The Sweetest Sheltie


He was a shy dog. In retrospect, he was probably a new soul that took canine form. He was always a little frightened, reluctant, bewildered. But he was as sweet and affectionate as any dog you'd meet. I was watching a documentary on wolves, and of course, he ran out of the living room as he always did because their howls—and just about any other threatening noise on TV, including suspenseful music—scared him. The documentary described alpha males and beta males, and there was Cosmo at the bottom—the omega. Always rolling on his back to show his belly. And hoping you might rub it.

He was probably neutered too early. I don't think he met a dog he didn't like. Or, in fact, any animal he didn't like, except maybe a few cats. He seemed to want to play with the deer that cross through my yard, And, oddly enough, they moved only far enough away just to look at him. They never feared him because instinct told them he would never harm another animal. He just didn't know how or was simply too gentle. He even thought it was good idea to play with skunks a couple of times. I'm not even really sure he learned that it wasn't. I suspect he would have done it again. Thank goodness he never spotted a porcupine.

He wasn't a dog that was comfortable playing with toys or even other dogs. He loved chasing a tennis ball and kissing your face. And sitting out on the lawn. I used to joke that he was half deer. He looked a bit like one.

I drove a long way to get him. For better or worse, I wanted a dog like my previous dog, an oversized male sheltie. People asked me why that breed. Shelties speak with their eyes, they are expressive and compassionate. And truth be told, I love how they smell, how they feel, and they are cuddly on cold nights.

Cosmo was a rescue dog. He had apparently suffered abuse by the family he lived with before me. The most peaceful of animals, he was originally named Sarge and shaven when I got him. It was obvious (from the way he ran from TV shows) that he was familiar with the sound of gunshots, shouting, even the click of a gun cocking. My home has overhead can lights with floodlight bulbs. When turned off, they make almost imperceptible clicks as the filament cools down. That little noise would send Cosmo running from the room, too. His name was a compromise. To me, he looked like a "Simon"—if he had been a human he certainly would have worn thick glasses. But at that time I was married and his new name had to suit all of us.

It was clear that in his old home he was loved by a woman and overtrained—and probably bullied—by a man. And, I'd heard, tormented by children. He came into my home expecting somewhat of a family and ended up with just me... and I know as much as he relied on me, trusted me (though not fully), and loved me, he was never fully comfortable here with a male.

He brought love to my life—the unconditional love only a pet, and especially a very dependent pet, can bring. I also realize now he gave my day structure. As much as I hated that he woke up early, especially on cold, wet winter mornings, he gave me reason to go out into the yard to start the day. And to walk him every day at 5 sharp—any sheltie (and most dog) owner knows their dog can tell time. And a quick walk out for a breath of air after dinner and into the darkness at night. I miss the regularity he brought to my schedule. Even if it meant I had to come home from a fun night out because, really, he had very small kidneys. :)

I realize now, too, how scared a dog he was. Every time there was any unusual noise, he would react in some way—usually getting up to run somewhere—the depths of my office, the back of the most sheltered bathroom—and I would look to make sure he knew he was okay. Some dogs protect their owners, it was always the other way around. Slamming doors, drawers, and dropping things would freak him out, and I got into the habit of doing those things much more gently than my personality would generally dictate.

I did not have Cosmo for very long: about two and two-thirds years. I don't know how old he lived to be but he was probably about five. His legs went bad and very rapidly he couldn't walk, and he was diagnosed with cancer. What a poor sweet soul. His early life was clearly not happy, and even though I gave him as much love as I had, he came into my life at a difficult time and, I'm sure, absorbed a lot of my stress. He did have a good home but for his own reasons, never really settled in fully. A number of friends said he was never meant to be in this world in the first place and chose to leave early.

In my naive fantasies, I like to think that my previous sheltie, a too-courageous alpha named Laddie, is guiding him in doggie heaven and teaching him the ropes for when he comes back next time.

Anyone who has lost a dog—especially when the dog is your full-time main companion—knows what it is. Yes, they are just animals. But somehow—and this is likely why I'm single—their love is more pure, true, and unadulterated than any human's love could ever be.

Goodbye Cosmo. You were the sweetest.

Posted: Wed - April 30, 2008 at 05:19 PM