Friday, February 24, 2012

Lessons Learned from Shasta

Warning: This post is uncharacteristically sentimental. If you're as much a cynic as I usually am, you may want to avert your eyes. And if you've ever said of a pet, "It's just an animal," and meant it, you might as well navigate away from this page right now.

In Fall 1997, my family got our first (and so far only) dog, a lab-husky mix we named Shasta. At over fourteen years old, her health had been deteriorating recently, and this past Tuesday, we made the decision to let her go.

As I reflected on our time with Shasta, I realized there are a lot of things we should learn from her. I'll share a few of them here.

With ears like that, how could she NOT listen?
#1 How you start is only a small hint of how you'll end up.

The day we got Shasta, we had to go to PetSmart to get some particular supplies, so we brought her along. I could cuddle her to my chest with one hand. Hard to believe her puppy size was smaller than her adult-sized head.

#2 Listening is a skill that must be learned.

As first-time dog owners, training Shasta had a bit of a learning curve. She didn't really want to listen at first. When she wanted to do something, she wanted to do it, whether we told her differently or not. Eventually, though, she figured it out. She wasn't perfect, but most of the time she did all right.

#3 Sometimes you lead; sometimes you follow.

Related to training/learning ... When she was young, Shasta really lived up to her husky nature during walks. She wanted to PULL you along the whole way. (We often wondered what would happen if we strapped on a pair of rollerblades and took her out, but decided it would be unwise.) Usually, she'd settle down a bit partway through the walk and stay at our side. As she got older, we were the ones coaxing her along.

Miracle: Not Shasta tolerating Chia, but Chia tolerating the dog.
#4 Don't believe all the stereotypes.

Shasta grew up in a house full of cats. She got along with all of them (although they didn't all get along with her). To Shasta, the cats of the family were friends. On the other hand, she did chase any cat that wandered into the backyard.

#5 There are some things you just can't be.

Shasta really, really wanted to be a lap-dog. It was apparent for all of us, but especially with my dad. She wanted to climb right up there and get cozy. But considering her size (60+ lbs), it wasn't going to happen. Likewise, I'll never be a supermodel. And that's okay.

Sadie and her dog. Or Shasta and her kitty.
#6 Don't be afraid of unusual types. You might be best friends. (Sidenote: Remember you're setting an example.)

Remember the cats of the family? Sadie is the only one who came along after Shasta, so she grew up with a dog around. They loved each other. Sadie would get up on her hind legs to rub up against Shasta's chest (Shasta being MUCH taller than she is.) Related to the sidenote, I swear Sadie copied Shasta's walk.

#7 Do your own thing; it's okay if a few others think you're crazy.

Again showing her husky blood ran deep, Shasta loved the snow. When there were a few fresh inches of powder out in the yard, she'd bound through it, burrow her nose under it and fling it in the air. Then she'd curl up in it like it was the comfiest bed ever.
I could never look that peaceful while lying on snow.

#8 We all have faults.

Shasta's fur looked short, but it was thick, and it shed like you wouldn't believe. Not her fault—she obviously couldn't help it—but my family really should have bought stock in lint-removal devices of all types years ago. Between her and the cats, it was hopeless.

That's apparently only half the fur from one brushing session.
#9 Dream big.

You've all seen a sleeping dog dream, right? Their paws twitch like they're running, their little yips. You get the feeling they're living that dream.

#10 Sometimes you resist things that end up being good for you.

When we first got Shasta, she wasn't crazy about her leash. We'd be trying to get her safely across the street, and she'd twist around to grab the leash in her mouth and play tug-o-war with us. Not good.

This one had a flip-side from the human angle, too. My sister wanted a dog all growing up, but Dad said no because we didn't have a fenced-in backyard. In '97, we moved, and had the fenced-in yard. So Dad had to (grudgingly) give in.

In the end, no one loved Shasta like Dad, and it was mutual.

We'll miss her.


Tyson said...

This is heartbreaking to me. I am an animal lover. And not in the sense that other people say it. I am beyond an animal lover. This made me tear up because I fully intended to write a blog post today about something along the same line.

I might postpone it until tomorrow because you've got me all choked up.

All of the most important lessons of my life have come from animals. And I'm not even joking.

Sorry for your los. It's heartbreaking.

R.C. Lewis said...

Thanks, T. I very much understand what you mean.

Terri Bruce said...

I'm so sorry for your loss - having had to say goodbye to four cats over the last six years, I know how much it hurts and how much of a hole they leave in your life, even when the writing has been on the wall for a while. I love the pictures - Shasta looks worried in the picture with Chia; that picture tells who's the boss right there! :-) Thank you for sharing a bit of Shasta with us. The world seems like a richer place knowing that someone like her was in it for a time.

Rowanwolf said...

So sorry to hear about Shasta, RC. It's so hard to make that decision to let them go, but the lessons they leave us with make our fuzzy angels unforgettable. Love the photos.

R.C. Lewis said...

Thanks, Terri. Shasta definitely knew which cats were in charge. One of them (not pictured) several years ago chased Shasta down the hallway. A cat chasing a dog that size was pretty funny. :)

Thanks, Rowan. I should've mentioned that credit for all the photos goes to my sister. I ransacked her facebook page. :)