Dawn veterinary care Blogs
The first dog to last long enough in our family to be called mine was Shaggy. We found Shaggy at an animal shelter in the summer between my 6th and 7th grade years. For reasons I don’t remember, my stepfather-to-be took my brother and me to an animal shelter. Perhaps his intent was to lighten the impending life changing event–the birth of my half-sister–that was to come at the end of that summer. The dog who was to become Shaggy was a medium-sized black and white tangle of matted fur from nose to tail. Her exuberance for human attention caused her to bounce nonstop and her tail to wag with such vigor that it became a weapon. As she bounced, her tightly knotted hair coat moved ever-so-slightly as though it were one thick piece of rug. Somewhere under all that mess we found two very kind and appreciative dark brown eyes looking back and knew she was meant to be ours. According to the as-yet unnamed dog’s identification card, she’d been found as a stray on the streets of Philadelphia. It’s almost impossible to believe that she could have such a happy, friendly temperament after living on the streets, but one look at her dirty, matted, physical exterior and you knew the identification card told the hard truth. Luck was on all of our sides. Shaggy was on her last few days before she was to be euthanized. My stepfather-to-be had had a shaggy, black and white, mixed breed dog as a child and the similarity both in personality and in looks to this current Shaggy made it easy to convince him that this was fate. Our family vacation was planned for the coming week, complicating the adoption. With a little pleading, the shelter workers agreed to allow us to adopt Shaggy that day and return for her after vacation. It was a happy time and it lasted until my mother met Shaggy. My mother was horrified by Shaggy’s exterior that had become even more matted and stinky in the time between our meeting her in the shelter and bringing her home. Strong words threatened to have Shaggy returned to the shelter so as not to bring any diseases or otherwise create an unpleasant environment for the future newborn whose arrival grew closer every day. Wanting the dog as much as my brother and I did, my stepfather-to-be scheduled Shaggy for the fastest grooming appointment he could find. That groomer/miracle worker shaved, washed, and brushed until Shaggy’s outer appearance (complete with pink bows for her hair) aligned with her sunny, sweet personality. Bring on that newborn baby sister–Shaggy was dressed and ready for her!

Shaggy readily transitioned to being our pet, but never lost her tendencies to stray, to dig through trash, or her desire to run free. The truth is we didn’t put much effort into changing her. We hid the trash at home as best we could and when we went for walks, Shaggy stayed right by my side or, if she found something worth investigating, she’d run ahead and quickly return when called. There were times though when Shaggy downright returned to her roots as a street dog. This was particularly the case when it came to opening our front door. For Shaggy, the open door was an opportunity to rush out, run away as fast as she could, dig through people’s garbage (we often caught her in the act), and completely ignore our calls to her. If we attempted to bring her home, she allowed us to get just close enough to almost reach her and then she’d bolt again. Shaggy returned home only when she was ready. Some days Shaggy would stay gone for just a few minutes, others she’d roam much longer. I once missed a full day of school as Shaggy had been gone so long I worried she’d never come back. I refused to get into the car to go to school. Instead, I wandered the streets calling her name for hours. When I finally exhausted myself from crying, walking, and describing her to anyone who would listen, I went home convinced I’d never see her again. Shaggy was sitting on the front step as if she’d been wondering why no one was home to let her in!

As time when by, Shaggy filled my days with love and laughter. She slept in my room, sat by my side while I did homework, let my brother and me dress her in human clothes, let us have dance parties with her (where we waltzed and tangoed with her on her 2 back legs), and I confided in Shaggy as though she were another human best friend. Though I never thought of the future, it seemed she would always be there by my side. I wish the story of Shaggy and me had a happy ending, that she was the dog to see me through high school and onto college, but Shaggy’s life ended tragically. She and I were out for a walk. An adult man and his very large dog were approaching us and I reached to grab Shaggy’s collar to hold onto her until they’d passed. The man hollered that it was okay, that his dog was friendly so I let Shaggy run up to greet the other dog. The other dog lunged aggressively at Shaggy and in her effort to get away, she darted right into the street and was hit by a car. I watched it all happen, every bit of it, and ran to her. She was barking and barking, but only her head was moving. As I reached to pet her head to comfort her, she bit my hand hard. I stepped back as some men who’d been nearby placed her into the back of the car that had struck her. The driver was a neighbor who lived on my street and she called her veterinarian. He advised us to go to another hospital as it was a Sunday and the other vet lived close enough that he could meet us at his hospital. I experienced the desperation of wanting to help my poor dog who was suffering loudly in the back seat and of being at the mercy of finding a veterinarian who actually could. I swore to myself then that I would for certain become a veterinarian–I had to know how to help animals. When we pulled into the hospital, the veterinarian met us in the driveway. He opened the door to examine Shaggy and after just a moment he said the most horrible words I’d ever heard, “I’m sorry but she’s gone.”

The pain was unlike anything I’d ever experienced and it stayed fresh for a long time. At school, tears would unexpectedly fall and I’d attempt to hide them, thankful for the adjustment to contact lenses as an excuse. When a few attentive friends realized there was more to the tears filling my eyes, I quieted their concerns with a simple, ‘my dog died.’ For some reason, Shaggy is never the name that comes to mind for my first dog, but she certainly was. She was my first dog and the dog that set me on the certain path to becoming a veterinarian and caring about how an animal’s life comes to an end. For as much as we saved her life in the shelter that day, Shaggy saved me by helping me see that my purpose was to help heal animals and keep them from pain. Shaggy directly influenced my desire to help animals at the end of their lives. Losing Shaggy in such a tragic, painful way made it feel as though all the goodness, the love, and the joy that we shared hadn’t mattered. It felt as though her awful death erased all the peace and love that had come beforehand. I had let her down in the moment she most needed me. It’s an honor to serve other animals by helping to alleviate pain and suffering at the end of their lives and to serve their families in love and kindness. Thank you, Shaggy, for helping to set me on this path.