I was deep underground, a dozen stops away from my home. My eyes were locked on a small black and white dog – probably a Shih Tzu – sitting just a few feet away. His head was resting on the barely cushioned seat and I couldn’t help but notice the resemblance.
For the first time since in a dozen years, I truly missed my childhood dog, Shilo. He had just passed away at the fulfilling age of fifteen. That’s 73 in dog years, so let’s be honest – he pretty much killed it.
No pun intended.
Fifteen. At least, I think that’ how old he was. To this day, I still count his age using my fingers – one for each year since we brought him home in the fourth grade. It’s not the most accurate system, but it’s where my memories begin. He led an adventurous life in and around our semi-rural home, where he wandered about two acres of property, through all four seasons, pretty much as he pleased.
My parents and I (okay, mostly my parents) treated him like a king.
He had a leash but he didn’t really need one. He’d occasionally roam off the trails and into our neighbour’s property but was always quick to return at my dad’s bark, slinking back with a tail so literally wedged in between his legs that you’d have thought it was a cartoon.
He loved to chase away deer, too, an animal approximately 10-20 times his size. Shilo would bolt out the back door, leap off the patio, and scurry towards the scavengers at my mother’s bird feeder.
“Get the fuck away from that bird feed!” I imagined him thinking.
And always to my surprise, the deer would shoot up and gallop away like spineless cowards, leaving Shilo, the 12 pound Shih Tzu with a weird name because fourth grade me insisted on spelling it like that, standing triumphantly in the middle of the yard. Lord Of The Lawn.
The royal reign continued inside. As a puppy, he spent a total of two nights next to our beds in his carrier kennel. Once in my room – no thanks – and once in my parents’ before it was decided that Shilo was not a “crate” dog. Instead, he decided (for us) on a much more agreeable arrangement: he would sleep on (make that in) the middle of my parents’ bed, sprawling out between them like a “big furry birth control pill”, as my father described it. The bed rested on a fairly high box spring, so he could just barely jump up without any help. But as soon as he did, he claimed his turf and never gave it up.
We owned the castle, but he was the king.
What I loved most about him, and all pets really, is how he reflected our family’s personality back at us from five feet below. Maybe we just project these characteristics onto our pets, but in Shilo, I truly saw our family’s DNA. He was independent, curious, and protective of his private time. He caused some trouble but always steered clear of chaos. He was unafraid of the world even though it was so unafraid of him.
In old age, Shilo’s health began to decline and he could no longer hop onto my parents’ bed. So, my father, ever the handyman, constructed a simple but very custom wood ramp that led up from the floor to their mattress. After initially scoffing at the idea, (“what happened to picking me up?”) Shilo began using it and continued to do so for years. He’d climb up however he had to. But eventually that stopped working, too.
So, my parents took the box spring frame out from under their bed and put the mattress on their floor.
I’ll never forget seeing that for the first time during my last weekend visit home before his death. It was sad, but also incredibly comforting to witness the love and care that he was receiving in our home during his weakest and final days.
I’d reached my subway transfer station. As I stood up from my seat, I quickly debated whether or not to say something to the owner of the black and white dog. Surely, anything I could have said would come out awkwardly. So instead, I looked at his deep black eyes and familiar nose one last time, hopped off the train, and took a moment to appreciate just how often I see my dog, and my entire family, everywhere I go.
So glad they could join along for the crazy ride.