Sunday, May 21, 2006

Goodbye, Shelby

Yesterday our long-time family dog, Shelby, was put to sleep at the age of 15. We acquired him in the fall of 1990 as a puppy, when the kids were 7 and 3. Now they are 22 and 18, all grown up, and, as if his work was done, Shelby's body started to give out. He had a good long run as our friend, playmate, and little brother.

He was a mixed-breed dog of medium size, with a beagle-type head and ears, but with a hunter's deep chest and slender hips. It's a pity that none of us have ever been hunters, because he would have excelled at that; he knew how to point, and when he barked (not very often, for he was rather quiet), it was with the hound dog's arooo! and not the yike-yike-yike of the lapdog. Occasionally he would slip through the security system for independent forays, returning hours later with some strange dog's supper dish. And who will ever forget the time when he snuck into the kitchen and ate an entire plate of brownies, with no ill effects? He was the children's special friend, sleeping on their beds until his hips and legs became too fragile to manage even that small hop.

With most species, we share the planet as passengers share the same train (although no doubt the animal creation finds us an unusually loud, smelly, violent, and unruly group to travel with), and God's purpose and plan for them is a complete mystery; neither Scripture, tradition, nor reason give us any clue about the post-mortem fate of creatures, if any. But the species Canis domesticus seems to have evolved alongside Homo sapiens, and their fate — biologically, at least — seems intertwined with ours, their behaviors shaped by human habits.

Even the few hints about our own human destiny do not encourage the view that the Resurrection life is just this world all over again; and yet there must be some kind of continuity at some level. Otherwise talk about "the new creation" would be devoid of content, denoting only "unimaginable beings in some unimaginable mode of existence." Since there must be some continuity, perhaps it is not going too far to hope that these creatures, at least, may find a place in the new heaven and new earth; and that when we awake in newness of life, out of all the other wonders in store for us, one of them might be the sight of our glorified dogs jumping up to lick our faces.

In closing, I append a poem by Robinson Jeffers, called "The House Dog's Grave." Many thanks to Michael Gilleland, who recently included it in his blog.

I've changed my ways a little; I cannot now
Run with you in the evenings along the shore,
Except in a kind of dream; and you, if you dream a moment,
You see me there.

So leave awhile the paw-marks on the front door
Where I used to scratch to go out or in,
And you'd soon open; leave on the kitchen floor
The marks of my drinking-pan.

I cannot lie by your fire as I used to do
On the warm stone,
Nor at the foot of your bed; no, all the nights through
I lie alone.

But your kind thought has laid me less than six feet
Outside your window where firelight so often plays,
And where you sit to read - and I fear often grieving for me -
Every night your lamplight lies on my place.

You, man and woman, live so long, it is hard
To think of you ever dying.
A little dog would get tired, living so long.
I hope that when you are lying

Under the ground like me your lives will appear
As good and joyful as mine.
No, dears, that's too much hope: you are not so well cared for
As I have been.

And never have known the passionate undivided
Fidelities that I knew.
Your minds are perhaps too active, too many-sided...
But to me you were true.

You were never masters, but friends. I was your friend.
I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures
To the end and far past the end. If this is my end,
I am not lonely. I am not afraid. I am still yours.


Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


Very moving! I too have a special friend in my Jack Russell Terrier (Holly). She is such a friend to Natalie and Nancy and myself. I will miss her when her time comes.

crystal said...

I'm sorry about your dog. I lost three of my four cats within the last year, all elderly. Miss them.

Jim Janknegt said...


Sorry to hear of your dog's demise. I ran over Chester, our family pet, several years ago the night before we were heading out of town for vacation. In the midst of getting ready I stopped, built a small wooden casket and had a dog funeral. My daughter was young at the time and I bought a copy of Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant:

We enscribed it to Chester and a couple of years ago when we lost another dog, Ajax, we added his name to the book.

I personally hope that all species of animals will be in heaven praising God. Considering something like 99% of all species are extinct that would give us a lot to look forward to in addition to seeing God's face,

We still have five dogs so we are at no lose for doggy companionship.

Jim Janknegt

theswain said...

So very sorry at your loss! Having lost too many canine and feline companions, I know how it hurts time and again. I remember them all by name and miss them as much as I cherish and adore and spoil my current housemates (2 cats, 2 pugs, neapolitan mastif on the way)

EMC said...

Many thanks to everyone for the kind words!

Michael said...

Very poignant - sympathies for your loss. Our dog Pluto is nearly 11, and though he is young for his age in many ways, and can scramble lickety-split, very comically, when a rabbit needs to be chased, he is clearly showing his age in his stiffer joints and increasingly long naps. The resurrection is full of mystery, but one would think that such good-hearted creatures would live again someday.