It’s a sunny Minnesota morning, partly cloudy with bright blue skies, and I am six years old. I recognize the sound of my mother’s Pontiac as she pulls up to our backdoor of our apartment. Next to us I can hear the kids gleefully playing and I am too shy to ask them to be my friend. All I can envision is them saying, “no” and turning their small backs to me. My two year old brother, Alex, opens the car door and is holding this thing. I can barely see it but it appears to be fluffy. As my mother and brother exit the car I approach closer to see the most adorable big eyes and ears pop up in excitement from Alex’s arms. IT’S A PUPPY! I flip around to face the playground and all the children, throw my tiny arms into the air and yell “I HAVE A PUPPY, “ and wave my little hands triumphantly. I finally had a friend of my own; I had Shelby.
Fast forward four years. The front door flies open at a high velocity. My little blonde head comes bobbing down the stairs with Shelby only inches in front of me. She’s all grown up, white and a marble mix of grey sprayed about her and on her face with her now pointed ears. She had eyes like a blue healer, and similar outbursts of energy and intelligence. At the bottom stairs Shelby turns and sits, staring at me with a devilish grin on her face. She always smiled when she was excited. Granted, it wasn’t a cover girl kind of smile, although it was one I fell in love with. She and I had a favorite game – Hide and Seek. It was a very one sided game since I never taught Shelby to hide, but she was significantly better at the seeking aspect of the game being a sharp nosed canine. “Shelby. Stay…Wait here,” I would tell her, then run as fast as my little legs could take me and climb to the highest point I could. Back then I was a gymnast and I had every ounce of confidence that I would trick her this time as I peered down through the branches of the oak tree. I hear scratches and barking. As I look down there’s the sweet grinning face of my little girl. She found me again.
It’s now summer 2012. I am a grown adult woman looking down at my old smiley girl. She’s still grinning and wagging her tail as animate as always. Her coat is now dull, and shes significantly overweight. My baby’s poor spindly little legs do not match her once lean and agile body. I can see tumors have grown around her neck and her white paws are stained with blood where she had painfully licked them until they felt better, and yet there’s that pearly white grin she always gives me. I sat there for hours petting her ears the way I always did to make her slowly drift to sleep in the years past. She looks at me with a worried face. She sees me crying and thinks its because she did something wrong. With a valiant and difficult effort she crawls in between my legs and buries her head in my lap. I grab the brush from near her kennel and begin to attempt to make her coat shiny again. I was the only one who ever really took the time to brush her and she always loved it. I think we both knew deep down that this was the last time we would see each other.
Thanksgiving, this year, Shelby had a stroke and lost the ability to walk, and even though I know she would have hung on to see me one more time I couldn’t bare it. My furry friend lived a long and wonderful life of seventeen and a half years. Next summer, after the ground thaws in Michigan where my family lives, we will have a burial service at our campground for my childhood friend. I love you Shel. Even though for obvious reasons you’ll never read this, but everyone else can. Pets are family.