This is a story about grief. Is it ok to grieve for your pets? How long should you grieve? Are you a bad person if you have a hard time with pet loss? The answer to these questions will vary between people. For me, pets are like my chosen family. They are the reason I survived my childhood’s emotional pains. Pure, unconditional love is hard to say good bye to and our beloved pets are filled with unconditional love.
It was the start of my third year at Black Hills State University. The day was beautiful and I reminisced as I slowly walked down the steep trail towards home. I crossed the county road at the bottom of the hill and headed for my back yard. As I passed the small house in the alley behind our fence, I was smitten by an 8 week old blue merle Australian Shepherd puppy on the neighbor’s front steps. He had cornered a large orange tabby cat at the top of the steps and was herding the cat back and forth, not allowing him to pass. Although if the cat really wanted to pass he would have, but seemed to be appeasing the puppy and playing the game!
My neighbor came out the door as I watched the puppy. She picked him up and let me hold him. I instantly fell in love. I said if she ever needed to give him away to please let me know. A few hours later I answered the doorbell to find my neighbor holding Scooby in her arms. She said her landlord would not let her keep the puppy and asked if I really wanted him. I was so delighted! I truly was in love with this dog. I can’t explain it, but it was like we had a bond that was so deep and connected; we were meant to be together. He eyes were bright blue, his fur was thick and soft like silk, and he was built like a baby panda bear. Immediately he started herding me and made me his job!
When I teach clients about animal types, I group working breed dogs into a category and describe how they need to have a job. They are not the type that would be happy hanging around relaxing with the family. They are on the job 24/7. Australian Shepherds, Cattle Dogs and Border Collies are on the top of my list! In my clinic when I try to acupuncture, laser or massage working breed dogs, they struggle with the concept of “relax!” I feel truly lucky if they rest for 15-20 minutes before they realize that they stopped working and jump back into “I’m awake now and need to go to work mode!” For them, less time is more effective than say a black Labrador retriever. Labs would love a whole hour of massage and body work and then still enjoy hanging around another hour on the couch just chilling for a while before they decide to get up and eat or chase a squirrel.
I was entranced with this puppy. He became my dearest friend. We walked everywhere together. He learned to walk off leash and stay right by my side. This was in 1979 when there were no leash laws and no humane society in our town. People often had their dogs go all over town with them off leash. And as a working breed dog, he would not leave me. If I said “go” he would run around, but he always stopped at the curb and waited. I taught him he couldn’t step off the curb until I gave the signal. We were awesome partners. If a person or dog came near, I called and he came to my side. He slowly walked with me until I felt it was safe. Then I said “go” off he went again. It took many, many hours of walking for us to perfect this, but we did. He just needed me to explain what I wanted and he figured it out. He would look at me like, “could you just say it in dog so I understand?”
As Scooby grew up, he learned to escort me up the hill to school. I entered College near the Biology Department and he was there waiting for me to come out every day after school. One day he figured out I was taking a class on the ground floor where he could stand on his back feet to watch me from the window. So he walked me to the door, checked on me in class through the window, and at the end of the day, he’d be at the door waiting to walk me home.
Scooby also loved to play ball. While patrolling the back yard walking the fence line, he would toss his ball over the fence to passers. I’d watch him from the window trying to encourage people to play with him. One man commented to me how he taught my dog to play catch. I laughed and said, “My dog taught you how to throw the ball!”
Scooby loved it when I played tennis. He would sit anxiously outside the courts just waiting for a ball to get hit over the fence. He ran like a mad dog to get the ball and throw it back on the court. Then, he would immediately squat near the opening, ready for the next ball to fly out. He made a great college team mascot!
A year later, an abandoned dog began jumping in our fence to play with our dogs Scooby and a Red Bone Hound named Molly, and eat our dog food. He appeared to be around 10 months old, was black with a white chin and white speckled feet. He had long hound ears, a lean sleek body and long legs. He acted like a wild dog. I could not catch him or even get close to him. If I stepped outside, he’d jump over the fence and run away. I named the new dog Spike because even though I couldn’t touch him, I could see his giant fang K’9 teeth hanging out of his upper lip. “My, what big teeth he had!” We put a camper shell outside the fence with a rug to offer him shelter and he immediately took to that. He stayed closer and closer with time, but literally left several times a day to mark about a two mile territory. He loved Scooby! They played and played when he thought no one was watching, but of course I was.
One day he paced outside the fence with his head hanging low. I noticed he didn’t leave to mark his territory and I was able to get closer than usual. I saw his face was full of porcupine quills. I didn’t know what to do to help. At best, I could get 10 feet from him. I had to go to work and hated to leave him, but I didn’t have time to figure it out right then.
I worked a late shift and got home around 2 am. As I pulled up in the front yard and stepped out of the truck, I saw Scooby holding Spike to the ground by the throat. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I slowly approached, crouching low not to frighten him. Scooby held on tight! I placed my hand on his head and climbed over him literally sitting on his side. Holding him with one hand, I pulled as hard as I could with the other hand until I had removed all 13 quills. They were so infected that they didn’t fight too hard to come out.
I stayed on top of him for a little bit longer and slowly petted his sleek coat. I talked softly to him and reassured him that he would be ok. Then I climbed off and he walked away looking back as Scooby and I went into the gate. The best thing I could do for him then was let him rest, eat and drink so I gave him some space.
I really praised Scooby for his good deed. How did Scooby know to do that? Why did Spike let Scooby do that? Did they plan it together? Did Scooby, a much smaller but very agile dog overpower the weakened larger hound? Did Scooby tell him I could help and if he didn’t come to me to pull them, he would have to take him down? They were not telling me in words, but their actions spoke pretty loud!
The next morning I sat in the early sun reading a book. Scooby and Molly gathered around me for some loving attention. All of a sudden Spike jumped in the fence and approached us. He looked much better than the day before, but still a bit sullen. I decided not to look directly at him. Instead I kept petting Scooby and Molly, talking dog love talk. Spike came closer and closer until I felt his fur as he leaned into my hand, so I gently petted him.
A startling noise sounded out nearby and the dogs started to jump. By instinct I said to the dogs “stay” to tell them it was ok. When I did, I noticed Spike froze, same as the other dogs. I was shocked and looked at him thinking, “Did you understand what I said?” So I said “sit”. All three dogs sat down! “That can’t be”, I thought. I’ve known Spike for a couple months now but how in the world? I decided he must have had a family at some time in his puppyhood and learned this or he heard me say it to the other dogs and learned it outside the fence. Was he studying and learning the language hoping to move in some day? Regardless, I was smitten and Spike became a permanent part of the family that weekend. Of course I had to beg the town Sheriff, who wanted to run him off and shoot him, to give me a chance to train him. Since he was already training himself, this was an easy job!
While Spike continued to jump the fence and mark most of our tiny town several times a day, Scooby took to patrolling the fence line. He loved people coming by but became rather irritated at other dogs coming near the fence. If a dog put his feet up on the four foot fence Scooby would launch at the dog and bite his feet. This dog aggression often got him in trouble but I never thought it would be serious trouble.
I never heard him bark. I didn’t hear anything, not a cry not a sound. I was awakened by the doorbell early in the morning on Easter Sunday. My neighbor and genetics professor who lived on the hill Scooby and I walked to school every day, was at my door telling me Scooby had been hit by a car. I stared at her in absolute dismay. It could not be true. She must be mistaken. But he was not there. He would have been there. Barked at the door, told me she was there. And it was silent!
I went with her and found his beautiful furry body underneath a big pine tree near her house. I couldn’t breathe. I leaned down over him and pet his fur. There was blood soaked on his neck and a big spot of blood on the ground. Otherwise he looked perfect. He couldn’t have been hit by a car! He wouldn’t cross the street. Something else must have happened. I looked closer at the blood stains and discovered a bite wound on his neck. He’d been bit in the throat and his carotid artery was punctured. He bled to death. But what happened to him, how, why?
I lifted him up and carried him home, tears streaming down my face, shocked and stunned! I showed him to Molly and Spike. Molly was an expert ground sniffer and thoroughly examined him with her nose. I asked her “what happened to him?” She started tracking in our yard. She ran to the back corner of the fence. It was the same area where I first met Scooby as a tiny puppy 3 years ago. She started sniffing the fence with a fury. I followed her and saw the blood. He was bit by something at the fence he guarded. Blood was on both sides, but it appeared as if something had reached over the fence and grabbed him. I opened the gate and took her out. She began moving back and forth in short motions for about 10 feet and as I followed her I saw blood smattered, zig zagging. He was being shaken by whoever grabbed him. He broke away and ran across the street where he wedged himself under the pine tree and died.
Thanks to Molly I knew what happened and why he crossed the street, but who did this to him? I could hardly put one foot in front of the other to take Molly back home. He guarded me, patrolled the fence for me, walked everywhere with me and died in the line of duty patrolling our fence.
I began asking my neighbors if anyone heard or saw anything. I found what I was looking for. A neighbor down the street had a 140 lb. Wolf hybrid. The neighbor opened his fence in the middle of the night to let the wolf run free. The wolf came home with blood on his face, but the neighbor did not know where the blood came from. The Wolf was so large that he was able to reach over our 4 foot fence and grab my dog and pull him right over the fence. It may have started because Scooby tried to bite his feet. He would have done that!