As I sit here with my dog Shaq in her last moments, listening to her breath as she sleeps, I think about all of the times that I have had with her that have made my life so much better.
Almost fifteen years ago, as a coach of a high school boys basketball team, we went on a road trip to my hometown for a tournament. As we sat in a Burger King, and I read the classifieds to them, I said, “Do you guys want to come get a dog with me?” Of course, they said they absolutely would love to go. We went to a farm just outside of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and there were ten puppies there to pick from, and while nine of them ran up to me, the one that ran away was the one that appealed to me. She seemed so shy and that she just needed love. Myself and twelve basketball players were in a van with this sweet puppy, and you watched this dog take some of the toughest kids you know and reduce them to mush. When I asked them what I should name her, they said, “Well you already have Kobe, so you might as well name her Shaq.” I thought that it was a ridiculous name for a girl, but they said well it is short for “Shaquelyn” (rhymes with Jacquelyn), and I was sold. A new puppy had entered my life.
As I already had Kobe and he suffered from severe separation anxiety, I felt that giving him away would be too hard, and that another dog was the answer. My girlfriend at the time, said it was a bad idea, yet I still returned home with a surprise that charmed her immediately. Every single day I left Kobe, he would start to destroy things, bark wildly, and tear at the floor in front of the door. The first day that I left him with Shaq, he didn’t even notice I left. She immediately made an impact on both of us.
Even as a puppy, she controlled the house. There were the “Shaq Rules”, where basically she got whatever she wanted, which lasted her entire life. She was shy but sweet, and was leery of people, but very loyal to me. Although she was not a “snuggler”, she was in every room that I was in, all of the time. She would sleep at the foot of the bed, she would stand at the top of the stairs, or she would sneak her way into the bathroom. Presence was everything to her. I had her since she was 6 weeks old and although I would like to think that she needed me for protection, she saw it the other way around.
At about 9 months old, I took her to the vet to get her spayed, but unfortunately the operation couldn’t happen that day; she was already pregnant from the town stray dog. A few months later, in a house that had only 500 square footage of room, I was now home to 2 dogs and 10 puppies. 12 dogs in my life and I was living a real-life Disney movie. I gave every single one of those dogs to students in the town, and I am sure that some of her offspring are still around, but I also know that she outlived a few of them.
For the last fifteen years of my life, Shaq has been a constant. She had been there through the loss of Kobe, the purchase of my first home, the loss of my dad, and getting engaged, amongst a myriad of other things. Through several ups and several downs, I was always guaranteed to come home to her running to the door and wagging her tail. About three years ago when she was diagnosed with cancer, I decided that serious medical treatment was going to be too much for her, and decided against it. The doctor predicted that she would live for six months and three years later, here we are. Shaq was a fighter.
My last couple of years I have spent a lot of time on the road due to work and leaving Shaq and Odom had been the hardest part of that experience. When you are used to a house that always seems to be full of love, it is tough to spend a night in a quiet hotel room. I have been so used to sleeping with my dogs, that I often held a pillow and slept on one side of the bed on the road because that was my routine. The dogs ruled the house, with Shaq as the ultimate boss.
I got the call while I was in Indiana that Shaq hadn’t eaten, and when she went to see the vet, she told me that Shaq had “given up”. I said okay, cried profusley, and booked a flight home. She had been there for so many good and bad moments in my life, that there was no way that I was going to absent for her last. I rushed home as soon as possible, fearing that she would not be alive when I got home. As I rushed out of the cab and downstairs, I saw her lying there with hey eyes open, waiting for me. I picked her up (which she had NEVER been okay with until today), and carried her just like when she was a puppy, relieved that she had waited for me. She nestled into me and you could see a sigh of relief in her demeanour that I had made it home. I have not left her side since. As I prepare to take her to the vet tomorrow morning, I think about how much love she gave me and how the house is already starting to feel a lot more empty. Dogs have brought life to a home, and made it more than a place to live. It is going to be so tough to be in a room and not feel Shaq’s presence as she watches and hovers over me.
Just like she has been by my side for fifteen years, I am going to be by her side until her last moments. Shaq taught me how to love unconditionally, and forgive easily. We can learn so much from our dogs if you are open to the love that they are willing to give, and even if sometimes you are not.
Tonight will be our last night together and tomorrow I will say goodbye to my sweet girl. I am going to snuggle her like crazy and give her as much love as possible while enjoying one last NBA FInals game with her, since I have watched so many with her by my side.
Thanks Shaq for teaching me so much…Just like Kobe, your impact on me will never be forgotten and I will try to be the person you have seen me to be.
Sleep warm my sweet girl.