About seven and a half years ago I casually mentioned to my wife that I thought we needed a new dog. My reasoning was that our elderly sheepdog Pip (actually me) could use a new friend. After a pretty hard sell, my wife finally agreed. I scoured the Internet looking for the perfect dog and soon discovered Rocky. Rocky, a Shiloh Shepherd, was looking for a forever home. His picture on the Shiloh rescue site showed a beautiful black and sable dog, head whimsically cocked to one side, one ear up and one ear down with big black freckle on his tongue. I was sold. Shiloh’s are a rare breed of mostly German Shepherd. They are much larger and more muscular than regular German Shepherds and have a straight back rather than the angulation found in modern shepherds. He had a black face with the most beautiful mane on his neck.
I made a few calls to find out his story and decided that we would adopt him. We drove from Connecticut to Pittsburg to pick him up. We were excited about the prospect of getting a new dog.
It was a cold January afternoon when we met him. We chatted with his foster parent for a while, and finally she brought him out. I was amazed at how beautiful he was. My wife almost passed out when she saw him, never imagining how big he was. The foster mom gave me a leash and I took him out for a walk. He handled like a sports car. He patiently walked beside me and heeded all of my commands. We signed some papers and took him out to the car. When I opened the door he gracefully leaped into the car and settled down in the back seat. For the next ten hours he licked, nuzzled and kissed us as if to thank us for his good fortune.
Our poor Pip never got the chance to become friends with him as she had a stroke one month later and had to be put to sleep. Rocky assumed his role as the omega dog in the pack of three other cats. Smokey, our eldest cat ruled the roost with an iron paw. He was petrified of Lucky, our reclusive, special education cat. Only Misty, our youngest cat, was his friend. They would chase each other and then nap together during the day. They were always kissing each other as if they were lovers.
During the years that we had him I was able to teach him agility. He would jump over fences, leap through tires and go up and down on an A frame. He would run and fetch his ball for hours. When he was tired he knew to pick up his ball and head for the house for a welcome drink and snooze. He would also “make believe” that he couldn’t find the ball. He knew if he didn’t bring the ball back, he wouldn’t get a treat. I would race over to the ball and all the while Rocky would ignore it. As soon as I reached the ball to pick it up, he would pounce on it! He had a good sense of humor.
He was the most affectionate dog I have ever known. He would come over to us and hang his head while silently saying pet me. The fur on his head was like velvet. A scratch on his nose or a knuckle in his ear would send him into ecstasy. If I stopped, he would let me know that I wasn’t done petting him by giving me a smart snout of his muzzle or place a paw on my arm. We discovered he loved Canadian bacon one day when after cooking a batch for breakfast, I placed them on a paper towel to drain. I let them out of my sight for five seconds to answer the phone. That was all it took. All eight pieces gone! You couldn’t leave a glass of water on the coffee table as he would casually come over and quickly drain it. You literally had to keep one hand on your napkin because he would snatch it from the table and run away with it. A used Klennex was the ultimate prize. He would happily shred them on the just vacuumed carpet. And if you had a cold, well, the floor would look like Time’s Square at New Years.
About two years ago he began to have trouble pooping. We brought him to the vet who gravely told us that he probably had perianal cancer and should have him see a surgeon immediately. We were in shock. Our vital, handsome boy had cancer! That day we drove down to the hospital and booked him for surgery. He came through fine. A few weeks later brought him back for a follow up visit. He had another tumor. Oh no, not again! He went into surgery that day and we picked him up the following afternoon. Through all of this he never once complained. After a few weeks he was running in the back yard fetching his ball as usual. The oncologist started him on a course of chemotherapy. After six months and many x-rays and ultrasounds later, she announced that the cancer was in remission. We couldn’t have been happier.
My wife decided to cook his food rather than buy canned or bagged food. She experimented around and came up with a combination of chicken, beef, salmon, gizzards, oats, and vegetables. Rocky, who was always a picky eater, dove into this food like nobody’s business. His coat, which was always gorgeous, became even more beautiful. He was much happier.
About a year ago, I noticed that every now and then, his rear leg would give out. Our vet referred us to a neurologist who told us Rocky was starting to exhibit symptoms of DM; degenerative myelopathy. This insidious disease is akin to multiple sclerosis in humans and is incurable. Just when it seems that things couldn’t get any worse we found out that his cancer had returned. We started chemo again but the first drug didn’t work so we tried a second one. The second drug made him so sick. He wouldn’t eat, he was vomiting and had constant diarrhea. After two doses of this drug he was rechecked by the oncologist. This drug too was not working. We decided not to continue with chemo and let nature take it course. We would keep him happy, well fed, and gave him as many treats as he wanted.
The DM started to accelerate. He was no longer able to jump on the bed. He couldn’t climb the stairs without assistance. Finally, he was unable to even stand up on his own. This once noble, graceful dog could not even get up to get a drink of water. The cancer began to affect his appetite. He stopped eating and wouldn’t even take a treat. He was dying.
We had to make the most difficult decision for a dog owner; when to say goodbye. My heart wanted to wait a little longer, but my head forced me to deal with the reality of life. A dog who used to fetch, jump through tires and over fences could barely stand for more than a few seconds. A dog who would steal a whole batch of Canadian bacon refused to eat one tiny morsel of food. With tears streaming from my eyes I asked my wife to call the vet and arrange for his end of life. Before we went, I sat next to him, stroking his head and recounted story after story of all his memorable exploits. We then went to the vet, placed him on his favorite pillow and helped him walk over the rainbow bridge. We told him to please say hello to Pip and to Smokey who had passed a few months ago. His eyes told us he would be happy to and thanked us for letting him finally sleep in peace.