Pet Therapy Notes
Published in

Pet Therapy Notes

The Day Paradise Put Up a Parking Lot

How my dog taught me the lesson in Joni Mitchell’s song

Shisa at Peter’s Canyon

I miss my dog. I desperately needed to get that out of my head and put it somewhere else. Here’s our story. She was a not so special breed rescued from Mexico and she was the first dog I was caring for on my own. My other family dogs were not especially well cared for because I had parents who weren’t particularly dog people. At the time my brother and I whined and cajoled them enough to break through their dog resistance and we were able to bring a dog or two home. Because my parents had no idea how to train a dog these poor family members were eventually relegated to the backyard exclusively where they slowly went insane from loneliness and boredom. I vowed never to do that to a dog were I ever to bring one into my own household. My dog would live inside my house and truly become, as every dog should, a full fledged member of the family.

And so my first very own dog was medium sized, black with brown markings — best guess a mutt with Manchester Terrier and Border Collie overtones. A bit unclear as to her real age, she was either one or two years old when we brought her home. She started out as a one year old on the rescue website but the more interest I showed in her the older she got. Didn’t matter though since I wasn’t looking for a spring chicken.

I named her Shisa. This was because my family and I had just returned from a trip to Okinawa where it is customary to place statues of this fierce lion-dog creature that were called shisas in front of homes and buildings. The job of the shisa was to protect the building by keeping the bad spirits out and the good spirits in. I felt it was a fitting name for her since part of the reason I wanted a dog was for intruder alert purposes.

I have to be honest and say I don’t know if I deeply bonded with her in a way a dog parent can do where the animal becomes like one of your children. I don’t think I was very affectionate with her, but I did do all the requisite dog parent duties of feeding, grooming (intermittently), walking etc. She stuck with me though. She was one of those dogs that you could walk without a leash because she wasn’t interested in making a bolt for freedom like my other family dogs often did. She knew where the food and warm shelter was coming from and I assumed her early years of scrounging and hard living as a street dog made her well aware that what I lacked in warm fuzzy feelings I made up for in regular food dispensing and cozy bed providing.

She started out very quiet and crept surreptitiously around us. If we even started to move in her general direction she would move away. She didn’t bark for months. But gradually over time I think she recognized she now had a permanent position in our household and we gradually became her people. She learned to bark. Mostly to inform us that Amazon was dropping off yet another package and for some reason she needed to protect us from people riding bicycles through our neighborhood. She became the Shisa in charge of our house and did her very best to keep the evil at bay.

Shisa passed away a week ago. Did not have a prolonged illness. We didn’t know her pancreas and kidneys were failing her until it was clear she was on the brink of them completely shutting down. One day she was pretty much her usual self, the next day she couldn’t eat, was walking in the morning but stopped by the afternoon, her breathing becoming unusually fast and labored. I was with both my parents when they died so I recognized that maybe Shisa was in a bad state. But I didn’t really believe it. She was fine just yesterday so how could she be at death’s door today?

My daughter and I took her to an emergency hospital where she had to stay overnight because her condition was serious. The vet called at 5:30 the next morning to say he was very sorry but Shisa had passed away. I was surprised. I wasn’t surprised. My chest hurt.

So it has gone for days since then. Though I foolishly believed I hadn’t fully bonded with Shisa, her absence makes it very clear I was mistaken. Her passing has left a big empty space where she had taken up residence. Eight years of her eyes following my every move, her body doing the same as I traveled from room to room, her daily reminder that both of us needed walking, her snoring in the night like a person was in the room with me. Now my footsteps sound sad and hollow. There is no clattering of doggie feet trailing after me around the house. The house feels wrong. Her absence weighs palpably on my heart. More than I ever imagined it would. How silly I was to think we weren’t thick as thieves. From the first moment she came through my door she was home, she was family and now I realize, just like family, how much I had taken for granted.

Fare well my dearest Shisa. Please feel free to come for visits now and again.

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Sharon Pillai

Sharon Pillai

Learning how to live. Writing helps.