So if you have been here before you probably know about Sheba, the large and beautiful German Shepherd who has been my faithful friend for four years, and Eppie the tiny terrier, who has been Sheba’s sidekick for the last three years.
I have nearly always had a dog and truly believe that there is no better company for a writer than a dog. When you are stuck for words it is great to take a break to walk a dog. In fact, it is when I am out walking my dogs that I often find new ideas drifting into my mind. I also find it helps me with finding a solution to my writing problems.
So I am very sad to say that Sheba is no longer with us. It happened – as the worst things always do – suddenly. On Good Friday M and I left both dogs in the house alone for a couple of hours while we went to the local pool for a swim.
They were both in fine form, that is to say, Sheba was sitting in her one of her favourite places on the top step of the stairs and Eppie, who thinks she is a huge menacing dog instead of a tiny ball of fluff was perched on the back of a chair watching out for intruders/invaders and other assorted threats – from the safety of the living room window.
When we returned I went straight for the glass jar on top of the fridge. This is where I keep an assortment of doggie treats and I always give my dogs a tiny dog biscuit when I return home after leaving them alone, which, since I work from home, is not very often. Usually, lifting the jar is enough to bring the two of them panting at my feet, however, Sheba showed no interest and even turned her face away from the treat when I held it close to her mouth.
Sheba loved her little treats and I had formed the habit in an attempt to help her with her separation anxiety. She had developed this problem when, after living with a family in Dublin for seven years she was unceremoniously placed in the Madra animal shelter here in Galway. By the way, Madra is an absolutely wonderful animal charity and the staff there do fantastic work caring for animals that have been dumped – whether that is on the side of the road, or in pounds – abandoned and unloved, uncared for, or even as frequently happens – when they have been abused.
Sheba had been with the same family all her life. She had never been placed in a kennel before and the trauma of being cast out so suddenly never totally went away and as a result she would become terribly anxious whenever I left her.
The story the family gave when they handed Sheba over to the shelter was that their child had developed asthma which made it impossible for them to keep Sheba with them. I am not saying this isn’t true but who knows, some people re-home their dogs for all sorts of spurious reasons and anyone who has spent any time in an animal shelter will have heard it all.
Sheba was in the shelter for months before we saw her picture and read her story on the Madras Facebook page. We had been looking for a smaller dog but one look at her beautiful face and sorrowful eyes and we decided she was the one for us.
When she first arrived she was timid and quiet and clearly terrified. I did everything I could to make her feel at home but I could feel her distress, even though all she was doing was sitting quietly and watching everything that happened around her.
I sensed that she was waiting to find out if something else terrible was going to happen to her. After all she had already been taken from her home of seven years, placed in a strange place and now here she was in another strange place and with another two strangers.
On her second day with us I ran out of milk and decided to try leaving Sheba alone in the house for a very short period while I drove the mile down the road to our local shop. I wasn’t gone more than about ten minutes.
What I didn’t know as I opened the front door was that was Sheba was silently waiting right behind it and when I opened it she bolted. I desperately tried to catch her but she was a very strong dog and managed to push past me. She immediately ran away, faster than I have ever seen a dog run – in the direction of the main road.
Now, the main road nearest to our house is busy with traffic – we are on the Wild Atlantic Way and the road is the main route to the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren so there is a huge amount of cars, buses and coaches passing every hour.
I can’t describe how terrified I was at that moment. We live at a crossroads and Sheba ran so fast that I didn’t even get a chance to see which direction she’d taken so I had no idea which way I should go to look for her.
If I took the direction to the left and she was running to the right she would be getting further away. If I chose to go right she could be going the other way. It was a horrible choice. In the end I decided to drive in the left direction, reasoning that since she had arrived at our home from the left she just may try to return that way.
But there was no sign of her and so after driving up and down the road in both directions my stomach was churning with nervous nausea and my mind overwhelmed with guilt. Why hadn’t I caught her? Why didn’t I open the door more carefully? Why? Why? Why?
I stayed at the crossroads, calling her name in every direction, in the faint hope that she would hear me and return. However, I knew it was pure fear that had made her run and a dog fueled by fear can run a long way, so deep inside I had little hope of her coming back to me, after all who was I to her – just another stranger
I returned to the house and began to make desperate phone calls to anyone I thought might help when I heard a voice at the door calling ‘hello.’
The woman who stood there was our lovely neighbour, Louise, from down the lane but having only recently moved here I didn’t know her at the time. She had three excited young girls in the car with her and she asked me if I had a German Shepherd.
It turned out that Louise had seen me with Sheba when she had driven past our garden. That day, when collecting her daughters from school she had seen a German Shepherd running along the road several kilometers away from our house and close to the nearest village and she had wondered if the dog could be mine.
She set off in her car in the direction of where she had last seen Sheba and I followed behind. As we came to a lay-by there was a van pulled in and there behind it was Sheba. There was a man with her and he told us he had stopped to try to catch her because he saw the danger she was in. This kind stranger had been stroking and petting the terrified Sheba, trying to calm her down when we came along.
I am not a crier usually but I had been so terrified at the thought that Sheba may have been hit by a car, injured, or even killed that I have to admit I cried with relief. I will always be grateful to Louise, my caring neighbour, as well as to that van-driver who held on to Sheba’s trembling body and kept her safe.
Sheba remained a quiet dog but gradually she became friendlier and friendlier – extremely well-behaved and always happy to sit with us while keeping a watchful eye as we moved around the house.
She accompanied us on many wonderful walks around Galway Bay and the Burren and last year she came with us on a camper van trip to West Cork where she enjoyed exploring the tracks, trails and woodlands as much as we did. Sheba would gobble down her little treat when we returned to the camper after a long day walking.
As I said, Sheba loved her little treats and so that Good Friday when she turned away from her little bone-shaped dog biscuit I was worried.
That night she became weak and ill and I stayed the night downstairs, sleeping on the sofa to keep her company. Some may say I am soft but I don’t care. I loved Sheba and she had never left me alone. Where ever I went she was there protecting me and I always felt safe with Sheba – she was, in every good sense of the word – my shadow and the very least I could do was stay beside her when she was ill.
Our vet told us that she had a twisted spleen and tumours and doubted she would live more than twelve hours. The vet made her comfortable and we decided that her last day on earth would be spent in the place where she was loved – in her place by the fire in our home and with us.
That night I took the cushions from the sofa and made myself a bed on the floor beside Sheba and slept with her again. She scarcely moved from her bed by the fire and I gently petted and stroked her to let her know how much she was loved.
At around three o’clock that morning Eppie, who had been sleeping at Sheba’s side, suddenly jumped to the window and began to bark ferociously. A large and noisy beast of a piece of farm machinery was being hauled along the road and its flashing lights and howling engine had drawn Eppie’s full attention.
However, Sheba didn’t move, just continued to take shallow breaths as she lay there watching Eppie’s antics through her half-opened big brown eyes. When things quietened down again I made a quick trip across the hall to the bathroom.
To my utter amazement, when I came out of the bathroom there was Sheba, standing up and waiting silently for my return. Her separation anxiety and fear of losing me had never left her and even when she was so ill she had struggled to her feet to follow me and to make sure I wasn’t gone far. She truly was my shadow.
The second she saw me her burst of strength left her and she collapsed on to the floor unable to get up. M and I had to lift her up and carry her back to her bed where she remained dozing for the rest of the night.
As arranged the vet rang us at nine in the morning to see how Sheba was and was amazed to learn that she was still with us. However, we knew in our hearts that the kindest thing at that stage was to let her go and we were both at her side when the injection was administered and our beloved Sheba took her last breath.
She actually died on Easter Sunday and we were devastated to lose her. So much so it has taken me these months to be able to write anything about her.
I still see her every day, her shadow remains, sitting on the top step of the stairs, curled up beside the fire, or in her favourite place behind the sofa – even in the garden where she spent hours watching me as I weeded and planted. My memories of her now are both happy and sad but I treasure them all and will never forget the joy and love this beautiful dog brought to our lives. Our beautiful Sheba will be always be part of our family – in spirit at least.
Rest In Peace Sheba