2012 December 23
Kernville, California USA
Sheba (aka "Cosette" when we first rescued her) was no ordinary dog, no ordinary rescue. When we pulled her from the San Pedro shelter in June 2011, she was by all rescuers' accounts a dog with the least potential for recovery to a normal, happy, functioning life. The staff at the shelter begged us to rescue other more adoptable dogs and let them just put this one out of her misery. We promised to send other rescuers to them for the others. We saw a deep longing in this severely lame, autistic, malnourished older female yellow shepherd covered with scars and ticks, and we could not turn our backs on her. She had been found chained on concrete in a back yard of a poor section of the city. She had clearly been the object of considerable abuse, including sodomy. She wanted no one anywhere near her back side, and one of her rear legs stuck straight out to the side and seemed to be almost useless to her. (Photos and that part of her story are in our original article about "Cosette.")
Once she knew I meant her no harm, she let me touch her hindquarters. And she smiled when I carried her out into the sunshine and grass that first day. That did it for me. Underneath that scruffy, dirty coat and bony body, she had the face of an angel and eyes that were ancient. Her silence and reserve were not offensive or disappointing. They spoke of dignity and a will to survive and move beyond the past, a gentleness that made her wary but still able to trust and forgive, with no inclination to punish or be aggressive. When I lifted her beside me into the right front seat of my car, her face glowed with joy and expectation. I had no idea what we would do with her, but I knew we needed to try to give her a life.
We carried her to our home, which involved negotiating a very steep walking path. She loved her new diet of raw food (mostly chicken with some raw milk, eggs, and the flax-based supplement Missing link). She was able to walk pretty well within just a few days. But to find a good permanent home for her was going to be a huge challenge. One of On Wings Of Care's stalwart volunteers and directors, Dave, came to visit her. Dave was dad to a wonderful long-haired rescue shepherd named "Bear" and two rescue cats, but we didn't seriously consider that he could adopt Cosette, as she seemed too much for him to take on. But Cosette felt differently. When he lay down next to her and began massaging her, her body and eyes and heart just melted for him. I assured him that he needn't consider adopting her, we totally understood why she would be just too much for him, and we left it at that. But as he was leaving, he said "Well, maybe she could just hang out with Bear and me for a while to recover, you know, until we find a good adopter?" My heart jumped. YES! You bet she could! I loaded him up with fresh frozen ground chicken and other good food for her, and he and Bear took her up to their home in the southern Sierra foothills.
In late summer 2012, Sheba rather suddenly began to show lameness again. The rest of her body had grown strong and beautiful, her coat was sleek and gorgeous, her eyes bright and shiny. We learned that she was suffering from the beginnings of myasthenia gravis, and there wasn't any way to reverse what would likely be a natural progression of deterioration. She did not seem to be in any pain, but her back legs were not so reliable anymore.
Ever-resourceful Dave, who understands how important it is for any natural being's psyche (including his own) to spend time in nature and exercising, bought Sheba a set of wheels, a "scooter", or "trike." And he promptly went about improving it, by adding large mountain-bike tires so they could continue their hikes in the mountains, soft sheepskin linings on the harness so there would be no rubbing anywhere on her body, and an extra support to hold her back legs loosely but securely, with no pressure anywhere. Sheba loved her trike. She mastered it in minutes, and their hikes in the mountains continued as they always had, all the way until late November, 2012.
Rather suddenly, Sheba took a turn for the worse and began to have occasional coughing and wheezing fits. Dave found a new veterinarian in town, a woman ("Dr. Dani") who came highly recommended. He explained to her that he didn't want to dose her with steroids but wanted to understand all that was wrong and try to give only beneficial treatments that could extend her life and mobility painlessly. (Other veterinarians had prescribed only steroids and painkillers.) It was Dr. Dani who understood and diagnosed all that was now plaguing Sheba. The myasthenia gravis had progressed and resulted in something called mega-esophagus, causing Sheba now to have an irreversible condition that made it difficult for her to swallow and digest food and allowed the food to come back up and into her lungs. Dr. Dani told us that she had had to euthanize her own dear shepherd who had almost the same problem; and she confessed that she had kept her dog alive for too long and probably caused her to suffer unnecessarily. She was patient and did not pressure Dave to put Sheba down. But her every caution and prediction slowly came true in the next couple of weeks.
After Dave saw Sheba in pain for about the third time, from the coughing and difficulty breathing, we talked again with Dr. Dani and agreed that it was time to consider helping Sheba cross the bridge and walk on. We agreed on an approach where Dr. Dani would come out to Dave's car, where Sheba would be riding in the right front seat with her head near Dave's right arm and shoulder -- her favorite spot for the past many months. She would admininster a local anesthetic to Sheba's leg, squeeze in comfortably next to her while Sheba was sitting in her usual close position to Dave, and very slowly, gently, administer the IV to put Sheba to sleep forever. In the few days before Dave decided to act on this plan, he bought wood, built a lovely handmade coffin for Sheba, and dug a deep hole near a new cherry tree he had just planted in their backyard. Sheba watched him intently as he did all of this, and the night before Dave let Sheba go, he and Bear and Sheba slept outside on the ground, next to her gravesite. It was a lovely cool, comfortable night, and they all enjoyed the fresh air and the peacefulness of it all.
When Dave drove Sheba home from Dr. Dani's office the next day, now resting peacefully forever, all was ready for her. Dave lay Sheba in her coffin, amid her favorite toys and memorabilia, including a photo of Dave and Sheba together, and covered her gently and permanently. Sheba's resting place is now covered with beautiful river rock from the local mountains where she used to hike, and hanging from the tree above are windchimes, entwined with a few special items that she had worn proudly. The lovely white blossoms of the cherry tree in one season and its sweet fruit in another will be yet another tribute to and reminder of Sheba.
Who was rescued, and who was the rescuer? Sheba? Dave? Bear? The distinction is moot, if there is one at all. Sheba brought companionship to Bear that he had never had, and she brought a trust and love and devotion to Dave that he had never known from an animal, perhaps from anyone. Any human who has had this kind of love and bond will know whereof we speak. It is the touch of something so deep, so real, so ancient, that it cannot be described with words. These kinds of bonds ground us and free us from pettiness in our lives. They are unforgettable and irreplaceable.
Thank you Sheba. Rest in peace with our love.
Enjoy the following gallery of photos, some of Dave's favorites, from these most precious 17 months with a lovely yellow shepherd who held on through more than a decade of misery and abuse and ill health, until a man named Dave came along and showed her that her dream of love could come true.
Below these galleries, we've included some very heartwarming writings by Dave about Sheba and what she meant to him.
Here are some words from Dave about Sheba and what she meant to him, written on 2012 December 21:
She loved most being in the front car seat beside me or in her wheelchair walking with her pack and being a part of things. She would smile a lot and be very inquisitive, looking all around. In the car she was also very playful and would often place her nose under my right arm and move her nose upward to nudge me. She would then look at me in a very animated way, almost giggling and laughing but assuredly smiling profusely. She would this again and again. Even in her last few days when she had the respiratory problem and was weaker, she still gathered up extra hidden reserves of stamina and playfulness to do this.
She was enthralled with the wheelchair, and it seemed to give her a new zest for life. That was one of the very best things that I did for her, getting that and modifying it so we could still walk in the mountains. It really gave her life a boost. She had strong front legs and could climb many a hill on our hikes. When she reached the top, she would just look around, smiling profusely.
She also wanted always to be in contact with me. For instance, she chose to lie on a blanket on the floor near the dining room table when I was in the kitchen, and every time I would look up I would see her staring intently at me. In those last days, when I was digging her forever resting place beside a new cherry tree in our back yard, she chose to stay out on the deck looking intently and never taking her eyes off me.
She was and still is deeply in my heart. She has a very, very special place -- not as a pet, not even as a companion, but as a dear friend. Some things, some happenings, and in this case someone may come only once into our lives, maybe to teach us something, maybe to inspire us, maybe just to be a good friend. I will cherish our times together and savor every morsel of my memory with her. Releasing her and letting her go from her terminal illness was not a difficult decision, but seeing her go was the hardest thing that I have ever felt in my life. I only wish that she could have had more time than the 17 months she had, to know the love and freedom she had with us, after what apparently was a decade of neglect, indifference, and cruelty. She could have been scornful and bitter and lashed out in defiance at people for what had happened to her, but she turned a corner and accepted unconditional love into her heart and gave back the same tenfold to the humans she met. Love does conquer all, and Sheba epitomized that.
P.S. Remembering Sheba is also like making music with both melody and lyrics. Melody is like seeing someone interesting for the first time, enjoying the nice outward appearance and definitely the energy. Lyrics come as you get to know the them, the essence of their personal story and who they are deep underneath.
Combining the two -- well, that creates Magic, and that sure is what Sheba brought to us.