Wednesday, July 3, 2013
By Patricia Tanner Candal
I haven't wanted pets since childhood, when every cat or dog was run over by the school bus or died when the car engine started. I remember a lot of pet deaths, some occurring when the car filled with nine people backed out of the driveway on the way to church. For most of my adult life, I've been happy to say I don't have pets, don't like pets, especially animals in the house. This declaration doesn't count Steve's bulls-eye tabby named Cookie that lived in our house for seventeen years. After her death we agreed: No more house pets.
Having a dog as a pet in the house was settled thirty years ago, when a friend's big black lab eagerly greeted me at her front door with both front paws applied to my thighs. I kept six finger-length bruises to remind me I didn't want a dog in the house, or anywhere. And then I met Shandy.
Fifteen years ago I was teaching at Rosemary Middle School in Andrews. One day at lunch, the art teacher was describing a “sweet, little black puppy” with a lot of personality that she had taken inside the art room after some students were seen kicking the dog on the sidewalk outside the gym. The puppy had spent the day in the art supply room, and a few other teachers had gone by to see it, verifying its cute puppiness. The art teacher was interested in someone taking the dog, if possible; otherwise she would drop it off at the SPCA. Three other mangy pups from the same litter had been seen wandering around the street in front of the school; one had been killed and the other two taken to the pound. I said I'd come by the art room during my planning hour.
When I walked into the art supply room, this sweet, little energetic puppy danced around my feet and then stopped to look me over. I had never known dogs to smile, but this puppy smiled, tilting her head as those dark eyes drew me in. I said, “I'll take her home with me to Mingo Woods.”
After purchasing a few puppy needs, including food, I started the sixteen miles home after school with her on the floor of the passenger side. It seemed natural to start talking to her. That smile and those eyes kept my attention. About halfway home she crawled up the seat, over to my lap, and spent the rest of the trip home looking out the window on the driver's side, occasionally turning that winning smile and those warm dark eyes to look at me.
Six trips to the vet and $600 later, we had the mites under control and a kennel in the backyard. I learned to dip her in some rather potent stuff and fill her ears with bug medication. I even learned to brush her teeth with chicken flavored toothpaste. Shandy spent weeks dragging her belly on the ground to scratch the itchy critters that had crawled under her skin. In a few months she was clean, healed and ready to run. The vet confirmed she was probably black Lab, with a little Irish setter to account for the reddish hairs on her belly. As an old dog, she sported a patch of white hairs on her chin, giving her a distinguished look.
In the beginning, our thought was to let her roam the forest when she grew up. Water dog that she was, she chose to stay in the swamp, especially right after a bath. From the beginning, she was a sweet dog, gentle and obedient. She learned early to sit, stay, and heel. She even responded to the word “No.” As she matured and began to pick up the rabbit and the deer scents around the swamp, she became increasingly more difficult to control. On a few occasions, even when I used one of those mechanical devices that reinforces commands, Shandy picked up the deer scent and, in a mad dash, followed it through the woods and out to busy Highway 41. After one wild attempt to get her home, she became a kennel canine for the rest of her life, leaving the kennel only on a leash to walk the circle in the community where we live.
When she grew to nearly sixty pounds, I could no longer control the leash without dislocating my rotator cuff. Steve became her walker. She loved to take walks and, until a year ago, would “Kennel Up” afterwards upon command, knowing fresh food and water would be there.
Shandy loved water, drinking and playing in it. On a very hot and humid day, I was photographing a viceroy butterfly chrysalis that had attached itself to one of the wires in a top corner of Shandy's kennel. I was talking with her as I worked there and I noticed that she walked to her water bucket, which was half full of water, and looked up at me. Then she stared at the water. She did this several times before I realized that she wanted fresh, cool water to drink.
I replaced her bucket with fresh water; and, to my surprise, she put both front feet in it and then tried to get her head in it. She was funny, doing this several times, and looking at me as if to say, “Can't you see this bucket is too small for me?”
We decided a long, cool bath was in order and we brought out her big, blue tub and filled it up. For the next hour she sat in the cool water, had a nice soapy bath followed by a towel rub and took a long, “drying off” walk with Steve around the yard. Such a dog's life!
Though she spent her life at Mingo Woods in a kennel for the most part, Shandy is the only pup from her litter to live past a few months. She lived fifteen years with us, enjoying our company and walks around the yard and neighborhood. She loved to be set free in my garden to roam, and except for a few daylilies she unearthed, the garden suffered little from her frolicking. For two years we knew Shandy's health was declining. On her last annual visit with her vet, Dr. Ernest Fox, we discussed the changes we and he observed, and he reminded us of her age.
Earlier this month, after a few weeks of suffering, Shandy died during the night. She is buried at the edge of Mingo Swamp under one of our favorite beech trees. I still expect to hear her bark whenever someone other than family and friends drive to the house. I miss her smiling eyes and the gentle kiss on my hand every time I fed her or cleaned the kennel. Shandy was a good dog.
Patricia Tanner Candal lives on the edge of Mingo Creek swamp with her husband Steve, one bee colony, parakeet Norton, twenty chickens and a bunch of flowers, herbs and other plants.
Opinions that appear on this page in Letters to the Editor or in columns do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.