12 October 2012

Shadow - An Obituary

Shadow - in better days
I know that obituaries usually come out very soon after the death of someone but it’s only now, several weeks after Shadow’s death, that I can bring myself to write this tribute to him and for those of you who are wondering why I am writing a tribute to a dog, well Shadow touched the lives of everybody who came into contact with him and therefore I am neither embarrassed nor being over sentimental in penning this.

I arrived in France not long after Shadow had turned one. Julie had sent me a few pictures of this straggly mutt looking through the kitchen window so I knew that as well as taking some responsibility for a three year old girl and a five year old boy, I would also have a dog.

Until I turned up at the door, Shadow had been the alpha dog but as soon as I appeared he settled into a lesser role respecting my new position as head of the household. He instantly became my friend, showing me around the terraces where he buried his bones and the carcasses of rabbits he’d caught.
But he was a strange dog. He never chased after a ball and when we went to the river he had to be encouraged to take a swim.  First thing in the morning he would wander down to the road at the bottom of the terraces to see all his doggy pals and invariably be led astray by them, ripping open people’s bin bags and coming back proudly holding a stale baguette in his jaws.

If this was a minor problem, it was nothing compared to when we took in a stray husky which we called Harry. Harry immediately decided he was now the alpha male and took to sleeping stretched out on one of the sofas in the lounge, with Shadow copying him by lying in an identical pose on the other sofa, something Shadow had never done in his life before. Destruction then began with Harry ripping things apart, digging up plants in the garden and worse of all, leading Shadow three miles along the busy road into the village where they would run about in the traffic.

After several trips to the dog pound where the police would deposit ‘stray’ dogs, and many euros in fines later, Harry was deposited with a family down the coast and Shadow’s life returned to normal.

It was about three years ago, when Shadow was eleven that the symptoms of his illness first began to show. He became lethargic, never moving from the house except when he needed to ‘go, except when Tan and Angie had a party when he would wander over and enjoy the company of the kids who were playing. His appetite never dimmed but he started to lose hair, he got lesions on his nose and put on weight. The initial diagnosis by our local vet was an under-active thyroid and so Shadow was put on a liquid medication which had to be squirted down his throat three times a day, something which he detested.

A year later and with no improvement in his condition, we took Shadow to another vet where they diagnosed the incurable dog disease Lieshmaniosis. By this time, his back legs had started to shake as he walked around and more lesions had appeared on his joints. Despite this, he was still quite active although he liked nothing better than to lie in the sun inside our lounge.
He even loved the cats

The vet put Shadow on a medication called Allopurinol which is a human medicine used for the treatment of gout and he seemed to improve but as the time passed his legs became more and more infirm and so he was then given another treatment, this time to alleviate the arthritis which most large dogs eventually suffer from.

It was only six months ago when we took Shadow for his latest check-up. By this time, his lesions had gone and he was now quite active, returning to his daily routine of strolling down to see his pals. We were encouraged by this but always with the nagging knowledge that the Liesmaniosis, caused by the infection of sand flies,  was always present and could strike at any time.

It was when Julie was in Kenya earlier this year that Shadow suddenly went down hill. One day he was fine, the next, the Saturday, he could not move – his legs had gone. He simply laid in his favourite place in the lounge and did everything there – and I mean everything! All very distressing and looking into his eyes, I’m sure he felt he’d lost any semblance of dignity.

On the Sunday, he rallied and I carried him outside so he could ‘do his business’ in the grass and he actually walked around and then back into the house.

On the Monday morning when I awoke, he was in a bad way. I tried to make him as comfortable as possible but then he had what I can only describe as the doggy equivalent of someone having an epileptic fit. It was extremely distressing and I thought that he would not survive but once again he rallied – he seemed to know that Julie and Kitty were returning from Kenya that morning and he wanted to hang on.

As soon as I returned from the airport, it was clear to the family that Shadow’s time had come and we lifted him into the jeep for what we all knew would be his last journey. He used to love sitting in the back of the jeep knowing there was some adventure in the offing, but this time, his head was on the carpet with a resigned look in his eyes. Julie laid in the back with him and as we passed David and Sarah’s house where his friend Charlie lived, Julie said Shadow struggled to raise his head to look for his playmate.

The sadness in his eyes - Shadow was ill
At the vets the mood was sombre, even amongst those whose lives involve euthanising beloved pets every day of the week. They couldn’t have been more sympathetic.

Shadow was lifted into the surgery and the vet administered a strong anesthetic which apparently relieved him of his final breath within seconds, although a few minutes later his eyes were still looking at me. I’m sure I saw a tear in the eyes of the nurse although I can’t be sure as I was crying my eyes out at the time.

The vet asked if we wanted Shadow’s ashes but when we heard the alternative, his remains being scattered at sea, we chose that and left for a very sad journey home.

A week later, a letter of sympathy arrived from the vet. A nice touch.

We all miss you Shadow.  


Allison said...

This post was beautifully written and it really did touch me. Some people are too callous to understand how much a dog matters to a family and to those around them, but it's clear that Shadow's life meant so much to so many. I'm so sorry for your loss and wish there was something more I could say. Stay strong, dear Tom.

Anonymous said...

The story of Shadow is extremely close to that of my canine buddy "Pickel" who lived with us for 16.5 years in Florida, USA. A second point of interest is that I also worked at IBM Basinghall St in the early 1980s. Dr Butlers Head was well known to me and received significant contributions from my post tax income.

Tom Cupples said...

Hello 'Anonymous' - you may have know Nick Rickards (who sadly passed away a few weeks ago), Neil Gent, Charles Taylor, Sylvester Smith - they all worked in Basinghall St. I never did but was dragged round the various bars in the area frequently after we'd all moved to South Bank. I was introduced to Dr Butler's Head last year.

My e-mail is Tom.cupples@orange.fr if you want to correspond.