part of the family

“That’s my spot!”

My wife Jody recently gave me a bookmark with this slogan printed on it along with the smiling image of “Doctor Sheldon Cooper” from the TV series The Big Bang Theory. If you don’t know him, Sheldon is the annoying but somehow likable and compulsive character in the funny series about a group of nerdish physicists at Caltech who have trouble finding girlfriends, enjoy sci-fi, and collect comic books and arcane memorabilia. Sheldon is a fuss budget of the first order and can only sit in one spot on the sofa, which is one of the main props for the show.

The program is almost guaranteed to make us laugh and is a good remedy for the blues one might sing after watching much of today’s news. With the ongoing absurd Congressional drama getting to be too much for about everyone except a certain coven of witches and warlocks in the House, we can even find enjoyment sitting through reruns. Our dogs, who stretch out on the floor, seem to pick up on the jolly mood the show brings out in us and wag their tails to the beat of the theme song sung by the Canadian alternative rock band Barenaked Ladies. With such a catchy tune that Jody has memorized and sings along to, who wants to hear the sanctimonious drivel from the Capitol Hill ilk?

So how is this story related to the latest addition to our family? We added our own Sheldon, a pooch who joined our pack on 20 June, just ten days after we said good-bye to Hank, our noble Golden Retriever. Hank departed into the Great Mystery with his head in my lap, no longer suffering the ravages of massive lymphoma which was fast taking his life. As we drove home from the vet’s with tears in our eyes, we swore we would get no more pets. At home, we had two other aging pup dogs and four elderly cats, one of whom had a serious medical problem that would soon require us to intervene to ease his burden. We never expected to lose another beloved pet, Tucker, this summer, too, but he died on the operating table having a tooth removed. Our big-pawed boy should never have been taken so abruptly, but gone he was only to be followed soon after by Sneezer, our black panther, from his terminal illness.

All animal lovers have to face that final day when “it’s time,” a nasty and sad business that has always knocked us for a loop. There’s no getting used to it. We take good care of our pets and try never to take them for granted, especially since we know their lives are shorter than ours and that the years slip by faster than we would like. Losing so many of our tribe so close together put quite a damper on our spirits and led us to resolve that perhaps it was time for us to stop taking in any more. It’s just too tough. The heart can take only so much sorrow.

And then one day, as we were returning home from town, there he was, standing alongside the busy highway just waiting to be run over by one of the timber or chicken trucks that come roaring down the road. We looked at one another for a second with resignation in our eyes but not spoken before we stopped by the side of the road to rescue him. I got him across the road where he stood beside me rather shakily. As I checked in a futile effort for a collar and any ID, my hands ran over a cluster of fully engorged ticks on the back of his neck. After frantically pulling off all the obvious ticks, I picked him up and put him in the back of Jody’s Mini Cooper. He cried as I cradled his chest when lifting him.

This story has a happy ending, so you don’t have to worry about any hyped up Congressional-like drama. Some $400 later, Sheldon was cured of his Lyme Disease, no longer had a high fever, and was free of ticks. What had made him cry though took longer to cure. He was matted on his chest and hind quarters, for so long that organic material had worked its way through the congested hair and penetrated his skin. When I picked him up, it was as though he were wearing a shirt with pins inside. The pressure from my hands pushed against these infected barbs. Most could be removed with tweezers, but a number had to be surgically removed, since they were so deep they would never have backed out on their own.

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This little boy amazed the vet, who could not venture to guess how old he was. At first he said his clouded eyes told him he was an older dog, but his good teeth were those of a younger pooch. But most amazing was that “the stray” never offered any resistance and not once tried to bite the vet as he examined him. On the way home, we resolved to keep him rather than turn him into the SPCA as the vet staff recommended. He was ours for better or for worse, so we better get busy finding that special name that would befit him.

Looking for a name that would also be fun and roll off our tongues, we were a bit stumped, since he wasn’t really yet in any cuddly shape or appearance that would attract you. But he was a lovable, albeit woebegone little guy, who couldn’t just be abandoned to a fate that was far from promising. Before we knew it, we were considering “Sheldon” for a name, partly because this little fellow had lots of Sheltie in him but also because we recognized that it wouldn’t take all that much to transform him into an endearing and eventually loving member of our family. Like the Sheldon of the TV program, he had many flaws but was already growing on us.

Unlike the Sheldon on Big Bang, though, who talks almost nonstop in the most exasperating and pedantic way, our Sheldon was quiet to a fault. I had to be away for over a week shortly after we got home that first evening, so Jody and he formed a special bond as she nursed his wounds and bathed and trimmed him. The other dogs, Milo and Abbie, accepted him from the get-go, but he didn’t have any inclination to play and showed little interest in his food. But as the vet reminded us on his subsequent check ups, the boy had been very sick and needed time to recover. And recover he soon did, and with gusto.

Before long, he began to show more interest in his new run of the yard and his selection of sleeping places on the floor around the bed. The other dogs learned which bed was his and never flopped down in the wrong place for fear they would be told in no uncertain woofs, “Get up. That’s my spot!”

And before long, we came to know the real Sheldon. He enjoyed all the games dogs play, especially mock battle and “the chase.” Round and round the cars they go in hot pursuit. Changing direction seems to happen on a regular basis, as though a bell has rung and off we go counterclockwise.

As he fully regained his health, we were beginning to realize what it meant to have a Sheltie: They love to bark. And like the annoying but lovable TV Sheldon, they make noise almost nonstop, especially when outdoors. He goes out the door in the dark of early morning barking at whatever he sees or imagines. He has a particular dislike for squirrels and will bark “treed” in a way to warm the heart of any hunter. And he has no sense of his size. He’s all elbows out and just itchin’ for a fight with the deer which he fusses at nonstop. He even barks at the vultures in the evening as they circle in to roost. When he first let us hear his bark, we were reminded of the recent movie about King George V who had a stammer and had to have a speech therapist work with him. At one point when he argues with the therapist, the king lets out a commanding and emphatic “I have a voice.” Yes, you do, your majesty, and so does little Sheldon.

So now we have three dogs again, but only two cats. We think Sheldon is a bit of a reincarnation of Hank who also liked to dig holes, as Sheldon does, and to bark, but was a bit more selective. He did bark at squirrels and even tree shadows, but he drew the line at vultures.

The size of the pack and the pride restrict our own travel, so we’re resigned to never being away any longer than eight hours. The “children” can get into too many forms of mischief on the playground without some supervision. As we have adjusted to this lifestyle, we seem to be following the adage that a successful marriage is based on separate vacations and gradual loss of hearing. Perhaps I can eventually blame Sheldon and all his barking rather than too many artillery shells earlier in life for not hearing everything Jody says to me.

The one lesson Sheldon has reinforced in us, for sure, is that life has a big hole in it without our many pets. As awful as it is to lose them, there is a sense of rejuvenation in giving another one a new chance in life. Now, if only we can figure out how to teach them to wag more and bark less.

Photo by the author

David Evans

I'm retired from another life and live in the mountains of eastern West Virginia with my muse Jody along with one remaining dog.  We've decided no more dogs and cats.  Losing them is just too painful. Being independent and no longer in the reins of someone else's driver, I now have the chance to revisit the many people and places that have enriched my life. The good folks at Wesleyan College in central West Virginia guided me to a graduate degree in fine arts in early 2018.  My plan is to use some of the skills I learned from two years in this creative writing program to tell my story.