Excerpt from the book “Heartbeats by our Side”

“She is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are her life, her love, her leader. She will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of her heart. You owe it to her to be worthy of such devotion.”

“The Coming of Shannon”

It was the summer of 1987. My step sons were home from school and the Minnesota weather was unusually hot. Our family enjoyed every minute of it after a very cold and long winter. It was then that my girlfriend started to tell me about a little shih-tzu she knew that was being neglected.

Shannon was her name. She was living in the house where my girlfriend’s boyfriend lived, which was occupied by four single guys living together. Shannon belonged to one of the men who were divorced. Shannon went to the husband when the marriage dissolved rather than the ex-wife and children. It was shared that Shannon’s owner was indifferent to her and that she was lacking attention, proper feeding and care. I heard that Shannon was often left alone to fend for herself. This man came and went as he pleased and was utterly inept and uncaring for her needs.

I hated hearing this story of someone mistreating this defenseless little shih-tzu. I of course started to worry about Shannon and shared the story with my husband. Knowing the way we adored and loved Martini and Rossi, we were astounded that anyone could mistreat a little dog like this. We agreed we would consider taking her if the neglectful owner agreed to give her up. My girlfriend knew we provided an incredible home for our shih-tzus and used our love of them as a comparison to the neglect that she saw with Shannon.

She started the ball in motion and asked if Shannon could be given a new and good home. However her owner was reluctant to give her up. A few weeks went by and I continued to hear horror stories and tales of Shannon being ignored. The hair on my neck started to rise and I hated this man who I didn’t even know.

The icing on the cake occurred a week after the 4th of July when I heard that Shannon was left totally alone for the entire 4th of July weekend. She was tied her up in the garage and left a meager amount of food and water while her owner went away, left in the dark all by herself for four days. I imaged Shannon all by herself cringing in fear listening to the fireworks around the house and enveloped in heat and darkness for four days. How inhumane and cruel could this person be?

My immediate reaction & response was: “Bring the dog to me.” “If he doesn’t give her up voluntarily, I am going to steal her from him.” Now you may think this was a violent reaction, but this story of abuse enraged me. I thought of my own precious dogs we cared for and protected every minute of every day. The vision of a poor little dog left alone for days was more than I could bear to hear or tolerate.

We continued to work on getting agreement to give Shannon to us. She was finally brought to us about a week later, on a beautiful hot summer July night.

They carried poor little Shannon through our front door and my husband and I and the boys were there to greet her. We were all stunned to see how sad she looked. She was placed on the rug in our beautiful living room and she stood there shaking. I looked at her was shocked. She was absolutely filthy. Her grayish black hair was completely soiled and matted and her eyes were crusted over with gook and grime. I knelt down to pet her. She smelled awful and I immediately felt the bones in her spine. She was gruesomely skinny. My husband went to hug her and felt her stiffen. She was in much worse shape than we ever imagined and looked like an orphan compared to the pampered and fluffy Martini and Rossi. They actually came towards her and amazingly sniffed her once and backed away.

Shannon continued to tremble and she took an immediate poop on the rug. I rushed to pick it up and petted her saying: “That’s ok sweetheart.” I could tell she was petrified and probably didn’t know what was happening to her. She was accustomed to so much abuse – she probably thought for sure that her arrival at our house would mean more miserable treatment from people who didn’t care about her.

Seeing that we didn’t yell at her for soiling our carpet, my friends were not used to seeing Shannon handled with care. I explained I knew she was scared and once she got accustomed to going out in our big backyard she would be fine.

I immediately gave Shannon a bowl of dog food which she instantly ate. I gave her some doggie biscuits and she also wolfed them down very quickly. Her little tail started to wag. I wondered how long it had been since her last meal. We all started to relax a bit after Shannon’s sad entrance.

My husband and I shared that we were taking a cross country car trip the following week to see my parents in New Jersey. We were driving with Tony, his cousin Lester and Martini and Rossi. They gave me a worried look. I asked what was wrong & they asked what we would do with Shannon. I said: “She is coming with us of course.” They were amazed, never expecting this automatic welcome of Shannon into our family and our life. My words allowed them to smile and shake their heads and say: “We can’t believe she is coming with you. Thank God we brought her to you. We did the right thing.”

Shannon’s first night in our home was spent in our laundry room. We made her comfortable on a few pillows, water and biscuits by her side with a little night light on. We felt bad leaving her downstairs while we went upstairs to sleep with Martini and Rossi. However, we were afraid she could have fleas. My plan was to bring her to vet and doggie groomer as soon as possible.

I woke up early the next day to run downstairs and see how Shannon was. She was quiet and ok but got up to greet me. I let her out in the backyard and watched her as she went down the deck stairs out to the grass. She moved slowly as if with fear, still unsure where she was and in my mind probably waiting for the next shoe to drop on her life. I was still taken aback at the poor shape she was in.

It was then that I thought of changing her name to “Annie” as in “Little Orphan Annie.” However, she did respond to Shannon when hearing her name called. I realized it was probably the only thing she was sure of in her little sad world – her name. As I watched her meander in our backyard, I thought of the abuse she had experienced. I was still annoyed at how any human being could mistreat any dog. I was dreadfully disappointed that Shannon had gotten caught in the cross fires of a divorce, with a man and woman, who in my mind, were never fit to be dog owners in the first place. They coldly tossed her aside, not understanding that she was a living and breathing soul who relied on them for her existence.

I called our vet and groomer and both agreed I could bring Shannon in that day. Our first stop was the vet. She took one look at her and confirmed that morning she was definitely a victim of neglect and abuse. She was malnourished weighing only 7 pounds, about 3 pounds less than a dog her size, age, and breed should have been. She estimated that Shannon was approximately 5 years old.

Shannon was checked for fleas and worms, which she thankfully didn’t have, and she was given all her shots. The vet shook her head back and forth as she trimmed and cleaned the filthy gook and hair around her eyes. We left the office with heartworm pills & eye drops with a follow up visit in 30 days. I had instructions to carefully feed her a few small meals a day to give her little system time to recover from her hunger.

Our next stop was the groomer. I had to explain Shannon’s condition once again to a person who was dumbfounded when she saw her. She too could not believe that anyone would mistreat a dog like the way Shannon was neglected. We both knew that she needed to be totally shaved and the groomer assured me she would be very careful with her. After I returned in about three hours, I was astonished at her transformation but also still dazed at how skinny she really was. Without the weight of her tangled and matted hair, she was actually smaller than I realized and her skinniness now showed all over her body. The groomer put a pretty little red bow in her now very short hair on top o
f her head. I shook my head in bewilderment when I saw her new look – totally cleaned and shaven.

I brought Shannon home and my husband and boys were flabbergasted at her new transformation. I fed her and let her out in the backyard with Martini and Rossi and saw that she stayed to herself, never even approaching or going near them. She isolated herself from them but sat in the sunshine for a very long time, looking all around her at the grass and trees, and basking in the warmth of the late day sun. I got my camera and called her name. She looked at me and I snapped the first picture of our newest addition to our family. She was surrounded by soft grass and beautiful sunshine, with the sun casting a beautiful hue to her unique gray hair. She stared straight at me, her head held high, with a look of strength upon her face. This is a picture of Shannon I still treasure to this day. Even though it reminds me of the misery she had to endure before coming to our family, it was also a picture that conveyed her new beginning.

That night Shannon moved upstairs to our bedroom to sleep. Her days and nights of loneliness were behind her. She would no longer be on her own or treated like an outcast. I knew it was going to take a very long time for her to get acquainted and comfortable with her new life and be best buds with Martini and Rossi. She had many years of pain, both emotional and real, to overcome. We were giving her lots of attention, along with hugs and kisses. I was grateful for my friends for bringing her into our life. I knew in my heart and soul that that I would protect Shannon and love her for the rest of her life. She was finally safe and sound and was now part of our loving family. She also made our dynamic duo of doggies now a trio. Three dogs were ok with all of us and I felt my family to be more complete.

Besides, this was the first time in my life I had my own very special “little girl.”