I love dogs. I’ve always had a dog. My family has a history of breeding and showing pedigree Dobermans and German Shepherds. As I got older and out on my own, my dogs were always purebred and exhibited quality worthy of the show ring. I tend to be partial to the herding group. These dogs are wickedly smart, energetic, and comprise a sampling of the most beautiful and talented dogs in the world.
Such was the case with Shade. Shade, my beautiful companion, is named for his dramatically luxurious coat, gleaming with long, silky, mahogany, and black fur. A Belgian Tervuren, he was “pick of the litter,” first male born and destined for the world of competitive dog showing.
Unfortunately, he would not take his place in the prestigious ring. After embarrassingly limping through several handling classes, his temperament proved too high strung. Pure breed dog showing was just not in the cards for Shade. All the attention and fawning rendered him a complete nervous wreck. So he was demoted from flashy platform stages and trophies to the modest comfort of our gently used living room sofa and a chewy bone.
Nevertheless, Shade was my pride and joy. Smart as a whip, he could cycle through trick after trick. He was a sweet, loveable companion that never wanted to leave my side. I loved being with him. I enjoyed preening over and pampering his stunningly beautiful coat. And I loved all of the attention and admiration he garnered from strangers whenever I took him out for excursions to the dog park or hiking in the nearby forest. I had a beautiful life with my sweet, Snuffleupagus of a dog.
Then I am introduced to my first psychotic break, and things begin to change.
I have a name for my psychosis. I call it “Weirdness.” Weirdness arrives in full force during the fall of 2012. It comes by serving me the most bitter and incredulous confusion along with heaping servings of fear, terror, and paranoia. From its onset, it grows and picks up in strength and intensity. Trying to hold on to whatever sanity I can remember, I lose the fight a little bit every day.
Every day and every hour, I hear them, and I see them . . . .the lights . . .and the messages. The lights in the trees and bushes blink with a kind of Morse Code. Additional messages on the road signs and billboards. They are everywhere. Even inconsequential, old, everyday household objects now wield an air of importance. They are all now symbols or a key to a more secret directive. Words and images in TV programs, commercial tag lines, promotional jingles, bulk mailed print ads, CD cases, magazines, even books, and paintings that had been in my house for years all now have a new hidden identity.
As the days tick by, my delusions progress and becoming more real . . the messages, the moving objects . . . the constant surveillance by secret agents posing as neighbors . . .realization that my family members are all government operatives . . .it was getting more and more bizarre, and I couldn’t take it. I could feel my mind beginning to crack.
One afternoon, I come home to find that Shade pooped on the carpet in front of the door to my bedroom. Instantly, I know that the government gave him some laxative to induce the accident. Shade never poos in the house. I recognize this is another tactic of psychological warfare. I am enraged.
I know my neighbor is a high ranking official of Homeland Security and likely monitors his home with a surveillance camera. But in my anger, it matters not.
I grab a paper towel and pick up the poop. Marching about 250 feet down a hill and into their yard, I stop at their front porch. Sneering with contempt, I place the shit at the front of their door in protest. If they don’t talk to me directly, at least can tell them what I think through this one crude act. I have no idea if they had cameras, or if and when they ever encountered my protest package.
Weeks pass. My mind flounders on top of a thin and diminishing layer of stability. I know things aren’t right. I watch helplessly as various parts of my life begin to weaken and unravel. I am falling apart.
The most upsetting evidence of my deterioration is visible in Shade. I can no longer ignore that his elegant and pristine coat had started to mat into knotted, unattractive clumps. His nails are long, and their excessive length causes him difficulty when walking across uncarpeted floors. He is losing weight, and his elegant and majestic coat is dulled, flattened, and tangled.
I’m overwhelmed with sadness as I realize I am no longer able to take care of him. The stress and confusion of living with Weirdness slowed me down, depressed my productivity, decreased my cognitive abilities, and has utterly paralyzed me with fear.
Responsibilities and chores, once accomplished as if second nature, are being forgotten and neglected. As bad as things were now, they are destined to get worse. Recently divorced, I soon, I am moving to an apartment without a yard. Shade will have no area to play ball or lie in the sun. This realization, along with my declining caretaking abilities, leads me to make one of the most painful phone calls of my life.
Broken with unbearable sorrow and manifesting real physical pain throughout my body, I pick up the phone and tearfully call Shade’s breeder. Through my painful sobs, I explain my circumstance and ask that she take him back as I can no longer care for him. She did.
Weirdness ushered me through years of a terrifying journey that ultimately ended in cataclysmic collapse. Much was destroyed, and much was lost.
The loss of Shade was one of, if not the most, devastating and heartbreaking casualties.