Like most professions, jobs that involve personal contact with clients, it’s inevitable that we have a few favorites, people that we linger with over lunch a few minutes more just because, send an e mail to say nothing more than hi to start a conversation. There are professional boundaries though, I have succesfully adhered to them myself in the many relationships developed in my own businesses, rather easily.
But I’ve never had animals as clients before.
It’s an odd adjustment to make, thinking of beautiful, vibrant and happy animals as clients but we are a business, one that offers a great service but a service nonetheless. I love all my charges but there are a few that over time become family and that’s where it gets hard, really hard when they leave.
One, Bones, a fiesty and playful boxer recently moved away to enjoy a suburban yard, that I could accept. Rus, a third level Shutzhund trained German Shephard was sold after competition judges found the tiniest of defects in her gait, guaranteeing that she would not advance any further. That was just too difficult to understand and more than worthy of a diary to be written to tell her story, the pain lingers.
Shauna was one of the first dogs I was introduced to over three years ago, on a route I inherited from someone who found the job too stressful. His dogs were many of our oldest clients and were coveted by everyone, so yeah, I lucked out big time.
There are benefits and hazards in this job as there are in any other, attaching your heart to someone else’s dog is both.
Honestly it wasn’t a decision, my first visit it just happened.
Shauna lived with her mom in a stone Victorian mansion on a double lot, in a now sketchy part of town. On rare occasions when she would meet me at the door, I could always find her snoring in that overstuffed bed. More than anything, she was a girl who lived to sleep, it was difficult waking her up somedays and getting her to excercise.
I visited her five days a week, twice a day for three and a half years and our routine was etched into habit that very first visit. I was a rookie and my inclination was to just be myself, almost every dog I’d ever met liked playing the mock monster game. Shauna wasn’t walked, just let out into the yard so after a few minutes I crouched down and slowly, menacingly crept up behind her in a low growl, ‘Shauna, Shauna.’
She kept me in her peripheral vision until the very last second before I clutched her backside, she did 4 whirling dervishes ending up a few yards away with her back to me again. We did it over and over and our bond was cemented instantly. She loved that game, it was fun and a tricky way to get her heart pumping and some much needed excercise.
Shauna’s mom was home one day, we played our monster game just like we always did and she laughed out loud, appreciating my playfulness and creativity. It was my first dog/client validation on my new job and it meant a lot at the time, it still does. Her mom and I developed a language of our own on the handwritten notes that we leave, including nuanced emoticons, an indication when I saw something unusual that might need her attention. She also rejected using our new all digital service which is all notes, via email.
I respected her for that, old skooler that I am.
A Boxer breed speciman Shauna was not, only adding to her quiet charms, she never made a sound in all the time I’ve known her. She might have been the runt of the litter, I never wanted to ask but her proportions were a little off, she was very small with a crusty, upturned nose. When she sat, she never quite hit the floor and I would always ask her to sit for treats before I left. Second only to sleep, treats were the shiznit and to get her more excercise, I would throw the treats down the long hallway for her to find.
She always did.
It was only recently in the past few months, that I noticed her sense of smell failing and her hearing as well. Over my normal three day weekend last week, she suddenly developed a severe neurological issue and no longer could control her rear legs and bowels. Her mom called in the vet who said the condition would only get much worse.
Shauna went to sleep before I could see her one last time.
Selfishly, I was a little upset, then I remembered our last visit that was as sweet as it always was. I didn’t know anything was wrong and neither did she. Honestly, I doubt I could have held my composure, it just wouldn’t have been fair. Her mom wrote in her last Christmas card that, ‘I was a very important part of Shauna’s life.’
Yeah, we were pals. So there are two holes in my schedule now and a big hole in my heart. I miss visiting that beautiful house, I miss being in the landscaped yard and writing notes about my visit. I miss her mom and our sometimes long conversations.
But most of all I miss My Pal Shauna, she was family. She had an old soul and a gentle spirit, we had a lot in common. I willingly crossed a professional boundary and attached my heart to someone else’s dog.
Even with the sadness, I wouldn’t have it any other way.