This past week Shiloh passed away. It’s hard to know how, or to what extent, people grieve as the experience is an intensely personal one but I have always felt that I’ve had a particularly intense relationship with my dogs. I grew up without siblings, in a neighborhood bereft of children (or at least children within an age range for me to interact with) and was socially awkward among those in my ago cohort so dogs filled the roles of friend and sibling in my early years.
As I got older, human interactions became easier and more frequent but the die had been cast. Dogs would hold a cherished place in my life and be afforded consideration equal to that of my human companions. That certainly didn’t always make things easy, particularly with Shiloh who had some serious psychological problems but I simply had no other choice nor would want one.
I began thinking about the human-dog relationship and it occurred to me that it is the one personal relationship that we humans enter into knowing that we’ll be there for the entire duration. Human relationships don’t work that way. Parents may bring children into the world but the expectation is that those children will outlive them. Children will outlive their parents but have no choice in entering into that relationship. Friends and spouses enter into each others lives at some point after it’s begun and (probably) more frequently than not isn’t expected to last until the bitter end.
But when you adopt a dog into your household it is with the foreknowledge that you will see its entire life contained within yours. Perhaps in some ways this serves to remind us of our own mortality. I tend to think of it as the price one must pay. For years of happiness and unconditional acceptance and love, we must be the ones that provide comfort and care when our dogs are infirm and occasionally make the decision to say ‘Enough, it’s time.’
I have had pets for which I waited too long to make that decision. Either out of selfishness, fear or unfounded hope I allowed them to suffer beyond what they should have. I am convinced I made the decision at the right time with Shiloh.
On another note, I think it’s interesting to note what I think is an interesting cultural shift that I’ve observed through this process. As I spread the word about Shiloh through various virtual and actual social networks I’m connected to, the sympathy and support was both genuine and deeper than I think would have been the norm 20 or 30 years ago.
In any case, I lost a good friend last week. We had been together for 15 years and had seen me through a military deployment (never again will a dog cry when I take out my old uniforms), a divorce (where we started anew in a tiny, one-bedroom ‘bachelor pad’), run ins with a bear, a deer and countless smaller animals, a new marriage, a frantic 24 hours missing from home, countless hikes, drives and trips to the park.
If he was acting up I would order him to his bed and he’d growl and cast angry glances over his shoulder the whole way like a petulant child but he’d go. He would always obey which was critical given his temperament and beagle’s nose. Shiloh loved to run with me and for 11 years we would run the trails near whatever home we happened to be living at. He was a wonderful running partner, never straying from my side, even upon the appearance of a squirrel, deer or horse.
Shiloh was a lot of work and occasionally more than a bit of frustration and trouble. And I’d honestly give so much to have him back and go through it all again.
And so, I’ll return to my childhood and this clip from one of my favorite Twilight Zones which, I think encapsulates how I felt about Shiloh. Certainly, hell is any place without dogs. I’m not much of a believer in the hereafter but man, it’d sure be nice if it was like that…