Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Tale of Three Shibas

For over 20 years, there has been a Shiba Inu ruling the household.  Prior to my entering the picture, a six-month-old Shiba Inu puppy named Sadie stole the heart of my husband.  The little ball of fluff was an escape artist from the beginning.  Even a 6 foot chain link fence couldn't contain her, as she climbed and scaled to get where and what she wanted.  A time came when the lifestyle of my husband no longer fit the needs of a young dog.  Sadie was given a new home TWICE, each time finding her way back to her original home.  My husband gave up trying to find her a new place to live.  From that point on, man and dog were an inseparable team.  She taught him many life lessons:  compassion, how to care for another being, and unconditional love - all necessary lessons for this single male.  When I met my husband, I found out in short order that to get a second date, I had to be accepted by his Shiba Inu companion.  Lucky for me I passed the test.  Sadie was 7 at the time, and we were granted 7 more years to be owned by this intelligent, very demanding dog.  Our fun included the "Shiba 500" all over the house, up and down stairs, and around the fenced backyard.  We shared long walks with her on a daily basis.  She traveled everywhere in the car and loved those outings.  She sparred with the cat, and the two of them became so adept at the game, we would hysterically laugh at their antics. Finally, at 14 years of age, Sadie's body began to fail.  When it came time to say goodbye, it was the most devastating experience yet for my husband to face.  He grieved for months at the loss of his beloved Sadie.


8 months later my husband was on business in Chicago.  While talking with one of the local employees, he discovered the young woman volunteered for an organization called Midwest Shiba Inu Rescue, and she currently was fostering a Shiba named Rusty.  The young woman brought Rusty in her car to the hotel where my husband was staying so they could meet.  It was instantaneous love at first sight.    He phoned me and acknowledged that we must fill out an application, have a local home visit, and then head back to Chicago to bring this new Shiba to Minnesota.  Within a week I met 2 year old Rusty, who with his brother (or father, not sure) Pablo was found running the countryside of northern Wisconsin.  It was believed that the two must be related.  Both had serious heart conditions, Rusty's worse than Pablo's.  Rusty had already been prescribed and was taking a special medication for his heart.  The young Shiba was scared and unsure as we rolled out of Chicago, he and I in the back seat of the car together.  We arrived home, and found out quickly the cat was not keen on sharing space with another Shiba Inu.  So it began. 


Our Rusty boy was such a gentle soul.  He loved being petted, and would place his face on a knee and just watch you.  He loved daily walks, albeit short ones due to his heart.  The first time we realized his limitations was in our backyard.  He took off into a Shiba 500 run, and by the time he reached the fence, he collapsed.  Very scary to see for the first time.  Rusty had his own cardiologist at the University of Minnesota Veterinary School.  Here we learned that the collapsing was caused by a faulty, leaky aortic valve (Grade 5/6 heart murmur) and a ventricular stenosis (narrowing in the area just below the aortic valve).  Oxygenated blood was unable to get to his brain fast enough, causing the fainting or collapse.  We tried a special experimental procedure with the U of M to relieve the stenosis to no avail.  But even this serious condition could not stop Rusty.  We just had to moderate how much he was allowed to do.  During our 2 1/2 years with Rusty, we were able to attend one MSIR picnic in Chicago.  At the picnic we met many of the MSIR folks that transport and foster and do what MSIR does so well to help Shiba Inus in need.  We were able to reunite Rusty and Pablo, plus meet the people that had helped transport him from Wisconsin to Chicago.  As Rusty began his decline with congestive heart failure, we did everything we could to let him live the life a Shiba, or any dog deserves:  walks, car rides, playing with toys, snuggles, cuddles and treats.  It was difficult at the end to let him go.  He was less than 5 years old.  Yet we knew he had made a huge impact on our lives.  We believed we had given him the best life possible, although to us it seemed way too short.

Once again without a Shiba Inu, we volunteered any way we could for MSIR. Understanding how valuable transporters are to the organization, we volunteered several times to help transport dogs to their foster or forever home. Most memorable was the rambunctious female puppy that jumped all over the car if not kenneled. It was my first experience with a young, energetic Shiba Inu. I also volunteered to do a home visit for a potential adopter, which turned out to be easier than I had expected. One day we received an email concerning a possible transport out of Minnesota to Chicago.

Scooby never quite made it on his transport!

An older male Shiba Inu  fostered by the Minnesota Humane Society had been in their system for over 5 months and still had not been adopted..  The Humane Society contacted MSIR for help in placement.  After passing a temperament test given by a local MSIR volunteer, the plans for transport were set in motion, and we were contacted to help.  So begins our story of Scooby.  We went to visit him at the doggy daycare that was housing him.   Scooby looked so ragged and thin.  With curly tail at half-mast, he was chewing his fur off his haunches, and my heart just ached when I got sight of him.  It was my turn to make the ultimate decision, transport or adopt.  We knew so little about him.  He was thought to be 8 years old.  He loved walking on a leash.  He screamed constantly if left in a kennel.  Everyone believed his age was a huge factor in lack of adoption interest.  I made the decision, and we filled out the paperwork on the spot.  We headed for home, knowing that another adventure with a special Shiba Inu was soon to begin. 


Our vet did an evaluation once Scooby was in our home.  His age was believed to be closer to 10, evidence of that confirmed by his many broken teeth.  His eyesight was also quite cloudy, another age factor.  But most interesting of all was how he kept checking back to look at me while on a walk.  I suspected he might be deaf, and our vet confirmed it.  His ear canals were filled with scar tissue, perhaps evidence of untreated ear infections.  We will never know.  But I can say I would take a deaf dog again in a heartbeat.  Scooby became our "velcro" Shiba Inu.  We began working on signs for sit, come, food, etc.  He would also respond to very loud clapping when out in the fenced backyard.  Scooby and I learned quickly together.  With help from the University of Minnesota Veterinary School once again, root canals and extractions provided pain relief for our boy.  With yearly dental appointments, healthy food and nutritional supplements, Scooby gained weight and his fur became soft and thick.  The chewing on haunches also ceased.  Scooby and I got into a daily routine of morning and afternoon walks.  It was the only time his tail was up and curled. We could be found rain or shine, snow or sleet, below-zero or above on walks of 1 to 2 1/2 miles.  Our boy could not get enough walking.  The only time we heard Scooby bark was in his sleep (or an occasional dispute with the cat).  He came to us with a special look in his eye when he had to go outside.  It was amazing to me how we adjusted to subtle signs and what they meant.  Scooby loved rides in the truck, especially when we stopped at our local pet food store for his favorite beef tendon spiral chews.  He learned to play with a large, green, squeaky plush bone.  When we would come back in the house from even five minutes away from him, he would grab that plush bone, shake it from side-to-side, and throw it into the air.  Such was his excitement that we were home!  Once in a while, we might even see a Shiba-500. 

With a heavy heart, on May 30, 2012 we released Scooby to the Rainbow Bridge after
 months of weight-loss and a missing spark in those beautiful brown eyes.

Over the past six months we began to see a decline in the dog we knew and a real difference in quality of life.  Are we ever ready to say goodbye to a loyal companion, friend, and family member?  With a heavy heart, on May 30, 2012 we released Scooby to the Rainbow Bridge after months of weight-loss and a missing spark in those beautiful brown eyes.  Regardless of age, the love and joy given to us by our Shiba Inu companions cannot be replaced by anything else.

Will we begin yet another adventure?  Will we have more to add to our "tale"? 

(Jan Z, MSIR Volunteer, Minnesota)


  1. Thank you Jan and John for sharing your home with Scooby and for sharing your story with us. I remember doing Scooby's evaluation and loving what a sweet and gentle dog he was. Even my husband liked him and he is not so easily swayed as I am. I was so happy with the decision you made to keep him as I knew Scooby would have a great home! Seeing him at Shibaween a few years back, he looked AMAZING. I know that he gave just as much to you as you did to him! Looking forward to whatatever comes your way next, knowing that it will be a very lucky little critter!

  2. Thank you for sharing your hearts with such lucky Shibas!