It's time to tell you all about my first dog that I had once I was living on my own, and include the story as our first "Memorial", and in "Inspirational Tails", as she really did inspire me! After my third year at Bishop's University, I stayed in Quebec for some summer session "catch-up" (no lectures please). The week before the courses began, my mom and dad surprised me with a late birthday present....my first dog! We made the trek back to Ontario where I met Billie for the first time at her breeders (this was 20 years ago before I became educated on the need to ADOPT! ADOPT! ADOPT!) an hour away from Toronto. I didn't know what to expect as my brother had two German Shepherds from the same breeder, Tarzan (who was trained for security purposes at our family run pet store), and Cheetah (a puppy who had not been trained & was quite aloof). As a side note, I find that many breeds such as Shepherds or Retrievers often fall into one of those two categories, in that they either have the "smarts" or the "not too smarts". They don't often exhibit both characteristics, but they're all equally lovable just the same! On to Billie.....
My Littlest Hobo
The first thing the breeder instructed me to do was to keep Billie in her cage for the first day or two we were together, and let her out only for feedings, walks, and playtime. As Billie was three years old, this would help her to understand that I was indeed her new "owner" (I have since grown to hate that term), and Billie, as with all German Shepherds, needed to learn loyalty. I am not overly fond of the term or the notion that we "own" animals, though the breeder had phenomenal Shepherds who were extremely loyal and well trained so who was I to question him?
On our second day together, my friend came by & suggested we hit the pub for a pint and lunch, and I did as instructed by both my friend and Billie's breeder. I put Billie in her steel crate in the bedroom, closed the door & locked the house. One hour later is when my relationship with my first dog truly began. As my friend and I were sitting on the patio of the pub (a good kilometer from home) eating, he turned to me and said, "Is that your dog coming out from INSIDE the pub?" You can imagine my surprise when Billie casually walked up & sat beside me. "What had I forgotten to do?" I kept asking myself. Upon returning home, it turns out that I had done everything correctly, & Billie simply did not want to be far from me. She had chewed through her wire crate, pawed & opened the bedroom door, gone to the basement and jumped on the washing machine whereby she could paw at a window enough to make her great escape and begin her quest!
For the next year, Billie could be found wherever I was, whether I wanted it or not. My one time fear that she would be hit by a car waned after I realized that through her training, Billie knew to stop and look both ways before crossing any street! On a few occasions she came to the local club and waited outside at the door, greeting university students as they came and went, always waiting for me to take her home (or vice versa!). Another time, my classmates and professor were amazed when we were in the middle of a lecture and all of a sudden, there was Billie sitting and looking in from the window to make sure I was paying attention. Billie had become known to many of the local students and residents at Bishop's University as "The Littlest Hobo".
A year later when I was back in Toronto and at work in the store, my mom called me panicking because Billie had hopped the fence at home. I too was panicked as even though Billie was safe in the slow moving town of Lennoxville, surely she was not accustomed to the dangers & traffic in the big city! Sure enough my faithful companion proved me wrong by navigating her way through roughly five kilometers of Toronto side roads, parks, and main streets to find me at the store. From that point on, Billie came to work with me everyday.
Billie exemplified qualities that all dogs have and that all humans should. She was more patient than I have ever been. When I brought home my new rescue kitten Haley, I was worried that the sweet little girl might get injured by 80lb Billie. Again, Billie proved me wrong. Haley would spend most of her time swatting Billie in the face and trying to nurse off her. The whole time, Billie would simply lie there and let Haley treat her as a giant toy and nurse mother. Every night, you would find a 3lb kitten curled up next to an 80lb dog. It is a sight that I will never forget, and one that still makes me question the loyalty and protection that we as humans offer one another.
After having Billie for four years, our close family received news that no one ever wants to hear, but far too often does. My father was terminal with cancer and did not have much time left. For two of his last few months, dad was living with Billie, myself, and Casey (my second rescue cat). It was at this point that Billie stopped sleeping beside me. She would spend her nights next to dad, who was often sleepless due to his pain. I often think that as much as she loved me he was actually her favourite, as much to my chagrin he spoiled her endlessly with the cookies that sat on top of the fridge. Billie had a system. Step 1 : Stare at the top of the fridge until he caves. Step 2 : Repeat. Step 3 : Repeat 30 more times.
After his short fight my dad died, and as much as I knew it was coming, there was no way to prepare. It seems so odd, but I really do know that Billie and I were mourning together. She was back to cuddling up to me at every chance (big dogs CAN cuddle!), and every time I started crying she'd leave whatever comfy spot she was in and come right over to me. From that point on, I took over my dad's duties as cookie spoiler, and never questioned it.
Gone Too Soon
Three weeks after my dad died, I started noticing Billie's hind legs wobbling. I was worried about hip dysplasia, common in Shepherds, though the diagnosis was worse than I had expected. Billie had a case of degenerative myelopathy, a progressive disease of the spinal cord. As I knew the outcome would be the same I had experienced with my dad, I made every effort to take advantage of the time I had left with my first pooch. As walking became more difficult, cookies and cuddles were endless! In addition, I made the decision early that I did not want Billie to get to the point that I had to carry her into the vet. One day I came home to find that Billie had an accident on the rug (something she never did), and I knew what I had to do the next morning. That night however, I went to the local butcher & bought the juiciest steak I could find (one that I would never purchase for myself), grilled it up for us & popped in a movie for our last night together.
I slept okay that night, knowing that I was making the right decision, and having my 80 pound blanket didn't hurt either! The vet appointment went exactly as I expected. I watched as Billie was put down and wept uncontrollably, much like I had when my dad died four months before. Oddly, it was harder than watching my dad die, as with dogs, you never know exactly what they are thinking at that final moment. What I do know however is that I am so glad that I was afforded the opportunity to be there comforting Billie at that very moment, To this day, when friends and clients express hesitation about going into the room with their beloved pet for that last appointment, I tell them that no matter how hard it may be on them, they owe it to their friend to provide that unconditional love that they have been so lucky to have received.
Billie died 14 years ago, and I always like to think while I took over the duties of spoiling her with cookies after dad died, I just didn't do a good enough job.