Shelley would have been 20 years old this August – a little Yorkie Poo, about six pounds. What a life she had! We got her in October, 2000 while my husband was on his annual two-week guys’ boating trip. He didn’t want a dog, so the kids and I had to get her while he was gone.
My son was 11 and my daughter 6 when we drove with two of his friends for an hour to Albany, Oregon to meet a woman who had Yorkie Poo puppies for sale. The puppies, the woman told me on the phone, were supposed to be full-bred Yorkshire Terriers, but a rogue poodle down the street had an intimate encounter with her Yorkie, so the puppies were misfits in the woman’s eyes. In ours, they were the cutest things on earth.
Three black puppies were in a large cage in the back of her SUV, one was eager and came right over to us, one hung back in the corner. The third one eased over to us after a little while. My daughter and I wanted them all. My son said, “Let’s take the middle one. He’s not shy but he’s not aggressive either.” He turned out to be a she, which was perfect.
On the trip home we debated about a name, most of which ended in an “e” sound: Blackie, Yorkie, Lovey. After a couple thousand names were thrown out, Matt, one of the friends, said Shelley. We all got quiet. Hmmmm. Shelley. It seemed like an odd name for a dog, but it had potential. For a few minutes we compared it to other names, but Shelley fit her.
She ended up being my dog, though the kids played with her constantly when they were home, and fought over whose bed she’d sleep in. My daughter carried her to bed first, then my son came in and stole her a little later when he went to bed. If my daughter wasn’t asleep yet I’d hear, “Mo-om, Chris is taking Shelley. Make him stop.” I’d go in to referee and find them with all four hands on the dog, tugging her in each other’s direction.
Shelley could climb the highest sand mountain at Pacific City, where she’d run halfway up, see a dog at the bottom, run down and smell him, and run back up – she’d do that two or three times while we all struggled to get to the top, trudging slowly in the deep, steep sand. She could jump up on a bed five times taller than she was, outrun all big dogs because she could turn on a dime, and drag her bottom across the floor every time someone came over, using only her front legs. We taught her several tricks, but she rarely did the one you asked her to do, even though she knew better. If you said, “roll over” she’d try to shake your hand. If you said, “shake” she’d bark. If you said “bark two times” she’d roll over. When we refused to award her treat because she did the wrong trick on purpose, she’d start doing everything right. We always said that was the stubborn Yorkie side of her.
She would chase any ball or stick, but refused to bring it back. She wanted us to chase her, the more the better. Whole classrooms of school kids used to chase her when I took her up to the grade school to play and nobody could catch her. When they got just behind her, she’d speed up, leaving a trail of kids who’d dived for her and missed. She knew which of our friends didn’t like dogs and always jumped in their laps. She could hear you put down toast in a toaster – she’d come from the farthest corner of the house knowing you’d be putting butter on your toast. She loved butter, and we’d splat a little chunk on the tile for her. We used to have to say, “will you please bring the b-u-t-t-e-r” if we’d already given her too much, but the she learned how to spell.
She was a fierce pterodactyl hunter – a stuffed toy that the kids used to hold way high and she’d jump and snatch it out of their hand and shake it mightily. Many toys have the stuffing torn out of them because of her fierce shaking. She was small but didn’t know it – she would go up to a big dog and stand on her hind legs, rest her front paws on its rump and sniff the big dog’s bottom. Many of them patiently let her do it.
She’d chase cats that were often bigger than her. She’d see a squirrel in the back yard and we’d quietly let her out the front door so the squirrel wouldn’t know she was coming. She’d run around the house and across the back yard in a streak, the squirrel darting away at the last second. She treed squirrels over and over again. When a deer wandered by, she’d bark like crazy. We were afraid she’d get trampled, so we held her up to watch the deer out the window, the whole time she’d bark and quiver and whine to get at it. She didn’t want other animals in her yard, no matter how big they were. I trained her not to randomly bark when she was a few months old, I didn’t want an annoying little yapper, but we let her bark to warn us, or if something was odd. In the car, with her head hanging out the window, she’d bark up other dogs or strange looking people on the street.
She went on many road trips all over Oregon, Washing, Idaho, and California to hike – a few time she hiked nine miles in a day. She went on a two-week road trip from Portland to Tennessee with me, the kids and my friend Gina and her two daughters to see my dad. I sewed a bag that looked like a big purse to carry her in so we could take her into restaurants, stores, and every amusement and water park we passed along the way. She went everywhere with our family except to Mexico and Hawaii, and only because that dog was not allowed. More than once she flew to Tennessee in a crate under my seat (and in the seat under a blanket when the stewardesses weren’t looking).
She died yesterday morning, in my arms, just two months short of her 20th birthday, her organs and heart worn out even though just the day before she’d walked, very slowly, about a half mile with me, as she always did. She’d been in failing health for a while, but on good days she’d run down our street like a puppy. Sometimes I thought she stayed alive just for me, but I’m probably being silly, though I actually hoped she’d be around another five years – or forever.
For her coffin, I put a towel in the bottom of a large wooden wine crate with a sliding lid. I didn’t want to make the mistake my cousin Nancy did. She buried Brown Dog in a plastic tub with a locking lid in her backyard. Ten years later, when she needed to have some plumbing done, they accidently dug him up. The tub was full of liquid.
My husband gently lifted Shelley into the crate. I kept her in her open casket on the living room floor all day yesterday. I hoped she might not really be dead and I would find her on her feet walking around the house. I kept crying, I couldn’t sit still, so I cleaned the house until I collapsed later in the afternoon, having been up with her most of the night holding her as she went in and out of seizures until she died at 5:45 a.m.
My husband will dig a grave for her in the woods today, under a cedar tree that I can see every time I look outside. The coffin will de-compose and her body will fertilize the tree, giving back even after she’s gone. Shelley the Wonderdog did so many amazing things, especially for such a little dog, but the wonder of her is that she gave an abundance of love to our family, our friends, people in the nursing home every time I took her to visit my dad after we brought him to Oregon, to so many children at my kid’s schools, to strangers on the trails we hiked all over the Northwest, to everyone everywhere we went. They would elbow the person with them and say, “Oh look at that cute dog.” And usually they said to me, “Can I pet him?”
When my kids came home from school each day, I’d tell them of the funny and remarkable and sometimes ornery things Shelley had done that day. They’d listen while holding her and say, “She’s love.” That explained all her virtues and whitewashed all her sins. I’d text them at college and when they moved away with pictures of her and tell them of the humorous and cantankerous things she’d done. I’d usually get a text back saying, “but you know she’s love.”
She was love, and still is, in our broken hearts.