Shadow - Part one
I should confess; I would be considered by many who don't know me, as anti-social. I am by nature - a loner. Therefore, to me, the idea of self-isolating during this pandemic is highly appealing.
With a wife and four children, self-isolating isn't quite what it used to be for me when I lived alone. Never-the-less, it is certainly no hardship for me. However, for others who constantly crave company, I can see it is both difficult and challenging.
One of the weakness's that my family and I have is, collecting strays. The maltreated or more often, the unwanted. Among the three hundred or so members of our menagerie, we give a home to, are eleven dogs. These little and large people all share our house and out of all of our hairy, furry and feathered friends, are the most direct members of our family, except possibly Stan - the cat, who thinks we might be part of his family - sometimes. They are, for all intense and purposes, not just our family but confidants and our closest friends.
Of course, death is part of life, the inescapable part. But as so many of us know, life is unfair, and death can seem utterly random in its choices.
We took in a young eight-month-old Alsation last summer. Last night, out of the blue, it had developed a twisted gut, and it was put down on the operating table when the diagnosis was found to be beyond any hope of recovery.
It was 10:30 at night, and when the vets asked me, I was standing by Shadow watching the whole procedure, I made the decision to end Shadow's life. Tears welled up from nowhere and were soon trickling down my cheeks, and before I could gain control, I was heaving with deep chest moving sobs.
It always strikes me as strange how stored up emotion can reveal itself. You think you have everything under control; you're strong, hard and self-reliant and before you know it, all the built-up pressure of emotion is suddenly released by one unexpected event, and like a collapsing dam wall, the tears start forming. You have lost control, and you start to feel your vulnerability.
The tragedy was that we only had Shadow for nine months. He was brought by an older man who lived in a terraced house in a Nothern town, who then died. Shadow was locked up in a very small room for most of his first eight months with minimal exercise. Because he was such a large and powerful dog, very few were strong enough to take him for a walk, so he was left locked up.
When we were asked to take him on, there was only the slightest hesitation initially on my part, because, as my wife and children reminded me, there is always room for one more. As I said, Shadow arrived in early summer of 2019 aged eight months; He was wholly uncontrollable and massive and powerfully strong. He was considerably bigger than the two Deer Hounds, up until then the biggest of our dogs. Shadow was a handful, alright.
First, we had to get him used to the other ten canine friends who varied in stature from a miniature wire-haired Dachshund type thing to Spanial to Deer Hound. He managed this quite quickly and effectively. To be fair, they all were pretty good about it. He had a wonderful personality. He soon became a special friend to each of us, particularly the wire-haired dachshund, and had to continually know where everyone was and if they were all ok. He adored playing with the children and looked forward to them arriving home from school. The welcomes they got were just as warm and enthusiastic as I would get seeing him first thing in the morning, or Anny would receive when feeding him. Even when relaxing, his ears and eyes would remain attentive to the happenings of his surroundings. And when taking a treat from your hand, with his massive head and jaws - he was as gentle as an autumn leaf falling on the ground. He was a loving, caring, enthusiastic and - a gentle giant.
We buried Shadow this morning - the six of us - with blurred eyes and croaky voiced farewells and silence, each of us trying in our own way to rationalise our personal loss of a trusted friend. To try and make sense of why he had gone at such a young age. And still, our hearts ache with the loss of our friend. He is not there anymore - where he was - always - he isn't.
Shadow - Part Two
The question - most answers begin with a question, - what is it that engenders trust? What are the qualities of trust?
I was thinking of Shadow and why, after only nine months, I loved him so much and trusted him. We all did. The answer I came to was because he was always there. He was reliably attentive to the needs of all of our family. No one trained him for this - it was his character - to care and be aware of others. This is not to say he was perfect. With his massive padded paws, he could go vertical, eating food directly from our Kitchen island, not to mention his love of crunching wooden spoons and wooden-handled pallet knives. He could come in from the outside when it was wet and seemingly, and obliviously bring half the garden in with him - leaving a muddy spore of massive prints along the recently hoovered carpet. He could sit and look and drool, dripping copious amounts of saliva on anything that his mouth touched. His jaws didn't so much chew as crush. He was always happy, always pleased to see you and never threatened or attempted any form of malice to anyone. He really epitomised the "Gentle Giant".
Yes - I loved him but more interestingly - I trusted him. Trusted him as a friend who I knew would always do the right thing in terms of my family's welfare. While he never showed any malice - I just know that if anyone threatened harm to my wife or children - he would be in there defending them without a second thought for himself.
Trust is hard-earned - and it has to be continuously demonstrated through honesty. And "Honesty" is the key to trust. It is not a feeling that can be switched on and off. It has to be constant and reliable. Love is an emotion and can be easily given - Trust (as with Respect) have to be earned. Trust is the essential ingredient of a good leader. In a nutshell - all politicians should and need to understand this simple truth - without trust, you cannot lead effectively. No matter how clever you are, or quick with a response or bright with a witticism - without trust - you are doomed to fail.
My reflection, during this time of our world being turned upside-down by the COVID 19 pandemic, is how vital trust is in a crisis. I look around in despair at our world leaders, flapping around for direction, altering their stance by the day - flip-flopping from defence to offence as they struggle to find answers and justify their lagging response to this pandemic. As they are forensically questioned by an inquiring, fact-thirsty media and held to account, they are all to some degree found wanting as leaders. Of course, some very obviously more than others. The trouble is a lack of trust.
But that is the point about spin, exaggeration, half-truths - or even out-right lies. It destroys trust. Honesty builds it. Dishonesty destroys it. Telling a lie may get you out of a jam in the moment - but in the long term, like the "Boy who cried Wolf" - you're not trusted any more.
I could make a strong case that Shadow, as a member of our family, had every right to take food from our kitchen island. Wooden spoons and kitchen pallet knives, not so much perhaps. Shadow was as honest as the day is long. He was incapable of lying. Apart from loving him, admiring him and missing him, I trusted our dependable, enthusiastic friend - Shadow. It was his character; he could not help but be honest. Politicians and leaders the world over could learn a valuable lesson from Shadow.
Rick - Suffolk - UK - 2nd April - 2020