Our dog Shiloh might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but we love him dearly. He’s the goofball of our pack, a giant galoot of a German Shepherd with a staggering number of genetic defects due to unscrupulous overbreeding. He looks ferocious and his bark is intimidating, but the image he projects is in stark contrast with his sweet and gentle personality.
Shiloh suffers from several physical maladies, but never acts like he’s in pain. He’s one tough cookie. We keep him as healthy as possible. We watch his weight and give him regular exercise in walks. True, not everybody would put up with his quirks and eccentric behavior. Shiloh’s powerful bark rattles the windows of our house daily at the crack of dawn, alerting us of the onset of morning traffic… especially motorcycles and school buses. He barks at cars, trucks, joggers, clouds, and butterflies — anything on the move, because he always wants to go along for the ride.
This is the other story just added to the revised Always a Next One.
My heart skipped a beat when I noticed the open fence gate. The exterminator had visited earlier in the day and apparently he hadn’t closed the gate well enough when he left our backyard. I rushed back inside the house to do a quick head count. I checked every corner of every room with a rising dread in the pit of my stomach.
Three of our dogs were missing.
The timing of their escape couldn’t have been worse. It was approaching the late afternoon rush hour, and we live near a busy road. I shouted for my son Matt, who happened to be home on a break between classes and work. We decided to split up and look for the dogs, each of us heading off in the opposite direction to search for our fugitives.
I jumped in the van and rolled down the windows. As I drove slowly down the street, I called out the names of our missing dogs, hoping to find them before the flood of commuters started coming home for the day. Matt took off on foot in the opposite direction, running around the block following the route we normally walked the pack.
Matt found Shiloh first. “Dad! Come quick! Shiloh’s been hit by a car. He’s hurt really bad,” he said from his cell phone.
Those are the most horrible words an animal lover can hear about any dog, but devastating when the dog in question was Shiloh. My stomach churned, but I tried to stay calm. “Where are you?” I asked.
Of all our rescued pack members, Shiloh had the most special needs. He could least afford to be involved in a serious accident. The large but goofy German Shepherd with a gentle disposition comfortably blended in with the other misfits that make up our pack. The overbreeding that is unfortunately all too common in many popular dog breeds had ruined the genetic makeup of the poor dog. His lower spine was malformed and he suffered from dysplasia in both of his hips. Although he stood taller at the shoulder than any of our dogs, his back sloped dramatically down to his hips and his loose joints gave him a shaky, swaying gait.
Matt said that he and Shiloh were in a neighbor’s car, not very far from our house, so I turned the van around. As I drove back toward home to find them, Matt began to describe Shiloh’s injuries in graphic detail. “Shiloh was hit in the face. Blood’s dripping from his mouth. And Dad — his back leg is mangled. I don’t think he can walk.”
His injuries sounded like they couldn’t be worse. Hit in the head and his back legs run over? How is Shiloh still alive? Why was anyone going that fast in the neighborhood? Why didn’t they stop to help my dog?
I braced myself for the worst. I was afraid that our lovable goofball might not recover. He might have to be euthanized. We’d always been exceptionally concerned about his frail physique — an accidental fall and broken hip would probably make it all but impossible for him ever to walk again. We had “Shiloh-proofed” our house by adding carpet runners on the wood floors, and added an extra door and a shorter flight of steps off the garage, into our backyard. The big dog might look formidable, but his body was as fragile as porcelain.
The thought of Shiloh suffering in pain made me ill, but so did the idea of ending his life prematurely. With any other of our dogs, my mind would have latched onto images of leg splints and recuperation, but Shiloh’s legs might never mend properly. If he lost the use of even one of his hind legs, how would Shiloh be able to walk or even stand on his own? He could live in constant pain from his injuries. I pushed the disturbing thoughts aside. If and when the time came, I would make whatever decision was in Shiloh’s best interest. In the meantime, the only thing that was important was getting him to the vet for examination and treatment as soon as possible.
I remembered how Shiloh had come into our lives. When I first saw him, he was living isolated in a large, fenced pen on top of a concrete slab. His owner had declared that he planned to “get rid of the dog” so he could keep another one that I had brought with me for him to adopt. Those words alone would make the prospective adoption home visit a short one. The man went on, complaining that Shiloh barked too much. I noticed an open wound on the dog’s foot and pointed it out, but his owner seemed disinterested in having the injury treated. Instead of leaving him with another dog, I convinced him to let me take Shiloh away from him.
We briefly fostered Shiloh for adoption through our local Humane Society, until the vet diagnosed the hip dysplasia. A trip to the specialists at the UGA veterinary school told us that he would need more than fifteen thousand dollars of surgery to repair all of his physical ailments, exceeding the abilities and budget of our little rescue group. My wife and I recognized that Shiloh would always have special needs, so we bought foam dog beds for his comfort, changed the flooring in our house to a friendlier surface for his hips, and accepted the fact that we had one more dog with nowhere else to go.
As I remembered how Shiloh ended up with us, I refused to think about the decisions that might be coming. My only concern was getting him to the vet, and finding our other two missing dogs. I dreaded even looking into Shiloh’s eyes, after Matt’s gruesome description. I knew that I would do everything possible to see him through the accident.
Matt lifted the big dog out of our neighbor’s car, carried him over, and gently placed him in the back of our van. Shiloh never even whimpered. The only noise Shiloh made almost sounded like a squeal of delight, as if he was excited to be going for a car ride.
“Don’t worry, I’ll find the other dogs,” said Matt. “Call me and let me know what the vet says.”
As I drove toward the animal hospital, I called to give them advance notice that I was rushing in with a dog that had been hit by a car, and needed an emergency appointment to see the vet. After I hung up I thought to myself, Shiloh sure is one tough cookie. He’s hasn’t even whimpered, and he’s got to be in serious pain.
I was astonished when Shiloh wobbled up to me from his spot in the back of the van and tried to jump into the front seat. “Shiloh, stop it! You’re gonna hurt yourself even worse. You can’t get in the front seat.” I used my free arm to block the gap between the driver and passenger seats, but he slammed into it, nearly dislocating my elbow in the process. He might be hurt, but he didn’t seem to know it. Impatiently, he pushed my arm, trying to bat it out of the way with his muzzle. “No! You can’t get up here,” I said, nearly missing the turn into the parking lot.
When I slid open the side door to the van, Shiloh jumped out as if nothing was wrong. I grabbed his collar and attached the leash, then stepped back to look at him. He didn’t show any signs of having difficulties with his back legs. In fact, there didn’t seem to be a mark on him.
Surprised and curious, I called Matt. “I found the other two dogs,” he said without preamble. “Everybody’s home, safe and sound. I didn’t have any trouble finding them, by the way. Gracie and Sasha wandered back into the yard on their own. How’s Shiloh?”
“Um…we haven’t seen the vet yet. Which leg got mangled? He seems to be walking just fine.”
“The one that’s all bloody,” Matt said with an exasperated sigh.
“Huh… he’s not bleeding,” I said. “In fact, I don’t see any blood on him, at all. It looks like maybe he bit his tongue. But it quit bleeding, if he did.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Matt said.
“I’ll call you back after Dr. McGruder checks him out,” I said. “We just got to his office. I’d better get him checked, just to be safe, in case he’s got internal injuries or something,” I said with a growing doubt.
Dr. McGruder checked Shiloh over thoroughly and confirmed my suspicions. “He’s a very lucky dog. He’ll be fine. Won’t even need a stitch in that tongue,” he said. Then he laughed. “He’s a big boy. Maybe the car got hurt worse than he did.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. There would be no difficult choices to make. Our lumbering clown of a dog could go back to barking at clouds and trying to catch shadows in his teeth.
Once Shiloh was safely back at the house, gnawing on a chew treat to comfort him after his traumatic experience, I went to the grocery store and bought a six-pack of beer. I took the six-pack over to my neighbor to thank him for his willingness to help both my dog and son. Not just anyone would put a strange dog into their own car and rush them to get help.
“How’s your dog?” my neighbor asked, after I introduced myself.
“Shiloh will be fine,” I said. “Apparently the car wasn’t going very fast when it hit him.”
“It wasn’t a car, it was a truck.”
“What?” I was shocked.
“Yep. Actually, it was a UPS truck,” my neighbor said with an odd smile.
“What?” I repeated. “I can’t believe a driver for UPS would hit my dog and just leave him lying there,” I said incredulously. “I should call their offices right now and complain,” I snapped, the unnecessary expense of the vet’s bill still fresh in my mind.
“You could, but that’s not what happened,” my neighbor laughed. “The truck didn’t hit him. He came to a complete stop, just fine. Your dog bolted into the street and ran right into that truck, face first, right into the grill. He even tried to bite the front bumper on the truck. The driver was afraid to get out of his truck. And you know they don’t have doors on those things. Old Shiloh really scared the crap out of that UPS guy.”
I felt bad for the driver, but this version of the story sounded exactly like something our affable lunkhead would do. After years of barking at delivery trucks driving past our house, Shiloh had decided to catch one for himself.