Goodbye, my sweet pit bull girl.

November 10th, 2008 3:35 pm by Kelly Garbato

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Shadow came into our lives in the spring of ’97.

It was June 2nd – late spring, early summer. I was just finishing up my freshman year of college. Busy with school, busy with work, busy with friends. Busy, busy, busy.

Rochester springs are rainy, and the spring of 1997 was no exception. The last days of May saw a week-long rainstorm. Consequently, we spent little time outside that week. When the rain finally let up, my mom went out behind the garage – to do some yardwork, or maybe some spring cleaning. There, under our tree house on stilts, she found a shivering, emaciated little dog. The pup didn’t appear to have any identification – no collar or such – but she clearly wasn’t feral, either. She seemed scared of us, yet she didn’t bolt. My mother brought the skeletal dog a bowl of food and water. Gradually, the rest of the family arrived home from school and work, and we took turns trying to coax the little scrapper out from her cramped hiding place.

By now, it was apparent that the dog was injured. Her skin was raw and marked with gravel, and she didn’t seem able to stand. After what felt like forever, my father was able to get a good enough grip on her. He hoisted her up and into the back of his car, and off to the vet they went.

The veterinarian’s assessment, delivered the next day, was grim: the dog’s right rear leg was “shattered,” and she also had some minor cuts and bruises. Most likely she had been hit by a car: the point of impact, her broken, battered rear leg. Scraped skin and embedded gravel suggested a hard, skidding landing on pavement. She was in rough shape – and at the point of starvation, to boot.

Due to the severity of her injuries – and, even more so, the potential cost of repairing and rehabilitating her damaged leg – the vet recommended we euthanize her. “It’s too much trouble,” he said. “Too much money to spend on some stray.”

Luckily, my parents didn’t agree. I remember receiving a call from them that day at work: Well, Kelly, what do you think we should do? Even though they solicited our advice, I suspect that they’d already made their decision, and just needed an extra nudge from us kids. I think they wanted some reassurance that they weren’t crazy for spending a few grand to patch up a dog they didn’t even know. We were a solidly middle-class family, but two grand isn’t exactly peanuts for six people living on one income.

The dog – I think we were tentatively calling her “Jewel” at that point (I may have been, at least) – was transferred from our regular vet to an orthopedic specialist in Sodus, about an hour outside of Rochester. I vaguely recall making the trip with my father; he drove while Mike (Michelle?) and I sat in the back with our newest family member. We had to leave her there, with strangers, for a few weeks so she could be evaluated, operated on, and rest and recover. Of course, we weren’t much more familiar to her than the wonderful veterinary crew who fixed her up. But I felt sad to leave her, just the same.

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In the subsequent weeks, we tried to piece together “Jewel’s” story. Judging from her floppy ears and strong face – and especially her broad, muscular chest – we surmised that she must be a pit bull mix. She had a small rip in one of her ears, as if another dog had nipped and torn it. Her nipples were large and swollen, a sure sign that she’d birthed at least one litter. She was also sweet, gentle and docile: in those first hours with us, she didn’t display any signs of aggression towards all the strange humans cornering her. Even when my father picked her up and handled her, she didn’t snarl at or bite him, despite the tremendous pain she must have been in.

“Jewel” had been in some kind of car accident, that much we can be certain of. Whether she was hit by a vehicle, or had been tossed out of a moving car, we don’t know. Most likely the accident occurred on Route 104 (speed limit, 55 mph), which runs behind my parents’ house. A gully separates their property from the highway, and a rickety old chain link fence provides a sort of barrier. Over the years, though, numerous holes have been sliced in the fencing: younger kids sometimes went sledding on the incline off the roadway, while older kids escaped back there to smoke and drink. We think “Jewel” was abandoned – dumped like garbage – on Route 104, then hit by a car, possibly right behind our house. Injured, she managed to drag herself down the hill, find a break in the fencing, and crawl up another incline, until she found shelter behind our house. Because of the storm, we have no idea how long she was out there, slowly dying, before we found her. It could have been as much as week. Judging from her skeletal appearance, it was damn near that long.

We also suspected that “Jewel’s” former “owner” was involved with dog fighting. Whether “Jewel” was a breeder or a fighter, we don’t know. She had some scars consistent with dog fighting, but her sweet temperament would have doomed her in the ring. Perhaps her “owner” realized this as well, and this is why she was dumped?

After a few weeks with the orthopedic specialist in Sodus, “Jewel” was finally able to come home with us. Her shattered leg had been essentially rebuilt: when I describe it as “shattered,” I mean that literally. The bones in her right rear leg were in pieces, shattered; she required a metal plate and pins to repair it. The surgeon cautioned us that the injured leg might always be a little stiff. Later in life, he said, she’ll probably develop arthritis and she may have trouble walking. He even suggested that she might be completely immobile, starting around age eight. (She was guesstimated to be two years old when we adopted her.)

Looking back at early photos, you can see what rough shape she was in: scrapes and scratches, missing patches of fur, a shaved and stitched flank. For the rest of her life, a winding, twelve inch scar spoke of the past trauma she had suffered. It also served as a daily reminder of how amazingly lucky we were, to have her in our lives.

By then, she was the staff’s darling: such a sweet girl, such a tragic story. The luckiest part of her ordeal, everyone agreed, was that out of all the houses along the highway, she found her way into our backyard.

I know I risk sounding overly self-congratulatory here, but I don’t want a cookie. I don’t think what my family did was exceptional; in fact, just the opposite – it was our responsibility as decent human beings. Unfortunately, that’s not how the people around us saw it. My parents received more than a little grief from acquaintances over their decision to “waste” a few thousand dollars fixing up some old stray when they had children at home, mouths to feed. Even our vet, in the business of caring for injured animals, saw the stray mutt as a lost cause. Not because such radical surgery would be too stressful on her body – but because such a skilled, specialized operation would be too stressful on our pocketbooks.

Clearly, I am none too fond of this particular veterinarian.

In any case, “Jewel” came home, battered but no longer broken, and settled into the family. She quickly became a momma’s girl, shadowing my mother wherever she went. She chose her own name, I guess: Shadow.

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At that time, we already had one dog: Shannon, a black mutt we’d adopted from Lollypop Farm. Shannon was the remaining half of a pair. Her sister Shana had already passed away; we though for sure that she would outlive Shannon. Shana was Shannon’s protector, her guardian. We were shocked that Shannon outlived her “big” sis (they were the same age, really, but Shannon acted like the babe of the pair) – and by a few years, even.

So Shannon and Shadow did cross paths, albeit for a short time. My memory’s fuzzy here; until I found this photo of Shannon and Shadow sitting together with me, I’d thought they’d never met one another.

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I don’t think it was too long after we found Shadow that Shannon passed away, though. I really don’t have many memories of them interacting. In any case, I’m sure they got on swimmingly. They were both such sweet, sweet girls.

We also had a black cat, Woody. So named because I found him in the Adirondacks in August 1994, when I was “supposed” to be camping out at the 25-year Woodstock anniversary concert. (Long story, don’t ask.) He died…jeez…it must be going on two years ago now, in December 2006. Sigh. Time flies, doesn’t it?

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We welcomed Shadow into our little “pack,” and life slowly returned to normal. Despite her ordeal, Shadow was a sweet, loving, loyal companion. The capacity for kindness and forgiveness which rests within the hearts of so many animals – not because of the treatment previously received at the hands of humans, but in spite of it – truly is humbling. And more than a little scary, since so many of us are undeserving of their blind faith and unconditional love.

Shadow was exploited and abused, used until she was used up, and then dumped roadside like a bag of trash. Yet, she was still willing to trust and love again. I hope we proved worthy of her devotion.

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When speciesists yammer on about “dangerous” breeds, “vicious” dogs and “fighting” animals – pit bulls in particular, the “fighting dog” de jour – I bristle and think immediately of Shadow, my sweet pit bull girl. Perhaps all the “sweet” descriptors are starting to sound repetitive, but if I had to choose one word to describe Shadow, “sweet” would be it. When she came into our home, my youngest brother Mike was nine; I was nineteen. Over her lifetime, she was exposed to a fairly wide age range of children, and many different animals. She was gentle and loving towards them all. Even our rabbit, Pokey, and our many rescued sparrow orphans were safe with her. Our sweet Shadow was a pit bull girl with a heart of gold.

The only time Shadow exhibited signs of aggression was when she needed to protect her pack – when she thought someone was being attacked. In this regard, she’s no different than any other dog – and most humans – I’ve known.

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“Dangerous breed,” my ass.

In her first years with us, Shadow started to experience seizures. They were nothing short of terrifying. Shadow would fall into a sort of trance; her eyes would be open, but her mind was somewhere else. She’d start shaking and seize up, all stiff-like. She’d drool uncontrollably and sometimes lost control of her bladder and bowels. All we could do was hold and stroke her until it was over, and then keep her from walking until she had recovered her energy. The seizures, though relatively short – a few minutes, perhaps – took a lot out of her.

The vet’s best guess was that Shadow had experienced head trauma, either from the accident or previously, which was causing the seizures. She had them, off and on, her entire life. Kava pills helped some; they reduced the frequency of the episodes. At her healthiest, I think she was down to one seizure every three months or so. Before we tried kava, she might have one a month or more. We recorded her episodes on the calendar, and learned to anticipate when the next seizure would come.

My college years were such a blur, it’s hard conjure up specific recollections of the animals. I remember that Shadow loved carrots. My mother and sister taught her to balance a carrot stick on her nose; at their cue, she’d flick her head back, tossing the carrot into the air, and catch it in her mouth. Sometimes we’d give her veggies with our lips to steal a kiss.

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Like all dogs, she loved treats. My mother’s aunt Millie and uncle Floyd lived next door, and Shadow routinely camped out on their back steps, looking for handouts. Though they didn’t have a dog of their own, Floyd and Millie kept a jar of dog treats in their kitchen, just for Shadow. Oftentimes, Floyd would open the back door, and she’d trot in, like she owned the place. She’d hang out in the porch while he read the paper; a sort of thank you for the treat.

When she dozed off, sometimes her mouth would lull open. She had cute little teefies – I called them “rice teeth,” because they resembled gleaming white grains of rice. Holding her snout in my hand, I’d playfully draw her gums back – “show mommy your teefies!” My vicious little pit bull would tolerate the game.

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My senior year of college, I moved out of my parents’ house and in with my now-husband. Shane already had a cat – Ozzy – but being more of a dog person, I missed Shadow terribly. This, even though I lived a short 20-minute drive from my parents, worked nearby and was over there all the time anyway. Except for some very short periods between deaths, I had lived most of my life in the company of dogs. I wanted – needed! – a dog, dammit! And so it was we adopted Ralphie on July 14, 2001.

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Ralphie became my shadow. We went everywhere together; I jokingly referred to him as My Other Boyfriend and The (True) Love of My Life. He usually accompanied me to my parents’ house, and he and Shadow became fast friends. They were a comical pair: a short, sausage-shaped wiener dog and a tall, lanky pit bull. I spent hours just watching them play: rolling around on the floor, jumping on and off the couch, making faces and “biting” one another from opposite sides of a blanket. Little bursts of activity interspersed with long periods of lazing around, usually snuggled together in a ball. Such a cute couple!

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When I started working Saturday nights, 11PM to 10AM or so, I’d take Ralphie to my parents’ before heading off to work, and he and Shadow would have a sleepover. Occasionally I worked the day shift on Saturday as well, so my parents (and Shadow) would have him all day.

Many animals, I think, need and deserve to be with same-species companions. Dogs, especially. As good as we are to our furkids, a human is no substitute for another dog. Sure, we can snuggle and nose butt and play tug-of-war with the best of ’em…but it’s not the same. Dogs need like-minded dog companions.

Ralphie and Shadow were each others’ companions.

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About a year later, Shane and I made the decision to relocate from Rochester, NY to Kansas City. It was a tough choice; not least among my concerns was separating Ralphie and Shadow. I thought about bringing Shadow with us, but I knew my parents would never go for it. Besides, she was too attached to my mother; it wouldn’t be fair to her. Still, it didn’t seem very fair of me to take her buddy away, either.

Over time, both Ralphie and Shadow recovered from their loss. Yet, it’s something I still mourn over – separating them. It was a necessary decision, but a hard one. Doubly so as neither dog was allowed to weigh in on the matter. Blame the language barrier.

A few months before the move, my family spent a week vacationing in the Adirondacks. We took the dogs and stayed in my grandmother’s cabin. Some of my fondest memories of Ralphie and Shadow – together – are from that trip. We spent a lot of time hiking with the dogs; naturally, the dogs spent quite a bit of time napping together afterward.

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Shortly before Thanksgiving 2002, we left for Kansas City.

I’m sad to say that I’ve only seen dear Shadow on three separate occasions since moving to the midwest. Though I thought of her often, I missed out on much of her life. In regards to Shadow, I existed in a weird limbo: she was “mine,” once, but no longer.

We traveled back to Rochester for Thanksgiving in 2003. Our family was one dog larger (Peedee!), and so was my parents’ (Copper!). While Ralphie and Shadow remembered one another, Ralphie was a bit more smitten with Copper, and Shadow, with Peedee. My dogs were super curious about my parents’ dogs, and vice versa. The week was a blur of sniffing noses, wagging tails, flying fur, wet kisses. And a few minor scuffles, natch. (It was usually Peedee’s fault.)

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In 2006, we visited twice through the summer and fall. By then, we had adopted dog #3 (O-Ren!), and my parents had “unofficially” taken in a stray cat (Gypsy). Between the humans and animals, the house was filled to capacity. Five dogs seemed insane at the time, but by the second trip home in September, we’d already committed to adopt two dogs (Kaylee and Jayne) from a local rescue group in MO. So I guess it was like a crash course in canine chaos for us.

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Each trip home was a jolt – with such infrequent visits, I saw Shadow age years at a time. Her gait became increasingly stiff and stilted. She was slower, less energetic. Yet, despite the vet’s predictions, she was able to walk on her own until the very end.

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This past year, Shadow developed a heart murmur. Nothing unusual for a dog of her age, the vet said. Still, she was in and out of his office, and on and off difference medications.

The night of October 31, Shadow suffered a stroke. My parents kept vigil over her throughout the weekend. On Monday, they left her at the vet’s office for tests. The veterinarian stepped out for a house call, and when he returned to check on her, he discovered her labored breathing and purple tongue. He put Shadow on oxygen and called my parents.

My mother and father decided that it was time to let her go.

Last Monday, at 5PM, Shadow passed away with my father and brother at her side.

When I visited my family last, I knew those might be my final days with Shadow. She was eleven, then. Three of our last four dogs had died at age twelve. Even though she was healthy, my baby was getting old. I still hoped, against all odds, that I might be able to see her one more time.

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I’ll miss you so much, Shadow. I regret living so far away from you, for so much of your life – but especially in your final years. I knew this day would come, but the knowledge doesn’t make it any easier. I wish I could have been with you when you went, or at least visited with you one last time. I’m so, so glad to know that you weren’t alone in those final moments; to know that your papa and brother Mike were there, too. No one deserves to die alone.

Shadow, you were the last of our family’s animals that I considered “mine.” Bucky and Cap, Shannon and Shana, Woody…and now you, Shadow. Sitting here, with my own five babies, I feel so, so old. You were alive while I was still in high school; you were with my throughout college; you watched me grow up, move out, start my own family and move away from you. I think of you often, sweet girl, and will continue to miss you – as I have all these years.

It’s times like these I wish, fervently, that I believed in God, an afterlife, karma and all that jazz. In lieu of Heaven, sweet girl, I’ll keep you in my heart, with all your brothers and sisters: Bucky and Cap; Shannon and Shana; Woody; Hooks I-III; Moe, Larry and Curly; Henry; Pokey; Lucky; and of course Jodie and Goliath. Promise to greet Ralphie for me, when his time comes? With sloppy wet kisses, of course.

I’m reminded of you, Shadow, every time I look into Ralphie’s eyes. I still feel bad, even now, for taking him away from you. You two were so perfect together – a couple of furry clowns. I’m glad that mom and dad were able to find another companion for you in Copper. I bet he misses you terribly, too.

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Mom and dad seem to be doing better, though they still miss you tons. Mom said she sometimes hears you coughing in the next room, and often expects to see you sitting in your chair when she glances into the living room. It’s hard on them; I guess, no matter how many animals you grieve, it never gets any easier.

My sweet Shadow, words cannot express how very sorry I am for the pain you endured when you were just a wee little pup. Humans…well, sometimes we suck. I like to think that we restored your faith in humanity, brought you love and happiness, and proved as deserving of your loyalty as you did ours.

We all love you so, so much, Shadow. We’ll never stop loving you.

Goodbye, my sweet pit bull girl.
 
 

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Where To Bury A Dog

There are various places within which a dog may be buried. We are thinking now of a setter, whose coat was flame in the sunshine, and who, so far as we are aware, never entertained a mean or an unworthy thought. This setter is buried beneath a cherry tree, under four feet of garden loam, and at its proper season the cherry strews petals on the green lawn of her grave. Beneath a cherry tree, or an apple, or any flowering shrub of the garden, is an excellent place to bury a good dog. Beneath such trees, such shrubs, she slept in the drowsy summer, or gnawed at a flavorous bone, or lifted head to challenge some strange intruder. These are good places, in life or in death. Yet it is a small matter, and it touches sentiment more than anything else.

For if the dog be well remembered, if sometimes she leaps through your dreams actual as in life, eyes kindling, questing, asking, laughing, begging, it matters not at all where that dog sleeps at long and at last. On a hill where the wind is unrebuked and the trees are roaring, or beside a stream she knew in puppyhood, or somewhere in the flatness of a pasture land, where most exhilarating cattle graze. It is all one to the dog, and all one to you, and nothing is gained, and nothing lost — if memory lives. But there is one best place to bury a dog. One place that is best of all.

If you bury her in this spot, the secret of which you must already have, she will come to you when you call — come to you over the grim, dim frontiers of death, and down the well-remembered path, and to your side again. And though you call a dozen living dogs to heel they should not growl at her, nor resent her coming, for she is yours and she belongs there.

People may scoff at you, who see no lightest blade of grass bent by her footfall, who hear no whimper pitched too fine for mere audition, people who may never really have had a dog. Smile at them then, for you shall know something that is hidden from them, and which is well worth the knowing.

The one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of her master guardian.

– Ben Hur Lampman, 1925
 
 

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(Crossposted.)

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12 Responses to “Goodbye, my sweet pit bull girl.”

  1. HAPPY BIRTHDAY PEEDEE! » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] enjoyed having a new friend with which to play (especially since he’d had to bid farewell to Shadow when we made the move from New York to Kansas some months earlier), yet Peedee’s childlike […]

  2. Mylene Ouellet Says:

    I am so very sorry for your loss. I sit here with tears streaming down my face thinking of how fortunate Shadow was to have met your family, and of the non-humans whose presence I’ve missed over the years, as well. Hugs to you.

  3. Ryan Says:

    So sorry for your loss, Kelly. I remember being at college when my dog back home passed away, he being the last dog at my parents’ house that felt like “mine.” It’s so tough… I remember saying goodbye to him the last time when I was headed off to school. One of the hardest things I’d ever done.

    This is a beautiful tribute to Shadow that I’m sure he would have deeply appreciated.

  4. Ryan Says:

    (Oh jeez — just realized I said “he” when I meant “she”… sorry about that.)

  5. Kelly Garbato Says:

    Thanks, guys. I appreciate it. Shadow was a lovely girl, and we were lucky to have known her.

    @ Ryan – It’s definitely weird when I visit my parents now, only to find unfamiliar animals where “my” dogs (cats, rabbits, birds, turtles) once dwelled. But I guess that just means that I get to make new friends, right?

  6. One year buried, but never without. » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] was a year ago today that Shadow, my adopted canine sister and sweet pit bull friend, passed away. I cried for her […]

  7. furkid friday: happy mother’s day » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] again this season (no goslings yet though!); my sister Michelle and brother Mike cuddle and comfort our canine sibling Shadow shortly after surgery to repair her shattered back leg; Ralphie and I share a moment during a […]

  8. Be a Fairy Dog-Mother: Adopt a “less adoptable” animal companion! » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] Shadow the pit bull mix, who had been hit by a car and had a crushed leg when we found her. […]

  9. Buddy! » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] since Shadow passed away, my parents have been kinda-sorta looking for a new companion for Copper. Last night, […]

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