Casting a Long Shadow – A Pet Adoption Story

This post is my entry into the BlogPaws Blog Carnival Contest sponsored by BISSELL Homecare, Inc.

A house is not a home without a dog.

mixed breed dog hound

Home is where the hound is.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t live one more week without a dog.

I convinced my coworker, Haleigh, to visit the SPCA during our lunch break. Reconnaissance, I told myself. I’m just looking.

While Haleigh visited a playful pit mix, my husband’s words echoed in my head, “I want a dog that’s calm. We’re not used to young, energetic dogs.”

And as the nurse to a pair of geriatric dogs for the past five years, I wanted a young healthy dog to love for years to come.

Then I saw her. The tag said she was a hound mix. But she had the dense, luscious coat of a German Shepherd and the expressive eyebrows of a Bernese Mountain Dog. Jackie–that was the name on the door tag–looked placidly at me through the plexiglass. I entered the room and greeted her.

Jackie sniffed my hand. She sniffed my purse. And then Jackie settled in for lovies and scratchies.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Haleigh trying to wrestle her purse out of the pittie’s jaws. The dog was winning. And he was having the time of his life.

In contrast, Jackie was interested without being nervous or excited. “Well,” I said to myself, “she’s certainly calm. Serene even.”

How old is she? Turning to the tag on the door again, I saw she was nine years old. Oh my. I’d have to think about this. Jackie was no young pup.

After returning to my office I called my husband to tell him about Jackie. I wasn’t sure about adopting an older dog but I thought he should meet her.

Later that afternoon, Mike found Jackie as beautiful and enchanting as I had. It was obvious I couldn’t reject her based on her age. Jackie looked healthy and active. If she came home with us, we’d probably have seven years together based on my experience with past dogs.

I made one last attempt to resist Jackie’s charms. “Ok, let’s take her for a walk. Hopefully she’ll be just as calm outside. I don’t want another dog that pulls.”

Jackie was such a gentle girl. I was sure she wouldn’t pull.

With the leash on, Jackie found her reason for being. Leading with her nose (now I knew what part of her to attribute to the hound in her mix) Jackie pulled me out onto the lawn. She pulled me across the road. She pulled me down the furrowed field.

It was soon obvious Jackie had no experience with loose-leash walking.

But by this time I couldn’t let her go. She was ours.

While filling out the adoption paperwork, we learned that Jackie had been surrendered by her family after their doctor advised them to find a new home for her. A family member was having a kidney transplant and the doctor felt a dog in the house would be a problem for someone with a suppressed immune system.

mixed breed dog sleeping on pillow

Is she sleeping? Or just serene?

Someone must have loved Jackie very much. They drove nearly an hour from their home to get to our local shelter, passing at least three others on the way. But ours was the only no-kill facility.

On the ride home, we learned that Jackie wasn’t any better at riding politely in the car than she was at walking calmly on a leash. Oh, and her calm detachment about other dogs? That disappeared within days of her leaving the shelter.

But we also learned that Jackie was instantly trustworthy in the house–no accidents, no chewing, no counter-surfing. And, although she wasn’t the brightest dog I knew, she soon figured out that watching me even when squirrels, cats, and other dogs were beckoning for her attention led to an abundance of yummy treats.

When the house was silent and I wondered where Jackie had gone, I looked down to find her nose at the back of my knee. It was inevitable that we would rename her “Shadow.”

A few months after adopting Shadow, we found out she had cancer in her jaw. She had no symptoms. Our vet discovered it during a routine tooth cleaning.

During a consultation at the local vet college we found out that surgery to remove her jaw followed by weeks of radiation might extend her life expectancy by a few months but would not cure her. Shadow had been so unhappy in the crowded waiting room that I couldn’t imagine forcing her to do that week after week. And this only after relearning how to eat with a missing jaw.

It didn’t take us long to decide to make the most of our time with Shadow, however many weeks or months we would have together.

mixed breed dog in canoe with life jacket

I think Shadow's fantasizing that she's Cleopatra in a barge on the Nile.

Knowing she would eventually have trouble getting around, we bought Shadow a Doggy Ride bicycle cart so she could join us on rides. Shadow didn’t know she was sick and preferred to run alongside.

We took her camping, kayaking, and canoeing. Shadow went with us everywhere. Time was precious and every resource we had told us to expect her to live for only a few months.

We were lucky to have her with us for nearly two years.

Saying good bye was hard. But I would never have given up Shadow to free myself from the pain of losing her.

Shadow taught me about the nose. She showed me how to be patient and consistent. And she made me ever-conscious of the precious, present moment.

Honey, my current pup, benefits every day from what Shadow taught me. Her legacy continues, like a long, cool shadow on a hot summer’s afternoon.



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  1. What a beautiful story! It sounds like you gave Shadow a wonderful last couple years and she was lucky to have you.

  2. What a beautiful post. Good luck in the contest.

  3. Oh, such a sweet dog. I think I would have made the exact same decision you did. Well, both actually – first to keep her and, next, to let her live the fullest life possible unencumbered by medical procedures. What a beautiful gift you gave her – and that she gave you too.

  4. As sad (and unfair) as it is that dogs have such a relatively short life span, we are so much richer because we can experience many dogs during our lives, learn from them all and have so many memories.

  5. I liked you as soon as I realized you’d adopted a 9-yr-old dog.

  6. This story was a pleasure to read, and when it came to its inevitable conclusion, I was sad, but also happy for the time that Shadow had with you. Happy time, out of a shelter, with people who loved her. Not every dog gets that opportunity, and I’m glad she got it.

  7. What a beautiful story! I have tears in my eyes. I am so glad that we didn’t discount Lilac’s age when the time came for us to decide to keep her. The past eight and a half years have been wonderful, and a learning curve for us for sure, but it’s been such a sweet journey with her! I know our time together is finite now, but we still make the most of it every day.

  8. This is such a beautiful post!
    Shadow was such a special dog. To have her for a whole two more years after such a diagnosis must have been god-send. And she still is special, honoring her name by providing Honey with that “cool shadow”. It cannot be a coincidence you choose to give her that name.

  9. This story is so beautiful and well written. My parents only rescue older dogs. It is always so hard saying goodbye after what seems like a short time. But the lessons these dogs teach stay with us forever. And you provided Shadow with the happiness and love she needed in her golden years.

  10. Pamela,
    That was a beautiful story, I’m so happy that you and Shadow found each other. I wish you luck in the contest.

  11. In all the photos you have shared of Shadow on your website, I think this last one is my favourite. She looks so happy to be outside, spending time with her people, exploring the world. That was who Shadow was inside. She was such a beautiful dog in every way.

    Like the story Mel shared about her dog Indy’s previous owner, I hope Shadow’s former family who loved her so much, will one day find this post and know their dog was well-loved for the rest of her life. She couldn’t have found a better family.

  12. Oh Pamela. This post so resonated with me. Shadow sounds like an amazing girl. How wonderful that she got to experience all the things that she did before she had to say goodbye. I love the picture of her and your husband in the boat. If that is not pure joy on her face than I don’t know what it is. I could not have removed her jaw either. While she was alive, she lived. That seems like a much better alternative.

    I don’t regret getting my Aspen at age 9 either. And, even though I only had her a year, I treasure each and every day. I am comforted in knowing I gave her a quality life of love, long walks and lots of spoiling. :)

  13. What a beautiful story – I’m sure that you were meant for each other :)
    Sometimes it feels so hard to make those tough decisions, but it’s so nice when things turn out better than they could have – I’m certain that she had a wonderful 2 years with you!!

  14. What a beautiful girl. And I love the miracle that happened for you to find each other. And I love that you kept her, despite that she pulled. :)
    Great story.
    Good Luck!

  15. Such beautiful and touching post. I tend to think that it’s a very selfless act to decide not to put your dog through painful surgery that might then prolong her life but greatly reduce its quality. It’s so hard to accept a life coming to an end, and it sounds like you helped Shadow meet hers with grace, dignity, and an overwhelming amount of love.

  16. Beautiful story! So often older dogs are passed over in the shelter, but they turn out to be such a joy. I have a similar story of a springer we adopted at age 8 – and I admit much reluctance on my part due to her age. Three years later she developed lung cancer, which had spread to the lymph nodes before it was diagnosed. Dixie was terrified of the vet’s office so we decided not to treat it aggressively. The vet removed the affected lung lobe and gave her nutraceutical treatments. She lived for about six months, and I treasure the memories of our slow walks around the neighborhood. Now, she lives in a quiet corner of my heart.
    Laurel, celebrating the love of dogs at
    Bark Wag Love

  17. Oh, wow, what a bittersweet story. I’ve never lost a pet in anywhere near that short a time, and I can’t imagine how hard it would be to make the decisions you were faced with. I’m so glad, however, that you can look back on the experience with such insight and fondness (and that you were able to move on and share those lessons with another dog). How lucky was Shadow to find you!

  18. This is such beautiful writing. I love that you can write like this, but save these memorable, earth-stopping, poignant posts for every now and then. I just don’t think my heart could take so much beauty on a daily basis.
    Thank you for sharing this story.

  19. What a beautiful story and equally special dog. Adopting older dogs is just as uplifting as taking home a puppy and teaches us many lessons. We need more people like you! Bless your family for all your efforts. Congratulations also on runnerup for the contest.


  1. […] to AnimalKind, Inc. Congratulations to Pamela Douglas Webster for her runner-up entry “Casting a Long Shadow – A Pet Adoption Story,” and to Robin Craft too, grand prize winner for “Oswald, The Cat Who Made Me A […]