There was a time that I was unsure if a dog was truly smiling or if that was just what it looked like when their mouths were open due to the shape of said mouths. That mild quandary was solved after I had met Shadow Pup, the ebony wonder-dog that belonged to my friends Kak and JB. Shadow had a smile that was unmistakable and wielded it often.
As much as I relished my recent hometown trip, the week was tinged with sadness as well. Aside from the family funeral we attended, I also knew coming in that there would be another troublesome situation: Shadow Pup was ill. I was staying with Kak and JB for the week and despite having just driven over 13 hours; I arrived with palpable dread of this situation, fearing that Shadow would appear frail and sickly. Imagine my delight and surprise when he came bounding out the front door to greet me, just like always. He had Kak and JB by his side, watching him carefully, and he was favoring his bad leg, but he was as joyful and excited as I'd ever seen him.
That greeting is classic Shadow Pup. Shadow is a dog that I would describe as pure joy. He was happy and playful and had a fierce love for his "people". He ran and danced excitedly when any car would pull up the driveway and would always run out to greet them. No one, but no one, though, would get as enthusiastic a greeting as would Shadow's beloved "Grampa", Maw Reckard. It was not hard to figure out why: Maw would always provide treats, then get down on the floor and just love all over him. Shadow loved his Grampa.
Shadow also loved his beef. Grilling havens that Abicht's Landing and The Greenhouse were, steaks was frequently on the menu and Shadow was in Red Meat Nirvana every time. Oh sure, Shadow had his bowl of traditional dog food, but you think he was going to settle for dry nuggets when those enticing aromas were rising form the grill? And let's face it, we were all soft touches where Shadow was involved: one look at that cocked jaw and grin and those searching eyes and we were all handing him morsels under the table. In the end, he ate better than most of us did.
We all watched Shadow warily during the week I was in. He struggled with the diseased leg, but while it slowed him down, it rarely stopped him altogether. He limped his way to all of his favorite spots in the house and in the yard. He lingered under the weeping cherry tree, relishing the branches that swayed around him. He seemed to enjoy it so much, that I crawled under the tree and hung out with him for a bit. I got what the allure was; it was a peaceful little place in busy surroundings...Shadow's secret hideout.
Nothing, but nothing eases the agony of losing our fur babies, does it? It is a singular pain like no other. That pain is the price that is paid for every one of them we choose to love, and I have struggled with this personally as I'm not sure I can bear up to that cost; at least as far as being a dog owner. It is clear to me from my dog-loving friends though, that the cost is more than worth it, as the friendship from Man's Best Friend is one so pure and loving, that it is impossible to deny. Look at the friendship Shadow Pup provided to so many. I will miss him greatly.
So as I told Kak on the phone when she called to break the news...I just keep the image of That Ever-Growing Celebration in The Sky so clear and pristine at this point, that it is my shield against the sadness. Almost instantaneously upon hearing the news of Shadow's passing, I held the image of Shadow and his "sister" Sophie...who was lost to us first some time ago...running and playing in a field. Its an image still crystalline to me at this moment and one I will think of for some time.
That image also includes that smile...Shadow's unmistakable smile as he runs, without a care in the world, with Sophie. And now I'm smiling. Run on, Shadow Pup.