Friday, May 4, 2012

Remembering Shamus

Many years ago, we had a dog named Shamus.  She was a female Black Lab/Golden Retriever mix that we adopted from our base housing neighbors down the street when my husband was in Naval flight training in Beeville, TX.  (If you're curious about how she got her odd name, you can check out a post from March 30, 2011, called "The Feast of St. Fergus.")

I say "we" adopted her, but actually I adopted her--behind my husband's back, before he'd given the okay.  I think if he could have stopped me, he would have; but in a truly ninja-like stealth move, I brought her over to our house for a quick visit when she was a tiny black ball of fur (the runt of the litter, and not even weaned from her mother yet) and informed him that she was to be his birthday present.  Ta da!  When I presented Mr. "We are never getting a dog"  with that little puppy, who was quivering with fear and just so shy and adorable, and he held her in his lap...well, that was all she wrote.  He would have felt like he had a heart of stone if he turned down my offer of the best birthday present EVER!  I had to return Shamus to her mother that day; but before long we brought her home for good.  And as we hadn't started having babies yet--and I was in dire need of some needy creature on which to hone my mothering skills--she became our first "baby."

Shamus was not one of those puppies that chews and destroys things, but she did have an over-abundance of puppy energy (which she never lost in the five years she was with us).  She had the sweetest disposition--very much like that of my middle son's wonderful dog, Allie.  Shamus could fetch a ball like nobody's business, she could run like a greyhound, she could jump up and catch a Frisbee with her front paws (I'm not lying), and she was a born hunter, which is not surprising given her Lab/Retriever heritage.  We went camping with Shamus once, when I was pregnant with our first son, and she swam all over the lake trying to catch a duck.  That duck was just messing with her, I think, because it never took to flight; it just kept swimming along with Shamus dog-paddling like crazy behind it.  We had to call Shamus back, because we thought she might tucker herself out and drown--and seriously, she was never going to catch that duck.

We started out having strict rules about Shamus never being allowed up on the furniture, except on an old chair we'd bought for her at the Salvation Army and kept in our bedroom.  Every night when my husband and I would turn in, she would obediently follow us into the room and hop up on her chair.  But my husband was often gone for weeks at a time, you understand, doing training exercises in the desert and whatnot...and I got lonely sleeping all by myself in my big old I found a bit of wiggle room in the rules.  And you know, while the cat's away and all that. So once, when my husband had just returned from one of his two-week detachments and bedtime rolled around, Shamus dove onto our bed as if she did it every night; and my husband looked at me and said, "Wait a minute...what has been going on around here?!"  The second Shamus heard his tone, she leapt off the bed and got up on her chair, looking at me as if to say, "But Mom, you said it was okay."  Oh man, the jig was up!  We mice were busted.  But I've said this before, and I'll say it again: my husband can be a marshmallow, especially when it comes to me.  (I need to remember to use this power I have over him only for good.)  And for a long time after that night, Shamus slept with us at the foot of the bed.  We finally had to put the kibosh on that routine, though, when we kept waking up in the morning with a black snout between us on the pillows.  Even I knew it was time to send her back to her chair at that point.

Shamus came along before the babies; but once they started coming, they came fast and furious.  We had four sons within a span of four years and three months, and obviously, my first "baby" had to take a back seat (a "way back" seat, as we used to call those pop-up seats in the back of the station wagon), because I just didn't have the time or energy to shower her with the kind of attention she'd always enjoyed.  Plus, by the time our oldest son was about two, it became obvious that he had a dog allergy, and Shamus--who'd once slept in our bed with us--now had to spend most of her time outside in our fenced-in back yard.  She loved our boys, too, and I know it was hard for her to have to be separated from them so much of the time.  Since I was always either hugely pregnant or busy with the care and feeding of babies (or both), my husband took on most of the dog care.  Shamus and he formed a strong bond during this period, and the dog who'd come into our home under false pretenses--a present for my husband that was really a present for me!--was now truly my husband's dog.

When my husband decided to get out of the Navy and take an airline job, we were faced with the prospect of him going off to the Midwest for training--and leaving me behind in FL with four children aged four and under, a house to sell (by owner), and an imminent move up north to a rental home that might not allow pets; given all that, and our son's allergy, too, we made the tough decision to find a new home for Shamus.  Luckily, my husband found the perfect person: a single enlisted man who worked for him, a guy who lived out in the country where Shamus could run free.  And better yet, he was a hunter who was looking for a dog to train.  It seemed a perfect fit.  This man came over to meet Shamus, and the two of them hit it off.  But when he came to our house to take Shamus away for good, she didn't want to get in his car.  And my husband says he can still see her looking at him through the back window as the car drove away--looking at him with big, sad, "How could you do this to me?" eyes.  He said it was awful...and he never wants to go through anything like that again.  No wonder he's against getting another dog!

Oh my gosh, I am actually getting teary-eyed right now!  The funny thing is, when Shamus left, I didn't even go out to watch.  I think I needed to block it out, because my life was a bit overwhelming at the time and I was just relieved that we didn't have to worry about Shamus anymore.  But now that my kids are grown and the nest is empty, I find myself wishing I had a little doggy to love--especially when my husband is away on trips.  However, writing this made me realize that I don't want just any dog; I want Shamus!


  1. Oh my gosh, I am teary reading this. I can't imagine what it was like having to give up Shamus after falling in love with her! I can't imagine having to give up Bailey!! You did the right thing, but how heartbreaking!

  2. She was such a sweet dog. I find myself thinking about her a lot lately. But even though kids love dogs, I think you did it the right way: you raised your kids first, and now that they're gone, Bailey is your baby.

  3. She is our baby....but when she's gone, we probably won't get another. She is our last I think. I don't know if I would find another dog I love as much as Bailey. Plus I don't want to go through training another dog!

    We did have Sarah and Casey when the kids were growing up, but they were outside dogs... not the same!

  4. This was an awesome blog. I wish I had known Shamus.

  5. That was half the reason I wrote this post. I realized that only S and D would really have any memories of Shamus, and they are probably dim; and you were less than two when she went to her new home, so obviously you wouldn't remember her at all. She was a GREAT dog, VERY loving (very Allie-esque). Writing this made me sad, though. It's silly--I haven't seen that dog in 24 years...but I'm missing her!