Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Percy, The Shetland Sheepdog

Percy. He was a black, white and brown dabbed puppy the first time I saw him, hovering around my mother's feet.  Happy Birthday, my mom said with a giant smile inside her long red hair. I was eight.

Bought from a local mall pet store, Percy was trained so well to stay within the parameters of the shop that my mom had to pick him up and carry him out; he would not cross the line in blue tape. He was very sensitive, sweet, shy and incredibly smart. Here is a very fitting description of Percy from the American Kennel Club:

The Shetland Sheepdog, or "Sheltie" as it is commonly called, is essentially a working Collie in miniature. A rough-coated, longhaired working dog, he is alert, intensely loyal and highly trainable and is known as a devoted, docile dog with a keen sense of intelligence and understanding. Agile and sturdy, the Sheltie is one of the most successful obedience breeds, but also excels in agility, herding and conformation. The coat can be black, blue merle or sable, marked with varying amounts of white and/or tan.

My mother's training and his natural intelligence made for an entirely satisfying dog. Go get the paper, Percy, get the paper! I'd say, and he's trot over, pick the paper up with his gentle mouth, and bring it to me. He stayed next to me without a leash wherever I took him around our neighborhood, streets and canyon. He always came when called, heeled, jumped, stayed, gave 'hugs'. I fashioned an endurance test where I would have Percy sit on the concrete, and tell him to stay. I'd walk away, further and further and further, sometimes peeking back. He was always sitting perfectly still, but vibrating with anticipation. No matter how far I got, he stayed. The one time I went so far I couldn't see him, I was immediately overwhelmed with guilt for teasing such a loyal soul, and popped back into view, screaming Here Percy Here!!! until he was jumping on my lap, licking my face.

Percy had a natural intuitiveness about human beings that I have never encountered again in a dog. He could tell if I was sad from across the house, and found his way to me to lay a paw on my arm, lick my face, lay in my lap. If I cried, he would not leave my side.  Orders could be given or requests made in a normal voice, as if you were talking to a person Hey can you get that ball over there? And he would understand just the same.

Eight was right around the time I began reading books like Lassie and my favorite dog series, Lad, A Dog. I was completely heart happy that my own dog was just as wonderful, empathetic, intelligent and beautiful as any dog from a book.  I knew my own Percy would rescue me from a snowy cliff...if we ever lived by any snowy cliffs. Percy was very protective of our family; the only time he ever growled at me was when I play-slapped my mom on the leg and he leapt up, ears back, an angry burr in his throat.

Percy's only fault in my view was that his first love and loyalty lay with my mother. He watched her with bright, shining dark eyes, full of adoration. He lay outside her bedroom door with his head down, paws over his nose, or next to her feet at the table while she ate. It wasn't until my mother explained to me that since she did most of the care-taking- his morning runs, feeding, coat brushing- that she also had earned most of the devotion. Well played, Mom, well played. After that, I was sure to feed Percy often, brush his coat, take him on walks and give him treats, and slowly he turned his love toward me.

I struggled to be half as good to Percy as he was to me. Often full of what was at the time, to me, an incomprehensible fury and sadness,  I took it out on my best friend and most loyal companion. In the evenings, when the numb, dull pain in my chest was often worst, I would sometimes lock Percy in the hall closet and listen to him whine until I too, could cry, and full of remorse and self-hatred, I'd let him out and hold him while I sobbed into his long fur. He'd lick my face and sit with me until the tears were gone. Other times I would tease him with our walks, pretending I was going to take him out when I knew I wasn't, or I'd shout loudly near his sensitive ears to startle him. Those kind of small but significant cruelties went on until I was eleven or twelve, when I had the sudden and overwhelming epiphany that I absolutely could not let myself do this to my dog anymore, no matter the pain I was in, no matter how frustrated, alone and locked in I was with my feelings. I dedicated myself to my Percy, to making amends. After this, I was his most constant companion outside of my mother. I can still remember so clearly calling him from my bed when I was ready to fall asleep upstairs, and hearing the sound of his light feet clamoring up the stairs, and then his nails clicking on the tile before my bedroom, until finally I'd see his bushy self running toward me, launching up on the bed and then lying at my feet or by my side. I gave myself small penances for my sins: I had to brush his fur five minutes longer than when I stopped wanting to do it, I had to walk him around the block once more even though I shivered with cold, I had to play games with him ten minutes longer even though I was going to miss the beginning of my favorite T.V. show.

When I was seventeen, I woke one morning to my mother crying downstairs. Percy was very ill. I made her show me. He was out back, laying on his side, eyes glossy, obviously extremely sick. I knelt down and petted him, kissed his face over and over. My mom assured me that she and my father were going to take Percy to the vet as soon as my sister and I were off to school. I left. He died soon after.

Percy's death was my first real loss, and it hurt worse than I would have imagined, even knowing what an important part of our family life he was. We never found out what poisoned him. I sobbed in my bed after school until I felt like throwing up. I could not stop crying, and cried off and on for weeks. I missed him in my stomach and my heart and my mind.  I dreamt of him, and did for years and years afterward, where he would show up, always wagging his tail, always kind and good and smart, my sweet dog.

I've never met his equal.

Hyacinth said...

Your writing is simply beautiful...and I'm sitting here bawling like an baby.

Petit fleur said...

All those things you did to Percy were ways of showing/sharing with him how you were feeling inside. On some impossible level, I think animals understand unspoken language much better than humans. I think he understood what you were saying and empathized.

I had similar experience with my little dog when I was growing up. I was cruel to him at times and feel guilty about it to this day. He loved me all the same. I wish I could change it, but I can't. Hearing your story has helped me to heal a bit more from it. Thank you. I thought I was the only one.

lulumarie said...

I love how your love shines through your writing. What a beautiful testament to Percy!

Annie said...

I think Percy was a help to you in so many ways. Through your love and intelligence, Percy helped you to learn empathy.

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