I told my father that a dog had followed me home and that she had frostbite on her feet and that she was obviously lost and could we maybe let her into the house for a bit just to warm up and give her something to drink and feed her something and to my surprise, my father said yes to everything. After watching her gobble down some leftovers, I was sure my father was going to put her out again but instead, he let me convince him to let her stay the night inside.

That first night, she was kept in the basement and my father slept beside her on the couch. I'm not sure why my father did that, not sure if he was watching over her or keeping an eye on her.

I enlisted a couple of friends and we paraded Sheba around our suburban neighbourhood for the next three days after school, knocking on doors, trying to find her owner. I figured it would be a good thing to return her but of course I wished for failure.

We didn't find anyone who knew anything about the dog during our door knocking but a few days later, some kids knocked on my door and announced that they knew the owners of the dog and they'd bring her back to them. I asked the kids (who were even younger than I and looked rather shifty to my biased eye), since they said they knew the dog, if they knew what her name was and they said "Sheba" and when they said Sheba, she ran over to them. That was that then. I let them take her.

Two days later, one of the kids showed up again at my door. He had brought Sheba back.

"They don't want her," he said.

"What do you mean they don't want her?" I asked.

"They said she ran away and they don't want her anymore," he said. "They just said to let you have her." And that was fine by me.

After that first night in the basement, Sheba never had to sleep down there again, though she did anyway once summer came around because it was much cooler underground. Generally, she slept in the kitchen on the linoleum floor. After I took her away to university, she was allowed on the futon but she didn't like sharing so she eventually found her own favorite spot on one of the soft armchairs.

There was nothing like a dog for putting order and routine to my schedule. Except for those few months when we were separated, I pretty much walked Sheba twice a day, every day of her life. Her fur, while beautiful and luxurious, was a pain and if I wasn't brushing it off her, I'd be vacuuming it up off the floor which, as was the fashion back then, was mostly shag carpeting. Once a day, I fed her crappy kibble because that's all that was available and I didn't know any better. I took her to the vet once a year for check-ups and for her annual rabies shots which was excessive but again, I didn't know any better and that's what we were told was the right thing to do. I brought her to dog training classes where I was taught how to train her to sit and down and heel - sort of - and stay - sort of - and come - hardly and only if she wanted.

I never could get Sheba to give me a consistent return when called. There was always something inside her that wanted to pull away a bit, wander, explore. I suppose it was the same thing in us as kids that made us want to stay out just 10 more minutes or beckoned us into the derelict house at the end of the street.

Back then was a time when people would frequently just let their dogs out the front door for a roam around fully expecting their dogs to return and I guess usually they did. I never did that with wayward Sheba, though. Even when I let her off leash in the backyard, I'd keep a careful eye on her, never daring to leave her to her own devices for even a minute.

One time, I slid open the patio door without looking first and then when it was too late, Sheba and I both saw the neighbour's miniature poodle pissing in our backyard. Sheba tore off after it and chased it Loony Tunes style in circles around our yard then out of our yard and into the neighbour's front yard then into the neighbour's backyard where well dressed grown-ups were having an afternoon cocktail party. Yes, bad things ensued. The two dogs had already outrun me and so I stood there on the other side of the opaque fence listening to the yelling and screaming and breaking. Then there was a splash. The neighbour's had a pool and something big, maybe a person, maybe a dinner table, had fallen in. I never dared ask. Later, I was forced to go over and apologize even though to my reckoning it was the poodle's fault for pissing on our lawn.

I did lose Sheba a few times. She'd slip her collar or run out the front door or find some new way of escaping the backyard. Each time I'd call animal control or whatever it was called back then hoping they'd found her and each time they had and they'd tell me to come by and pick her up. It was a big deal losing her but it also wasn't a big deal. Dogs were just animals back then, not family members, replaceable and cheaply held. And I was also immature. I'd not suffered through any great loss, didn't fathom the possibility of it and so just assumed that everything would always turn out okay.

Her running away stopped for the most part after a few years. I don't know if she just decided that roaming around on her own wasn't really all that exciting or if I just got better at hanging onto her. In the later years, Sheba only ran away twice. One time was during a term away at university. I'd left her with a friend while I was off campus for the weekend and when I got back, he told me she had run off on one of their walks. They had been out in the field across the road from the dorms where I lived and there had been a thunder strike overhead. Sheba freaked out and pulled out of her collar and tore off. My friend tried chasing her but couldn't catch up and pretty soon she was out of sight.

I was frantic after he told me. It was a Sunday and when I called the pound, I got a recorded message saying they were closed. I didn't know what to do so I worried for an hour or so. I finally decided to call the police which, looking back on it now, was a ridiculous idea. Anyway I called them expecting not much at all but I had to do something.

I explained the situation to the person who answered the phone and he listened patiently enough and was in the process of telling me there was nothing he could do when he decided to humour me and turned around and asked someone in the background if there were any reports of a lost dog in the last while. I heard some mumbling and then some laughing and then he came back on the phone. Yeah, he says. Some dog, soaking wet, ran into someone's house while they had their front door open unloading groceries. The dog, a wet hairy thing, ran straight into the living room and crawled under a coffee table. The husband tried to coax the dog out but it wouldn't budge. They tried calling animal control but animal control was closed. They ended up calling the police to remove the dog and the police went and leashed the dog and then had to call the pound manager away from his Sunday dinner to open up the kennels so they could put the dog inside for the evening.

I wasn't actually sure it was Sheba until I arrived at the pound the next morning. Well, it was her and when I got her out of the kennel, she still looked damp from the day before and she stank of the pound, probably having to sleep in her own piss for the evening. She was happy to see me but I ruined the welcome home by giving her a bath.

That was the last time Sheba ran away until the end, until the very last time.

I was in Toronto by that time. I shared a house with three others up on Finch. Sheba lived with us and she had finally settled down it seemed. I could walk her off leash in the open fields just north of us and she'd do a pretty good job of following. She was at least fourteen years old at this point but I never noticed a decline her health or spirit, however those days she was as happy to lie on the grass in the backyard with her nose up in the air as she was to go for a walk.

One weekend, I went on a canoe trip and left Sheba at home with one of the roommates. When I got back and walked in through the front door, the usual hysterical dog greeting I always got didn't happen. Then my roommate came downstairs and told me that Sheba had been struck by a car. My roommate had taken Sheba for a walk in the fields. She hadn't even taken Sheba off leash when Sheba heard the rumble of a low flying plane overhead. I guess she mistook it for thunder. She pulled the leash out of my roommate's hands. Sheba ran across Finch and when the car hit her, she was killed instantly. Sheba was running away but she was running away for home.

A few days later, I got a phone call from the person who had hit her. He was extremely apologetic. He wanted to buy me a replacement puppy but I knew it wasn't his fault and I turned down his offer. Anyway, it wasn't a good time for me to be getting another dog (as it turned out, I wouldn't get another dog until Stella).

As unfortunate as the accident was, it saved me from having to make the hard decision I would've had to have made in the not too distant future. You see, a couple of months earlier, during Sheba's annual check-up, the vet had found some lumps on her underside. He did a biopsy of one of them and it turned out to be cancer. Cancer treatment for dogs back then wasn't an ideal option, at least the vet didn't talk much about it. He basically just said that her time was limited.

I never saw Sheba's body after she died. She had been taken away and cremated by the time I got back from the canoe trip. I never said goodbye to her. There was no closure and in a way that allowed me to not have to face the emotional turmoil of her passing all at once. In my head I knew she was gone but that was an abstract thing. In my heart, I told myself that she could still be out there running towards the next scent, towards whatever it was she'd been searching for all her life.


Ian said...

What a beautiful tribute to a much loved dog.She sure knew what she was doing when she caught your eye at that toboggan hill.They just seem to know.

Lynda said...

Wow, what a beautiful story about a beautiful relationship. Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...


Sheba was movie star beautiful! Did you take this photo of her?

Thank you for sharing a bit about her with us. You've made me miss my doggies very much.

Just got back from visiting the dogs at TAS. They were all excited because a volunteer was there to take them for a walk.

Jo Ann said...

Fred, I love your blog and I loved this post. Sheba, Stella, Rocky...the luckiest dogs on earth.

Jo Ann

Fred said...

Rita, yeah I took that pic back when film was still the only game in town. I wish I'd taken more photos of her than I did.

I did a lot of things which I'd now consider wrong in raising Sheba - like the time about a month after taking her in, I spent an afternoon trying to cut her fur shorter because her undercoat was white and I wanted a white Husky. She was so patient with my foolishness. If I went back and met my former self, I'd give him a slap upside the head for some of those things.

Rachelle said...

Fred, I love your blog and check in every now and then to catch up. I felt compelled to comment on this... such a lovely and heartfelt tribute to a gorgeous dog. Sounds like you had a wonderful bond with her and you obviously have alot of amazing memories...

I can relate to being young and foolish too with my pets. When I was in my early twenties I had no problem at all letting my cats outside and for some reason I didn't worry too much about them; I guess I naively had confidence that they were 'street smart' and would know when and when not to cross a street, thus avoiding getting hit by a car.

Now, I could never imagine letting my cats outside; I would be beside myself with worry!!

Back to your blog... it really brought a tear to my eye; so touching, thank you for sharing. :)

Lynn said...

Thanks for a beautiful story, Fred. I had one like Sheba, except her name was Cinder. Got her when I was 9 and she was with me until I was 23. She knew all my secrets, but hardly ever told me any of hers. THAT dog...that dog who grows up with you, I think she might be the most precious one of all.

Also, I like the fact that you did all those things "wrong" but you still loved Sheba with all your heart (and vice versa, I'm sure). Maybe it will make us think twice when we see someone interacting with an animal in a way we consider unacceptable. There are other ways to love a pet. Not just our current, grown-up definition of the "perfect" way,

Lynn Orbison said...

Fred, cut yourself some slack! (not that you have much choice, there's no going back...)
My second, or maybe she was my third Golden was hit by a car while I was on vacation. The folks who were taking care of her had her cremated special so I came home to an urn. That was really hard. And she was still a young dog (well, okay, maybe four or five, still in her prime.) She took off after a squirrel across a four lane road. Didn't make it past lane two.
I'm a groomer and I shave dogs all the time. My favorite is the gal with the pomeranian that really wants it to look like a little baby husky. Yeah, well, okay. Whatever.
Thanks for sharing this great story. I have friends who have dogs that look very much like Sheba. (And another friend with an aged Dane not too different from Stella...and well, yeah, black and tan friends that could be next of kin for Rocky as well!)

Life is good. Dogs make it better.

Unknown said...

that was a very sweet and touching tribute to Sheba. Thanks for making me cry into my coffee.

Social Mange said...

What a beautiful tribute to Sheba, a wonderful dog.
Hey, we all do things "wrong" and continue to do so...isn't that how we learn what's right? :-)

Sheryl said...

Love forgives imperfections - and that works both ways.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tribute, Fred. She looks so dignified and other-worldly in that atmospheric photo. Sorry you did not have a chance to tell her goodbye, but what a wonderful memory she is for you.

Now you made me cry.

Anonymous said...

whe are you going to write a book? I swear it would be the next "Marley and me,"

Touching story Fred


Anonymous said...

What a heartfelt story...and as someone here said it's those mistakes that makes us better and the animals that sit through it.

Marcie said...

I can't think of a luckier dog, & in the end that accident was a blessing to you aswell. You were spared the sight of your friend being hit & the sight of her health going downhill. Luck was on Sheba's side the day she wandered into that ravine & it sounds to me like it was on your side aswell. (Plus your dad is amazing for letting you keep her)

Seems like the 2 of you were ment to be togehter, thank you for sharing this story with us. Beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing that story. The endings of our time with our animals is always painful, but it's so nice to hear how much she was loved.

borderjack said...

Wow...even then, you were taking such beautiful photos of dogs... Beautiful post.

Michelle said...

Oh my goodness, I'm at work reading this and am almost in tears.