Today, June 3, 2013, I killed a true and loyal companion. No, I did not shoot her or actually commit the act myself, but I commissioned it. I had my vet give a lethal injection to a kind and gentle soul who never committed any crime. I do feel that, if she could have spoken to me about it, she would have asked me to do it. With incurable chronic kidney failure and pancreatitis, she couldn’t stand up without help and could barely stagger a few steps. She was in misery. Yet, it hurt like a knife through the heart when she went away and the ache is so strong I have a hard time not breaking out in tears now. Only you who have had to go through the same situation can understand. Those who have not might dismiss this, saying, “She was only a dog.” To me, she was The Dog. The Dog: a noble title, duly earned, that was bestowed upon Jillaroo, affectionately known as Jilly. I often called her nicknames like Jilly-Dog, Dog-Dog and, these last few years, Old Dog, but the “Dog” part was not an insult, but a term of respect. Much like when Sherlock Holmes referred to Irene Adler as “The Woman.”
Back in 2004, I was looking for a dog. We had lost our Sheltie, Fionna, a couple of years
before. I issued her death warrant too, mainly because liver cancer was causing her great pain. After that, I had planned never to have another dog. The pain of killing her, albeit indirectly, and the loss was just too great. But I missed that “friendly presence,” a being who always welcomed you home, no matter how long you left her alone, and was there even if you ignored her, satisfied with having you around. I finally decided to find another faithful companion. I did not want another Sheltie because it would feel like I was trying to replace Fionna. For me (and everyone is different in this, so it is not a slam for those who feel otherwise), it would almost seem disloyal. But, liking the nature and temperament of herding dogs, I decided on an Aussie (Australian Shepherd). I contacted Aussie Rescue.and established a line of communication. Then I got a call and the lady who ran it let me know that there was an Aussie in the Woodland Animal Shelter that needed a home. All of the normal foster homes were full and the dog was in danger for her life if not adopted. She said, “You’d be a hero if you took her.” Concerned with saving a dog’s life rather than our own heroic status, my wife Kelly and I hopped in our car and headed to Woodland, CA.
When we first saw Jilly, or the Aussie who was to become Jilly, she did not look good. She had suffered from a severe infestation of fleas and had gnawed all the hair off her hindquarters. She had kennel cough, so she was in isolation instead of the “adoption line” and lethargic. The animal shelter had a gravel yard to get to know your possible adoptee and Jilly was let into it with us. She immediately did her business, both types, but didn’t run up to us with butt (Aussies have no tail) wagging. Kelly looked askance, seeing a haggard, stand-offish dog, and asked, “Are you sure you want her?” Somehow, I knew Jilly was the right one. “Definitely.” So, on the 23rd of October, 2004, Jilly became a part of our family.
As an aside, she had a chip and the animal shelter had called the name listed as owner. He had told them, “I gave her away years ago. I don’t care what you do with her.” Her name on the chip was Mesa. Odd name for an Australian, eh, mate? So I found Jillaroo, which is an Aussie term for a female ranch hand. Later I found out that Aussies are not Australian, but American. However, I still will take Jilly over Mesa. We did also find out from the chip that Jilly (not Mesa) was born on May 27, 2000.
From the beginning, I called her “the good kid.” She didn’t have a mean bone in her body. She did get a little crotchety with other dogs in her old age, but was never mean to them. She was smart. Very smart. Even though we spent little time training her, she quickly learned “sit,” “lie down,” “shake,” and “play dead.” She also would talk on command. I have videos of her doing so that I will watch again. In time. If you said “go to bed,” let’s go outside,” “want to go for a walk?” or “how about breakfast (or lunch)?”, she knew exactly what you meant and acted accordingly. When I took her for a walk on the trail along our local canal (on a leash), she was always friendly to people and other dogs. Sometimes the other dogs, often illegally off-leash, were not as friendly, but she seemed to say, “What’s his problem?” instead of growling back. (Why is it the owners always said, “He’s never done that before?”) I started carrying a walking stick to keep the hostiles at bay.
She wasn’t perfect, but her flaws were self-destructive rather than destructive. She would get “hot spots” at times due to excessive licking of herself. We had to put on the dreaded “hood” to stop her at times. She always gave such a tortured look when we put it on her. The worst problems were also the funniest in hindsight. Twice she got out (she was not good at “come”) and was lost for a couple of hours each time. When we found her and brought her home, after a few hours she started staggering, almost falling over. We took her to the animal hospital (it happened after her vet’s closing time, of course). They took her in and put her on an IV. The first time it happened, the hospital thought she was going to die, but she miraculously recovered. Then it happened again. The vet at the hospital asked us, “Is there any pot growing around your house?” While I could definitely state not at ours, we live in a wooded area and who knows what private stash might be growing. “Then the vet said, “Of course, it could be hallucinogenic mushrooms. I’ve seen this before and I’m pretty sure that’s what caused her problems. She OD’ed.” Fortunately, she recovered again and never lapsed back into her drug habit. I had one of the few dogs who went into rehab. Considering the price of the animal hospital, I would have been better off sending her to Betty Ford’s. After that, I sometimes called her Stoner Dog.
There are so many fond memories. She loved the snow, romping through it when it was up to her belly, yet hated rain. She didn’t tear up things in the house, but destroyed her toys. All except “Snow Dude,” which was the weirdest, ugliest one of them all. I guess she felt pity for him. Snow Dude outlived Jilly. Almost every morning, I would get up early, eat breakfast, and sit in a recliner while I did the NY Times crossword puzzle. She would lie next to the chair and I would rub her behind her ears while I crossed pens with Will Shortz and his cohorts. Often she would flip on her back for a belly rub. She loved it most when I went out on the deck to fill in the blanks. When I went up to my office to work on the computer, she would follow and lie beside me. It didn’t matter if I reached over to pet her. She loved being near me. As I sit here typing, I feel her presence even though she is not here.
I started this post with sadness. I’ve tried to make it a little more upbeat as I went along. In time, those “up” moments should dominate my memories. For now, I can only paraphrase Robert Burns, “Jilly Dog, when will we see your like again.” Good bye, old dog. I miss you more than I can say.