Conversation With A Dog
By Diane Schachter
In March of 1997, 5 months after my Dad died, my husband and I decided to adopt a puppy. We already had a wonderful 12 year old dog named Mitzi, a sheltie golden retriever cross whom we loved dearly. It had been a very long and arduous haul witnessing my Dad die. We had been enveloped in sickness, death and then mourning. After witnessing my Dad wither away and die, adopting a puppy seemed to be the perfect antidote to breathe life into our family. A puppy represented birth, joy and new beginnings. I started visiting the Winnipeg Humane Society to seek out the right pup. One day I was there near closing time, and the staff had just brought out the most adorable golden retriever cross puppy that I had ever seen. Without even holding her, I immediately knew that this was the one, and I hurriedly ran to the front desk to put a deposit on her. The following day, my husband and two children went to pick her up. We named her Shayna, meaning nice or pretty in Yiddish.
We had been advised that Mitzi and Shayna should meet on neutral territority, so we introduced them at a nearby park. Everything seemed to be going smoothly, that is until Shayna walked into our house. Mitzi did not take well to her newly adopted younger sister. Being a puppy, Shayna wanted to play and jump on Mitzi who, as an older dog, understandably found this annoying. Soon after, Mitzi went into a deep depression. There was no doubt as she began putting her head down, avoiding eye contact.with me or anybody else. Listless and sad, she sequestered herself in the master bedroom where Shayna was not allowed. I was heartbroken to witness this.
A week passed with no change. We began to seek professional advice. We were told that in some cases the older dog does not adjust to the new family, and subsequently the puppy has to be returned. By this time, we had all bonded with Shayna, and could not fathom relinquishing her. I sobbed at the prospect of returning this bundle of joy. Yet, I knew in my heart that Mitzi was our priority and with sadness and tears, my thoughts turned to the reality that we would have to return Shayna. Teary-eyed, I went to the master bedroom where Mitzi was hiding out. Sobbingly, I talked to Mitzi and told her how much I loved her, and that no other dog could ever replace her. She was our first “child” after all. Tearfully, I pleaded with her to accept Shayna.
Then a miracle happened. Mitzi had clearly absorbed what I said. At precisely that moment, she stood up and walked to the kitchen with her head up high. This time, when Shayna tried to jump on her, Mitzi snapped at her showing Shayna that she was the boss. Shayna immediately backed off. Within a blink of the eye, Mitzi had returned to her former self or more accurately a younger version of her former self. She began doing her old tricks and playing with the ball, something that she hadn’t done for years. She began to play with Shayna, and as an older sister, Mitzi showed her the ropes of “dog life.” In fact at one point, Shayna was confused as to who was the leader of her pack – Mitzi, my husband or myself.
Mitzi died about 4 years later at the age of 16. Up until the last month or so when she was ailing, Mitzi thrived in her special relationship with Shayna. I believe that Shayna was instrumental in keeping her young and invested in life. We still have Shayna who is now almost 14 years old. I take comfort in knowing that Mitzi acted as a role-model for Shayna, and for that reason there is a little bit of her in Shayna. This whole experience taught me what I already knew at some level– that our four-legged companions have the capacity to both sense and understand our emotions and words. I am forever grateful that Mitzi had the grace to put my needs before hers and to make it work with Shayna. That was an incredible gift, which I will always remember. .