Sunday, December 21, 2008


I just finished reading Marley and Me, crying my eyes out like a big baby. It's a good read, it had me frequently and uncontrollably laughing out loud, until the end. While I probably would have cried reading this no matter what, it reminded me painfully of Sheba, who died six months ago.
I've been wanting to write about Sheba for several months now, but I never really want to drudge up the painful memories of her death. It was the last thing that I was able to write in my journal, and I stopped halfway through, in tears, and haven't resumed the writing since. So, I feel prompted to give her a little tribute, though unlike Marley, Sheba was never really a bad dog, in fact she was generally excellently behaved, although she had her quirks.

Sheba was a black miniature poodle, and I brought her home on April Fool's Day 1992, I was ten. I had picked her out of her litter of three puppies (after begging my Mom for months for a puppy) because the breeders said, "If you want a cuddler and one that will let you hold her and baby her, she's the one." They couldn't have been more right about that. Sheba always needed and wanted constant physical affection or just connection-she nearly always had to be touching a person at all times (until old age), which was at times wonderful and endearing and at other times, enough to drive anyone crazy. But she was perfect for a ten year old girl: I dressed her up, painted her nails, wrapped her in blankets, made her lay in a baby cradle for hours on end, and even had her drinking water from a baby bottle.

She was unbelievably smart, even for a poodle. She was housebroken quickly and never destroyed anything. She easily learned commands and tricks and had a wide vocabulary of human words that she knew and understood. She was fast, like lightening as a puppy- and would dash off at the slightest opportunity. From day one at home (her first bite of table food was a single pinto bean) she generally refused to eat dog food for meals, she reserved her always available dog food for an after dinner chaser, like after dinner mints, when she had given up hope of receiving anymore people food. This eventually progressed to her being served her own plate of whatever was for dinner that night, and her begging and stalking of the kitchen whenever she determined that it was dinner time grew worse throughout her life.

She would dramatically snatch up whatever you told her you, or worse, the cat, "were gonna get" and refuse to relinquish the items, regardless of what they were. One time this included a fully wrapped ice cream sandwich that my Mom was teasing her with, and another time a full roll of quarters. Sheba loved stuffed animals, the smaller ones for "babies" and the larger ones for illicit activities, if they were white, she was in 7th heaven. She truly loved her "babies" too, and would lick them and play with them for hours. She had a hideous and huge stuffed turkey (picture Gobbles from South Park) that was larger than she was that she would drag around by it's scraggly neck, it was carefully confiscated and disposed of, but she missed that turkey for a long time after it was gone. My stuffed, huge, white Klondike and Snow bears were a favorite target for her to steal off of my bed, any chance she got. One in particular- a little neon dinosaur- was receiving an exuberant shaking while she was playing with it, until it's leg was ripped off. Sheba was horrified by what she had done to "Dino," and from that time on she refused to ever look at him again, even after I sewed his leg back on. She always came to greet you, frantically searching for the nearest "baby" or random toy to show you (not give you), frequently peeing with excitement. She would grin too, pulling back her lips to show all of her teeth when she was happy or excited- or forced to eat a dropped salt and vinegar potato chip that had to be eaten, since the cat might be interested in it.

The word "biscuit" could not be uttered in her presence, unless you intended to deliver on that statement. Her favorite "biscuits" were, naturally, the most expensive dog jerky treat at the store and were not negotiable. She never went outside, to go potty or go bye-bye or just wander around, without receiving one upon returning home.

Even though I don't think I was ever truly her favorite family member, though she loved all of us, she preferred my Mom or Aunt, she knew that she was mine, and would never disobey a command that I issued- even when released from it from someone else, until I gave the okay. This included sitting the corner, nose to the wall, in time out- for inordinately long periods of time (horrible, I know, but I was ten and clearly teaching my dog a lesson). Despite being fairly well disciplined, Sheba was horribly spoiled by all of the family. She slept in bed, under the covers, with her head on a pillow, with whomever she wanted every night. She begged and received food-including desserts- from everyone. And would insist on extended belly rubs whenever given the opportunity, scratching and pulling your hand back to do it's job if you tried to quit too soon. This behavior, of flopping over onto her back, legs splayed, scratching at arms and hands, refusing to move like a lead weight, was confusing to some outside of the family. It prompted one dog groomer to tell us that something was wrong with her, "she just kept falling over and laying on her back." This woman was clearly not a dog owner, any idiot should have known the code for "rub my belly." She baffled outsiders with some of her behaviors though, not just the groomer. When she was at the vet hospital after having emergency surgery to remove her infected uterus, she refused to eat, and they refused to let her come home until she did so. The office called and spoke to my Mom, clearly worried about her refusal to eat. They had tried everything, dry food, wet food, even trying to force it into her little mouth- she came home with food smeared all over her little face from their attempts. My Mom laughed at this and asked what they were trying to feed her? They of course responded with "dog food," to which my Mom replied, "Well did anyone offer her a sandwich?," this was of course common sense to us. Problem solved. They called back and reported that she could come home now, she had successfully eaten a sandwich.

Sheba also knew how to hold a grudge. Once, when running down the stairs, she tripped and tumbled down the last few steps. My Mom and Aunt saw this, and laughed. Sheba was embarrassed and never forgot that they had laughed at her. From that day on, whenever she got mad at my Aunt (or was left alone for too long) her choice spot to poop was in that Aunt's bedroom. Her intense stares could also guilt this same Aunt into getting off of the couch to get her people food outside of mealtimes, just to make the staring stop. Always human-like, Sheba was also no stranger to jealously. Mainly this was targeted at the cat, but also at anyone animal or human, who might take any of her attention. One Christmas both she and the cat got new beds. Regardless of the fact that she had just gotten a new bed, Sheba was jealous that the cat had gotten one. In retaliation for this, she crammed herself into the too-tiny cat bed (clearly uncomfortable) and refused to get out of it, simply so that the cat couldn't lay in it.

This is Sheba, on her own new Christmas bed, at her last Christmas.

It was very hard to see Sheba age. By the time she died she was mostly, if not completely deaf. Her eyes were clouded with cataracts and most of her teeth were gone. She was chubby, grayed, and moved stiffly after lying down for long periods of time. But, even though she clearly showed her age, she still had bursts of energy when she wanted to play and she was always up for receiving constant affection. I know that every dog owner feels that their pet is unique, but I don't think there has ever been another dog like Sheba. She was truly a family member to us, and it's still difficult for us to not talk to her like she's sitting beside us.

A few days before her death Sheba became increasingly sick, quickly. She was having difficulty breathing, and maintained an odd, strange posture with her neck extended to help her breathe- or gasp, really. She refused to eat or drink- even people food, including ice cream- and couldn't lie down because it made breathing more difficult. My Aunts and I took her to the vet, and though we were expecting bad news, we were crushed to hear that she was in heart failure. I couldn't bear to make the decision to put her to sleep then, I couldn't help but feel that I would be murdering her. I decided, as a last ditch effort, to try antibiotics, steroids and a diuretic, to be sure that it wasn't a lung infection, as there was fluid on her lungs- a side effect of the heart failure, and the cause of her breathing difficulties. This also bought some time for us. Initially, Sheba rallied with the steroids and diuretic, with the fluid off of her lungs she was able to breathe easily and seemed like her old self. However, one or two days later, her condition was the same, if not worse. It was definitely not an infection, and now I was faced with making the hard decision. I simply couldn't let her suffer and felt cruel for trying to keep her here, after over 16 years, I had to have her put to sleep.

I had dreaded this moment for years, always hoping that she would die peacefully in her sleep of old age, even crying at the thought of this day. My Aunts and my boyfriend and I said our goodbyes and took some final pictures of her at home, and then we all accompanied her to the vet. We were all with her, crying and petting her, as she went to sleep.

As strange as it sounds, in many ways, Sheba's death was more difficult for me than my Mother's. Not that it was any less painful, but I think it's because I did not make the decision to end my Mother's life. Even driving to the vet for the last time I was still having second thoughts, when her breathing seemed to ease as I was holding her in my lap, sobbing. I could never give up the feeling that I was making the wrong choice, or the hope that maybe, somehow she would get better.

This is the day before Sheba died, while she was rallying from the medications, I wanted a last picture of us smiling together, even if it wasn't real.

Sheba was an amazing little spirit, and I don't think I will ever stop missing her. Just the thought of having to go through a similar experience ever again makes me balk at the idea of having another dog. I could go on forever, recounting stories about her, but they're probably only funny and worth hearing time and again to my family and myself. Regardless, Sheba's 16+ years of love, entertainment, and annoyances deserve to be remembered. She was there with me from elementary school through college, and through many life changes, including the loss of my Mom. I think she left a lasting impression on everyone who really knew her, including my much loved cat, who loved to beat up on and chase and be chased by her dog, and came running at the sound of Sheba's collar tags tinkling on a video recording of her that we were watching after Sheba was gone, still looking for her sister. As painful as the loss is, I hope that everyone will, at some point in their life, have the opportunity to love and be loved by a four-legged person like Sheba, one that truly becomes a member of the family and leaves a permanent hole when they leave us because of the ways that they permeate your entire heart and life.

A family picture. My Aunts and I, with Sheba, before taking her to the vet on her last day with us.

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