Ten years ago, we drove to a remote piece of property near Lyons, Oregon, and met Shania Nia Lexy (M. was in kindergarten and had the honor of naming her). She was half English Mastiff, half Bull Mastiff, and at four months old, she was already far too big to pick up. We hadn’t had a dog in two years, but we were finally ready to open our hearts again.
Shania was beautiful… the last puppy to be chosen from her litter. I don’t know why other families chose her siblings, but I will be forever grateful that they did. She was waiting for us, just as we were waiting for her. She left her mother that day, which made us all sad, but she calmly climbed into our van and laid down on the floor. From that moment, she completely trusted us—she never showed signs of loneliness or homesickness—and we completely trusted her.
I remember standing at the kitchen window the week after we got her, watching her tearing back and forth behind a row of rhododendrons, branches flying out of her way, tongue hanging out, a smile on her face. It amazed me how happily she entertained herself….and me….I couldn’t stop watching her. I also quit pruning the rhododendrons--she managed quite nicely on her own.
She played so hard every day that when she fell asleep in the evenings, we often couldn’t wake her. Mastiffs grow tremendously fast, which requires a lot of energy—it didn’t take much exercise to wear Shania out. There were many evenings when D. and I lugged her upstairs, each carrying one side of her bed like a stretcher, while she slumbered peacefully.
About a week after she moved in, I left her in the laundry room, while I ran errands. When I returned and opened the front door, I faced a large pile of stuffed animals. The laundry room door was open, and Shania was nowhere to be seen. I called her, and she flew down the stairs, wild-eyed and shaking. I immediately sat on the steps, and she threw her large body into my lap.
I held her for a long time, thinking about what it must have been like to realize she was completely alone for the first time. Wondering how long it had taken her to search the kids’ bedrooms and bring stuffed animals downstairs one at a time, building a pile of softness and safety. I truly understood the depth of her intelligence…she could have destroyed things in fear and panic, but she searched for comfort instead.
That’s not to say that she didn’t like to take things apart, but even then, her behaviors were uniquely hers. We found that nothing with zippers could be left within her reach during her first two years. Despite a strong under bite and very large mouth, she could take a zipper apart tooth by tooth, without destroying the attached clothing. It was truly amazing, albeit a little costly.
Her life-long vice was tearing apart anything made from foam, even when it meant destroying her own bedding. She would spend hours meticulously tearing her foam pad into little tiny pieces, which I know gave her great joy. She never outgrew this love, and we learned—albeit a little slowly—that foam pillows, bedding, and pads did not belong in our house.
If you’ve followed my blog, you know that we also have two other mastiffs—Shania’s nieces, Brecken and Sedona. We’ve collectively called them The Beasts for many years, and we've loved them all deeply, but Shania was different…always more human than canine.
I’m writing this post because we lost Shania on Thursday, August 1, and it’s important that I honor her memory with the permanence of my words. She woke up wagging her tail, happy to start a new day. Within a few hours she had a massive heart attack. We rushed her to the veterinary clinic, but there was nothing they could do…our beautiful beast slipped away, before we could really tell her good-bye.
Our grief has been overwhelming, but I think we all feel a sense of peace today. We buried Shania’s ashes in our backyard and planted beautiful flowers on her grave. She is home with us, in the yard she loved, near the rhododendrons she pruned, near the nieces she mothered for 7 ½ years.
She completed us, made us all better people, and every year, watching her flowers bloom, knowing she’s part of them…I will see her beauty, grace, love, patience and joy.
I love you, Shania…I’m so honored that you were part of my life, that you helped shape my children’s characters, that you gave them unconditional love. You will live forever in our hearts and in the hearts of everyone who knew you…I love you.