Sunday, December 30, 2007

Eulogy for Shiner

We put Shiner to sleep today. He was our Black Lab. He wasn’t old – he was just over six. He wasn’t sick or in pain. His problem was aggression. In the past year he’s attacked our two-and-a-half-year-old boy Roark twice, snarling and snapping, knocking him down, scaring him to tears, but not causing any injury. He’s growled at the other two dogs in the house and fought. Finally, yesterday, he snarled and lunged at my wife. That was the final straw. He’d been a very sweet dog for the first five years of his life, and still was most of the time, which is why we kept him after the first attack. After the second, we looked at our options, but with his issues we really had none, so we thought we could work with him a little more. We were out of options, and couldn’t risk something worse happening. But it was awful. He didn’t know what was going on, but was still scared. I held his head in my arms, petted him, and told him he was a good boy until his head dropped. Then, with the help of the veterinarian and her assistants, I laid Shiner down on the towel they’d laid out, and with my wife and I both crying we left the room with our boys, who thankfully are too young to have understood what just happened.

That’s what happened and why, and it’s horribly sad. I miss him. My wife and I are suckers for animals, but especially dogs. And Shiner was a great pet and friend, which is what I prefer to think about.

Shiner Bock (his full name) was a birthday present to my wife from some friends of ours. We picked him out of the litter from a breeder when he was about a week old. Once he was seven weeks old, we were able to bring him home. At the time, my wife lived in an apartment on the third floor. Shiner was tiny, and the bed was raised, so he’d go to the end of the bed at night and whine for us to let him down so he could go pee. I couldn’t believe how often that damn dog had to pee every night. Down three flights of stairs we would go, then stand there shivering (it was November) while he took his own sweet time wandering around sniffing at bushes and grass until he found the perfect spot. Then back up three flights of stairs, only to do it again three or four hours later, waking up several times because I thought I might’ve heard him whine. But it was ok because he was a cute little fifteen pound or so bundle of energy. We tried various means of housetraining him, but the best method was just putting up baby gates to keep him in the kitchen area, and covering the floor with newspapers. Very high tech. Because we never knew exactly when he needed to go, we’d take him on 20-30 minute walks until he went. Just this tiny little puppy running along behind or beside us, no leash required because he was too little to run away.

When we were being shown a potential house to rent in December 2001, which just happens to be the one we own now, Shiner promptly squatted in the living room and took a dump. What proud parents we were.

He was nuts for playing ball. I’d throw a tennis ball about three or four times a day for 10-15 minutes each time, and any time a moved he would leap up and follow my every move hoping I’d pick up a ball. If a ball was on the floor, he’d bring it over and drop it at your feet, and if you didn’t immediately pick it up and throw it then he’d pick it up and drop it on your feet again. This would go on until you threw the ball or put it away. When we went on walks I’d always bring a ball and throw it until he was exhausted. Then his knee went out on him a couple of years ago, and although we paid for TPLO surgery, which is the best, most sophisticated, and certainly most expensive way to fix the knee, he was never really able to play again. We tried, but after running full out a few times something would happen and he’d lay down crying. So we officially retired him from ball.

After having Shiner for about a year, we thought he’d like another dog to play with. We’d seen some dogs in Santorini on our honeymoon, and one in particular followed us around like he was our protector and even slept in our room one night. We felt sorry for all the stray dogs there, and wished we’d adopted Santos, which is what we’d named him. So instead we decided to adopt a dog from Great Dane Rescue. He’d been left to die tied in the backyard with no food or water in the July heat of Texas for at least a week when they found him, and they’d managed to nurse him back to health. He was still very thin and had some mange when we got him, but otherwise he was fine, except for the emotional scars left by his abusive owners. We named him Ziegenbock, and have always called him Ziegy. He wasn’t full Great Dane, with perhaps some pit bull or something in him. When we brought him home, Shiner had to establish he was the boss, and they had some pretty ugly, knock down drag out fights, but amazingly no blood was ever drawn. But that seemed to change Shiner a little. He became more pushy and bossy, and a little more aggressive. In retrospect, I think Shiner preferred being the only dog in the house, and from now on that’s probably how we’ll keep it.

I’ve worked from home for years, and Shiner spent most of his time curled up at my feet, always eager to play ball or go for a walk. He followed me everywhere, and according to my wife moped when I was gone. Once we had the boys, my mom moved in to help take care of the boys, bringing her dog with her. Now we had three dogs and three new people in the house. When the boys were on the floor or, more recently, walking around, we kept the dogs in a separate room to keep them away from the food and harassment that goes with having little kids in the house. Shiner adjusted, but he didn’t like it. He’d watch us over the baby gate and whine. He always wanted to be with us. If we were outside, he wanted to be outside, and if we were inside he wanted inside. Perhaps he was too dependent, but it was only because he loved us, which he showed everyone in the family by licking them half to death.

There are so many other memories I could write about: Shiner at the dog park leaping into filthy, stinking water and having a blast, at Eagle’s nest running wild with Ziegy until he couldn’t move he was so exhausted, and so on. Maybe I’ll write about those some other time.

Overall, Shiner was a great dog, and everybody in the family loved him very much. We’re saddened by what happened and miss him very much. I’ll always remember him, and in that way he’ll always be a part of me.


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