Guest columnist Steve Fox: Saying goodbye to Shiloh

  • Steve Fox’s dog, Shiloh. Submitted photo

Published: 7/15/2021 12:13:16 PM

Everyone knew Shiloh. I mean EVERYONE.

   I kind of forgot how many lives my sweet dog touched until I posted about her passing this past weekend.

As a journalism professor, I preach often that words matter. While many in my position would say we had to “put her down,” I can’t say that. It’s a phrase that says my dog was less than human and she was hardly that.

Shiloh was 14. My youngest daughter is 18, my middle daughter is 21 and my son is 23. They’ve known Shiloh for most of their lives. She was a member of the family. My youngest said she felt like she lost a younger sister last weekend.

“I feel like my childhood died,” she told me the other day.

I’ve had dogs since I was 8 years old. I’ve lost dogs before. This time is different.

She was there for me every day through a difficult divorce. She was there for me when I became an empty nester. And she was there for me during a worldwide pandemic. Most importantly, she was there for my kids.

We all knew the day was coming when we would have to say goodbye. Knowing that didn’t make it any easier.

About a year ago, Shiloh became sick and was diagnosed with liver cancer after a weekend stay at a local vet who recommended at that point that it was time for her to pass. My daughters convinced me to get a second opinion and the wonderful vet at Belchertown Veterinary Hospital gave her some meds and said she had more life in her.

We were gifted an extra year and that was everything. I’ve recently read stories about owners of “pandemic puppies” who are either abandoning or returning their dogs. I don’t quite get that. If you’re a dog owner, you’re a dog owner for life. What you put in isn’t even close to the unconditional love you receive back.

My middle daughter described Shiloh as “resilient.” I had forgotten but she is so right. While we adopted her in Maryland before moving to western Massachusetts, she was definitely a New England dog.

Shiloh was skunked numerous times. She was pinned by a porcupine. She once barked at a bear checking out my garbage can, and she once chased a baby bear cub up a tree. And there was the time Shiloh was at the edge of my property staring down two coyotes before I saw what was going on and convinced her to come back into the house.

Recently I had seen some changes in her. Her back legs were going as she struggled to jump into my car or walk up the steps in my deck. She lost weight. She was sleeping a lot more than usual.

I didn’t sleep much the night before she passed. She was sick and struggling and I became increasingly worried. She wasn’t herself.

When I went into the hospital room to say goodbye, she wagged her tail and came straight to me. My son and I cried as we spoke to her.

There’s no good way to decide when it’s time to say goodbye to your dog. I had a very understanding vet who patiently spoke to me about six times before I finally decided. My kids agreed it was time but I’m a stubborn Irishman who doesn’t like to give up. In the end I tried to think about her and not me. Still, as every dog owner knows, the residual guilt is tough to shed.

I’m thankful to my friends and family who have taken time to share Shiloh stories. When she was younger, she used to run in circles with the neighbor’s dogs. She was the fastest dog I’ve ever seen and would run around the house at top speed. Shiloh was a jumper and would jump and snag hats off the heads of my son’s friends when they were younger. And boy did she love the snow.

She loved to take me for walks. I’m going to miss her.

Steve Fox is a senior lecturer and sports journalism director for the Journalism Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.


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