Sheba

October 18, 2021

It’s been a sad few days here in the longitudes household.  Our beloved dog, Sheba, trotted over the Rainbow Bridge on November 1.

I’ve done obituaries here in the past, for both animal and human loved ones.  Sharing their photos and stories helps me deal with grief…and I’m really grieving now…so I appreciate your indulgence.

Sheba was 16 years old.  She was with us for 12 years and 7 months.  We always identified her as a “Border Collie mix,” but Lynn did a canine DNA test a few years ago which surprisingly revealed German Shepherd, Doberman Pinscher, Chow Chow, and unknown herding breed!  But other than herder, I’m not convinced of this finding, as her photos might show. 

Sheba’s first photo, probably the day we got her. She was very malnourished. We still have her pink bandana.

We found her at the Franklin County (Ohio) Dog Shelter in March 2009 as Lynn and I approached “empty nest” status.  They have a “Mingle with Our Mutts” event every other Sunday from 12-2, a veritable flea market of dogs from shelters in central Ohio.  We arrived at 12 p.m. sharp, and it couldn’t have been more than 30 seconds before we spied Sheba amongst maybe a hundred canines.  She was up for adoption along with another dog through Saving Pets One at a Time (S.P.O.T.), a humane society recently formed in nearby Morgan County. 

With her fluffy ears, curlicue tail, and striking coat of white fur, Sheba (her original name) stood out immediately.  She also had a distinctive dark, moist scar running from her left eye that looked like dripping mascara. S.P.O.T. told us she’d been scratched by a “weed.”

November 2009. Starlet Sheba, with our daughter Holly

Her personality was sweet as sugar, too.   Unlike our previous dog, Brownie, Sheba appeared sociable with strangers as well as other dogs.  At the pound, Lynn and I took turns guarding her—so she wouldn’t get swooped away—while each of us checked out the other “wares.”  But from the moment I met her I was convinced she was the dog for us.

I’ll never understand how her original owners could have given Sheba up.  For us, she was a fur angel, the proverbial plum pulled from the pie.

November 2010. Sheba loved laying on the couch.

Sheba’s favorite activities were joining me on runs and walks, chasing squirrels in the backyard, and playing fetch and tug-of-war.  Her favorite human foods were Lynn’s homemade pizza (crust) and my Sunday morning “au jus”—sausage drippings mixed with dry dog food.  Whenever we had company, she always inserted herself in the middle of the action.  She also followed me around the yard when I did yardwork, and often from room to room.  And at night she slept on a pad on the floor, next to me, shifting position throughout the night.

October 2011, front yard of new house

Sheba loved people and strolled right up to both neighbors and strangers alike, ears pinned back and tail wagging.  She also enjoyed meeting other dogs, although she sometimes displayed a mild “alpha female” tendency with certain females.  She rarely barked, and when she did it was muffled.  Her barking moments occurred when flying out the back door toward her neighbor dogs, or whenever I encouraged her with mock growls (or, after she jumped on the bed with us weekend mornings, when I teased her with “How-deee PARD-A-NER!”).

Sheba’s only faults—if they can be called that—were a morbid fear of loud noises; thunderstorms and the Fourth of July had her trembling and crawling under furniture. And she was an expert fur shedder.  In fact, we’ll be vacuuming clumps of white hair for the next several months!

May 2012, while visiting “Gram”

Walks and runs were her favorite times, even more so than eating.  If she heard the words “run,” “walk,” or “walk-ey,” she became glued to me, often inserting her head under my legs while I tried to tie my running shows at the foot of the stairs.  Walks could be difficult for Lynn, because Sheba was strong and had never been trained to heel, and she loved to sniff more than any dog we’ve ever known.  As time progressed and her stamina and rear legs began to fail, the runs were eliminated.  Then the walks became shorter and shorter.

February 2014, with cats Chloe and Alex in my music/computer room

I could go on and on about this beautiful animal.  Everyone adored her.  She gave us a ton of love, and we did our best to do the same, although we could never equal what she gave to us. She was not just a pet, she was a living and breathing symbol of home, warmth, comfort, family, and unqualified love.  All the things that make living worthwhile.

Sheba, you will be in our hearts forever.

January 2017
January 2019. Caught in the act, in my muddy garden!
October 19, 2021. Sheba on her “pad” in my music/computer room. She followed me in whenever I was on the computer or was reading. She also had two pads in our bedroom.
Last photo. Together at the fire pit, October 23, 2021

100th Blog Post

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I started longitudes to try to sell copies of my book (“Bluejackets in the Blubber Room”). Well, the blubber book sales tanked, but the blabbering blog has taken a life of its own.

Someone said that blogs… (the word “blog” is short for “web-log”)… have an average lifespan of 2 1/2 years. Longitudes is now over 4 years young. So I’m actually beating the odds, which is rare for me.

To recognize the insignificant occasion of my 100th post, I’m attaching links to six of my older essays. These essays either got a lot of response, or are special to me… or both.

Since I’m honoring myself, I’d like to thank everyone who’s “liked” my stuff or offered comments: Tad, Mary K, Brian, Neil, Frank, Phil, Rich, Leah, Thom, Dennis, Cindy, Dean, and everyone else who drops in for coffee.

Nobody likes writing in a vacuum, so it’s a huge thrill to know someone has read and been affected by something I’ve written. Some of my thoughts may have struck a nerve on occasion. While I think it’s important to express opinion, and while I may not respect certain views, I nevertheless try to respect the reader (it’s an alien concept in these days of instant communication, but it is possible). Anyway, I hope I’ve never offended anyone. If I have, I apologize.

So here are six blasts from the past… just click the titles. Thanks again, everyone!

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It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Leaving (Touring Bob Dylan’s Hometown)

I wrote this travelogue after visiting Bob Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota. I used the present tense because I wanted the reader to feel like he or she was on the journey.

The underlying theme is how one person’s hero can have little or no impact on someone else. Also, that it’s difficult or impossible to identify genius or from where it arises.

A Best Friend’s Unconditional Love

I sent this essay to a National Public Radio (NPR) show hoping they’d publish it. Too much competition, I guess. So I submitted it to longitudes, and it was accepted! It’s about our family dog, Brownie, a rambunctious Australian Shepherd who didn’t exactly endear himself to outsiders, but was totally devoted to the family. His sudden death brought a lot of tears, but he gave us many good memories. The top photo was taken just before he died.

America and Guns

The Sandy Hook tragedy hit me hard, as it did most everyone else. How can something so horrifying happen? The answers are very complex. But to deny that one of the factors is firearms, and America’s refusal to address why it leads the world in per capita gun violence is, to me, ridiculous.

Remembering Biff

After I write something I usually forget about it. But I keep returning to this essay. It’s a tribute to a friend from childhood that I’d lost track of for many years. Then I suddenly learned about him. He’d taken Horace Greeley’s advice and gone West, doing things I’d always wanted to do (“living the dream,” as the cliché goes), but for which I never had the courage or ability. Then his life was tragically cut short.

Visiting the past has opened a few doors for me. Such is the case with learning about Biff. He reminds me that life is momentary, and we need to (try to) live it to the max while we have it… as Biff evidently did.

A Week in the Woods: My Appalachian Trail 101 – Through the Looking Glass

This is about an Appalachian Trail hike I took, and it got more feedback than probably any other post (which isn’t saying much!). I guess it’s because people enjoy reading about adventure and unusual experiences. This hike wasn’t all that adventurous or unusual, but maybe folks found a certain vicarious thrill. A lot of the “likes” and “follows” came from people who have their own travel-related blogs. After writing this, I realized that there are many vibrant people around the globe who are in constant motion, immersing themselves in the outdoors and different cultures, places, and experiences.

The Rain, the Trees, and Other Things

I created a sub-category called “50 Years” to highlight people or events on their 50th anniversary (and also because the decade of the 1960s fascinates me). I’m also real big on conservation issues, and these things came together with this Earth Day essay recognizing 50 years since the signing of America’s Wilderness Act. The title is a pun on an old Cowsills song, “The Rain, the Park, and Other Things.”

At one time, there was a lot of wilderness but only a few people. Now, it’s just the opposite, and this paradigm is too often taken for granted. I believe it’s crucial to protect as many wild places as possible, for our spiritual well-being in addition to the well-being of other species.

This essay didn’t get a lot of views (I have an annoying tendency to sound like I’m preaching – see above). But that’s okay. Maybe Henry Thoreau and John Muir gave it a nod of approval, which is reward enough.

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A Best Friend’s Unconditional Love

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(I submitted this essay to the NPR series This I Believe several years ago, after our dog Brownie died.  Anyone who’s lost a beloved pet knows how difficult it can be)

 

I open the front door and step onto the tiled hallway floor.  I grasp the brass doorknob of the coat closet, turn the handle, then reach in and shuffle the hooks on the coat rack.  Before draping my jacket over the wire, I hear a flurry of rapid clicking sounds on the porcelain.  By the time I hang my jacket, he’s lunging at my waist, panting heavily, gaping jowls and eyes afire.

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While he was alive, I never thought of Brownie as being my best friend.  He was the one, more than anyone else, who anticipated my arrival home. Sometimes, instead of accosting me at the coat closet, he’d rush into the den, and I’d hear his big paws thumping the carpet, in joyful harmony with the sound of his favorite squeaky toy.  Happy because I’d finally returned.

Brownie and I both loved to run, and he treated every evening jog like an exotic vacation. There were all sorts of smells to be investigated, squirrels to be corralled, fenced-in dogs to strut in front of, shrubs and street signs to be marked. As we approached home, I always felt refreshed, but also relieved that my exercise was over. I’m not sure how Brownie felt. But I have a feeling he’d delay even his evening meal to do it all over again.

One often hears the expression “unconditional love.” I believe that phrase was coined over a dog. Yes, children too offer love without condition. But eventually they mature, lose their innocence, and often grow distant. One time my temper got the best of me after Brownie became, shall we say, “casual” with the carpet. He patiently tolerated my yelling until I made the mistake of grabbing his neck fur. Then, only in defense, he let me have it (I still bear the scarlet letter, on my right palm). But only seconds later, he was nudging up to me, pleading for my love and forgiveness.

Brownie was an Australian Shepherd, or “Aussie.” This breed is very family-oriented and protective. Brownie was happiest when the whole family was together. He expressed his contentment by laying at the nucleus of our little circle in the den and licking the carpet. “Brownie, stop licking the carpet!” my wife would scold. It didn’t bother me. Perhaps this was his way of licking all of us at the same time.

We didn’t know Brownie had cancer until it was far advanced. One evening I led him out the front door on his leash.  But this time he didn’t prance in front of me.  The leash suddenly became taut.  I turned around, and saw Brownie sitting like a lump on the front walk.  Something was wrong.  “I’m leaving Brownie inside tonight,” I yelled inside to Lynn.  “I don’t think he feels good.”  As I walked down the driveway, Brownie gazed after me through the glass, his fluffy ears upright as if to say “Why aren’t you taking me with you?”  I walked slowly until I was outside his range of vision.  Only then did I start to run. When I returned home, he was waiting for me by the driveway.  While I stretched my legs on the grass, he ambled over to me, his head lowered. The vet later said that the moisture under his eyes was probably caused by a fever. But I don’t know.

So now I’ll be running alone. I knew this day would come.  But, as when a close family member dies, I never expected it to hurt so much. My partner, my compatriot – my best friend – is gone.

I believe that, even though I didn’t know it when he was alive, Brownie knew he was my best friend. That thin little pink line on my right palm reminds me. Strangely, the scar doesn’t elicit a bad memory. The brief anger I felt toward my friend – a very human moment of weakness – was obliterated by what transpired immediately afterwards.  Something far more powerful: Brownie’s unconditional love and forgiveness.

Canine Madonna