Do all of you have “legendary” pets? I certainly hope so. We have many, in fact almost all of the pets we have owned over the years have their own legends. But the one that stands out—the one about whom almost all my friends have memories—was our Alaskan Malamute, now gone from us for years; I forget how many, but more than five, I know.
He was a gift to us from V. V and her family owned Shadow’s mother, Brenna. When Brenna had her first litter, V called and offered. We accepted and V and her family actually chose him from the litter for us. He came to us as “Big Mac” because he was the largest of the bunch. We looked him over and decided he just did not look like that name to us. My son’s good friend came up with the perfect one: “Shadow.”
Shadow’s coloring was striking. He was black and white, and his eyes were ice blue against the black eyeliner of his coat pattern with shadowy shades of wolf grey. Perfect camouflage in shadowy woods.
We learned that his blue eyes disqualified him from registration. Apparently it is fine for Siberian Huskies to have the blue eyes, but Malamutes must have brown. We did not care. Those blue eyes became his hallmark on a dog much, much larger than any Husky. He was a beautiful, exotic-looking dog. He was, to be truthful, arresting. I have had more than one person tell me that his eyes frightened them.
But spooky eyes notwithstanding, Shadow was a true family dog. My son housetrained him in a manner we learned from the New Skete Monk’s book, The Art of Raising a Puppy (which I still heartily recommend). Shadow was tethered to Son’s bed side for the night. In the night, when the pup whimpered, Son would drop his hand down to give comfort. If he quieted, all was well. If he didn’t, Son got up and took him outside. It was a method that worked like a charm to manage two objectives: Shadow learned to be housebroken in lightning speed, catching on to the fact that all “business” was done outside. And, equally important, this bonded him to our Son like superglue. Son was his “boy,” and Shadow was at boy’s side everywhere.
Shadow grew to be huge. We were always amazed when he would go to the vet and we were told he weighed only 85 or 90 pounds…he looked much bigger with his thick coat. His head was broad as a bear’s. He was a serious dog.
Some mornings Son and Shadow would appear at breakfast, with Son sleepily rubbing his eyes. When I would ask why he was still sleepy, he was likely to say, “Shadow kept pushing me off the bed last night.” They shared his twin bed, which was a bit narrow for a small boy and a huge dog. But they made do.
When we moved to the country, Shadow was in his element. Until he was two years or so old, he had been in a fenced yard, but now he had the run of woods, and he had to deal with other country dogs who came our way. He guarded our place with regal confidence. Even large dogs who came down our driveway would turn on their heels and leave when Shadow strode out to face them. He never chased them, never barked. His gaze and his presence were enough to ward off any interlopers.
In fact, “noble” was an adjective I often heard used about him, and he had many mannerisms that seemed “noble,” indeed. For example, Shadow would never eat in our presence (other than treats we handed him). When we would fill his bowl with food, he would politely wait until we walked away or, if he was fed on the back porch, he would wait until we entered the house before beginning his meal.
The other thing that running free brought out in Shadow was howling. After we moved to the country, we could hear him at night sending up long, drawn-out wolf howls to the sky. Our two Shelties loved this and would join in, all three dogs appearing to go into some kind of moon-worshipping trance. But the Sheltie contribution was a yipping-yapping. It could not compete with Shadow’s powerful, deep howls, lonesome and haunting. Our neighbors through the woods would comment that they had heard a wolf howl in the night because it was just different from what the coyotes out here sang, and we would smile to think that Shadow’s howling had been so appreciated.
As much as the Shelties loved the howling sessions, those sessions died when Shadow died. It seems the Shelties needed a leader to hold such concerts.
Shadow would also vocalize to us. He would often greet us with a low woo-woo sound, a cross between a deep growl and soft howl. Hard to describe here. It, too, frightened those who were new to him, but we knew it for what it was: a loving salutation.
Shadow never bit a single person, but his presence was a powerful suggestion that manners ought to be minded. I never doubted that if he thought one of us was in trouble he would be quick to the rescue. One time I was having our carpets cleaned. I had put the little gate up to keep the two dogs in the kitchen with me off the carpet. As I sat at the table, the carpet cleaning man came to the gate and said he would like to get water for his steam cleaner, lifting his leg and stepping over the gate as he spoke.
Shadow was instantly on his feet, teeth barred and hair on end. He looked fierce and huge, and his blue eyes showed he meant business. The carpet cleaner fairly leaped back across the gate.
I praised and calmed Shadow and said to our intruder. “I’ve got him, you can come in now.”
The carpet guy said, “Is he okay?”
“He’s okay so long as I’m okay,” I answered.
I often wondered if Shadow knew something about this guy that I could not see.
So much did Shadow impact our lives that when my husband went wayward, he asked for only two photographs. He wanted one of Son on his lap as a baby and this one of Shadow:
I still have them both…but I will send him copies. It would be too harsh to deprive one of such mementos. Now, I ask you: would you blithely go up on that porch with that dog standing there?
As I write this, I realize I could write chapter after chapter about Shadow. Perhaps I’ll share more stories of him with you later, for he was unique and brought to our lives many wonderful tales.
I believe that a large, imposing dog is a necessity for anyone in the country, especially surrounded by woods as I am. Now that I am single, I find I rely even more on my watchdog. I have Chili now, my solitary sentinel, but he, too, is a fine and noble dog. He seriously does his job of guarding me and, when I leave for work, standing guard over MIL.
With Shadow in our history, Chili has large paw prints to fill, but he’s doing a great job. I think he’s building legends of his own. C.