It started in March.
I had gone to visit my cousin in Labrador for March Break. When I arrived I had been picked up at the airport by a snowmobile and drove to his house under the glow of the Northern lights. Returning to Fredericton I was picked up in a Mazda minivan ( with a door that opened like a car) that had a yappy teething puppy in it. This puppy wasn't mine. My family had bought her while I was gone and wanted to surprise me. The dog surprised me by puking in the van 2 minutes from the airport.
I learned the puppy's name was Shadow about the same time that I learned of her physical dislike of driving. I remember one much more fondly. She became the family dog in that special way that happens when all the children are old enough to play with a dog without supervision. She was never a threat, only a friend who would chase you around the house. God help you if you got her attention from across the lawn and ran from her. Shadow would start yelping in panic as though the act of running away from her signalled utter abandonment and the only way to win back your love was to chase you down. In those moments, no dog in the world was faster.
Her devotion to everyone in the house was so intense it bordered on the comical. If you hugged someone else in the family too hard or waved your arms at someone in mock anger she would intervene as if to break up the "fight". She instinctively knew which of the two people involved were the weaker and would defend them regardless of prior loyalties. Visitors often saw her treat our cats like they were her own children as she played with them by holding bits of ribbon in her mouth and dragging them around the room for the cats to chase.
I once saved her life at our cottage when she became enthralled by ducks on the lake. Convinced that she could catch them she began swimming out to where they had alighted on the water. It was only waist deep but she was over 300 metres out into the water by the time I reached her and she collapsed into my arms. As near as I can deduce that was the moment when I went from tolerating the dog to loving her.
Dogs are like old friends in that the things they do that annoy you most are also those that endear them to you. Shadow could be counted on to eat our Christmas chocolate, jump on us in bed during a thunderstorm, stink like only retreivers stink and shed like she wanted us to make clothes from her fur. As she grew older her hips started to go and the memory that will mean the most to me was at the time probably the most frustrating. I was living on my own when the rest of my family decided to take a trip to California. I was given the task of coming back home for the week to take care of the pets. On the day that my family was thousands of kilometres away enjoying the sunshine and post Oscar glow of Los Angeles, I was carrying Shadow down the steps to get outside so she could go pee. In hindsight, screw California.
She started to fade the same way any of us can expect to. She lost her best friend (Lady, the dog next door), couldn't run the way she used to, slept more, went deaf, got grey whiskers on her chin and developed a tumour. Her cats that she treated like children began to care for her instead. One of them, Winnie, took to cleaning the inside of her ears with her tongue, which is the type of self humiliating love I hope my kids will have for me one day, and that I hope to have for my parents. It was the tumour that took her in the end, but only after it was sucessfully removed. I used to think I loved irony.
It ended in March.