I used to own Shelties. They were the first dogs I ever had, when I discovered dogs in the late 1980s, and for many years, they were the only breed I owned. I had Shelties from pet stores, Shelties from breeders, Shelties from rescues. Until I adopted a rescue Finnish Lapphund in 2009, it was all Shelties, all the time, at my house.
Beau passed away this week: he was the last of my Shelties, and truly a bright light in that firmament. When my Border Collie, Rowley, was about 3 years old, and all my other dogs at that time were seniors, I decided Rowley could use a canine companion of his own age, so we went to look at the available dogs in Central Illinois Sheltie Rescue. It was a nice summer afternoon and the big fenced yard was full of Shelties, as it always is; there were two who seemed like candidates to come home with me and Rowley. One was a sable boy with a very nice head that spoke to some good breeding in his unknown background; he had been picked up stray in another state and made his way to Illinois. He was maybe 3 years old and was called Sonny. The other was a 4-year old tri-color whose owner had gone into a nursing home, putting her Sheltie, Bogey, into rescue. Sonny caromed around the yard, demanding the other Shelties play with him. Bogey made his way over to me and sat in my lap. ‘That one might be kind of a handful,’ the rescue director said, nodding at Sonny. Well then. ‘I’ve got a 3 year old Border Collie, my hands are already full,’ I said. We took Bogey home with us and changed his name to Beau.
Even at the time, I could see that Beau was dazzled by Rowley. He wanted to be with Rowley, and he wanted to be with me, and everything else was fine with him so long as he was with his BC and his person. He liked the other dogs in the house just fine, but he loved Rowley. He raced after him in a game in the yard that involved me kicking the soccer ball for Rowley and Beau barking at him – that was pretty much the entire game! Rowley was fine with it, and seemed to enjoy having Beau along on our walks, outings, and games, so they became pals.
Beau also fit well into the household. He was a perfect gentleman who displayed good manners at all times; he walked nicely on a leash; he didn’t quarrel with any other dogs; and if he wasn’t hanging around with Rowley, he was napping at my feet. It was as if his wish, on finding himself in rescue, had been granted: he had a home, a family, security and love, fun outings, and good health – and he knew he was a fortunate dog. Even the small vicissitudes of life didn’t dim his happy gleam: he once cut a back leg open to the ligament, and didn’t utter a peep as I, white-faced, rushed him up to the vet clinic where they rushed him into surgery and sutured it up. He bore the obligate dental surgeries that are a Sheltie’s lot in life stoically. He never refused a walk or a hike at the local nature preserve, where he and Rowley and Alex were allowed to be off-leash and explore the most wonderful things, the most disgusting things, the most vile things that were perfect for rolling in hurriedly before your owner saw you and shouted at you to get out of there! An outing was followed by a nap, and a nap by a meal, and so went Beau’s days, in a canine equanimity that was comforting to see. Rescue dogs came and rescue dogs went and Beau stuck close to Rowley and life was good.
I knew Beau was not a well-bred Sheltie and I knew this affected more than his conformation and dentition, but I was completely surprised by the first seizure, in January 2019. Beau had just turned eleven. It happened late one evening, and I, not having dealt with seizures in a dog (or in any form, for that matter) wasn’t sure if what I was seeing was a seizure. It was. Our vet weighed in and presented the probabilities: in senior dogs, the onset of seizures is unlikely to indicate epilepsy and very likely to indicate a brain lesion or tumor. Some other causes, related to organic failures, were ruled out by blood tests. The brain lesion/tumor hypothesis could be confirmed by a consult with a neurologist, but at a really (to me) staggering cost: thousands of dollars to answer a question without providing any solutions or remedies. I decided to pass. Over the next few months, as we tinkered with the Keppra dose and tried adding in Prednisone (with great benefit), the vet and I became comfortable with the tentative diagnosis of cancer somewhere in the brain. It was something I didn’t want to look at directly, actually: if I only glanced at it occasionally and increased the meds after a seizure, or added a Chinese herb combo that helped control seizures in canines, I could keep my dog – that’s what it felt like, anyway. Beau continued to lead his happy, active, balanced life. At one point he had a stretch of almost four months with no seizures, which was wonderful. I knew the ‘thing’ wasn’t going away, but I had slowed cancer in another Sheltie, my Sander, and I guess a small part of me thought I could slow this, too, and give Beau the chance to die of an age-related malady before the monster got him.
So time went on, and Beau showed the effects of aging and of the disease and of the meds he was on: he became bloated from the Pred, and his respiration got raspy, and he tired easily in warm weather. Still, he was right at my feet when the dogs and I settled down in the living room every evening. He still went on the long walks at the nature preserve, until earlier this summer those became too much for him. That was a sad day for me. I kept looking for him and he wasn’t there.
And in April, the seizures went from bad to vicious. I was shocked by the violence of them, and by the frequency: he had one about every four weeks now. And his recovery from them was slower and less complete every time. I started to see behavior that seemed to indicate mental deficiencies and confusion, although as our vet pointed out, we couldn’t tell if the seizures or the disease caused it. Beau reached a new stage in his deterioration, and I know that if I had seen this Beau next to the healthy Beau of two years ago, I would be shocked by the change; but it was so gradual and Beau so faithful to our routines, that I didn’t notice the full extent of it – until another seizure would occur.
The final seizure, on Monday night (August 3), was more than any dog should have to endure, and I carried Beau out to the car and we drove to the emergency vet clinic. I am very thankful that I was able to be there and bid him farewell and make his death peaceful. It was one of the hardest partings I have ever had, and I’ve owned a lot of dogs and sent many of them to the Bridge.
But I also keep finding myself repeating this:
It did happen! I had the best dog! Beau never ‘did’ anything, he had no titles and wasn’t a performance or sport dog, he was just my dog, and that was enough for both of us. He’ll be my dog forever, because we both agreed to that. That’s pretty rare!
I had the vet at the emergency clinic cut a tuft of hair from Beau’s ruff, and the next day, on our walk at the nature preserve, the other dogs and I stopped by a bench on the west shore trail, and I let the wind carry the hair into the brush and woods. I can feel Beau’s presence in several places, and the preserve is one of them. Now when we pass that spot on our walks, I stop and say hi to Beau. I wish he could be with us physically, and there’s no doubt he is too soon gone, but he’s still my best boy, and Rowley and I are still his lodestars.
How lucky we are, the three of us.
My heartfelt thanks to my friend, the artist Nana Nishigaki, for this drawing of the two amigos. This too makes me smile.
And another thank you to the talented amateur photographer who took this photo of Beau one day last winter at the preserve. I’m so glad to have this.