My dog’s name is Shadrach. Shadrach the Neo Mastiff. Nearly nine years ago, in December of 1999, Shadrach came home to live with us. But the circumstances surrounding his coming to live with us were very sad. Our family had lost one of my most favorite cousins – a young mother with two young children and a husband, to a still unsolved murder. Our family had gathered in sorrow to mourn her death. During this time, everyone had noticed that I was overzealous over every single dog I saw because our own wonderful Golden Retriever named Fridge had passed away at the beginning of the year. I just couldn’t seem to get past his death either. I had lost my dad the year before, then Fridge, and now my cousin Carla. There was so much sadness surrounding my life and for me the one thing that always brings comfort is the warm, furry body of a beloved dog only this time I had no dog to comfort me.
Interestingly enough, one of my cousins had rescued a young, approximately 4-5 month old Neapolitan Mastiff. She already had six dogs and had no intention of keeping this new mouth to feed. She took him out of a horrible situation and needed someone to take him home to nurture. He needed LOTS of nurturing as his previous owners had neglected to feed him much of the time and abused him the rest of the time. I wasn’t sure about him but my curiosity got the better of me. My husband and I took the 45 minute drive to go see if this new puppy would fit into our lifestyle and home.
We couldn’t pick him up for a week but during the week we were waiting to go get him, I studied all I could about Neo Mastiffs – I was rather horrified at how they looked to be quite honest. I mean to me they looked like gargoyles! I had had golden retrievers for my past two dogs so a Neo was a huge change. Still, we bought all the right puppy equipment, treats and food on the premise we’d take this new puppy. And we did, obviously. The minute my husband saw him he decided right there we were taking him. I wasn’t so sure even after we got him in the car driving home. I’d never had a rescue before so this was new for me. And he smelled really bad – failing kidneys and anal sac problems will do that to a dog. And he was horribly skinny.
Fast forward two days and we knew that Shadrach – the name God gave us for him because he had been through the fire and had survived – was our forever dog. Of course, I had major doubts after the first night of him howling and howling from his crate, and his constant pooping – outside not inside – because his poor little body couldn’t handle normal amounts of food, only small meals because he’d been so starved.
Shadrach got me to get out of my comfort zone and learn how to care for this needy puppy. He forced me to take my eyes off of my selfish self and get beyond my normal experiences – keep in mind I had worked in traditional veterinary medicine for many years prior to this so I was applying what I knew to my care of him.
He didn’t thrive at first. It was through a series of trial and error that broke me out of my boring old routine and created a new one that was centered around him and his needs. This included our daily excursion to the park where he got to walk a lap with me – a half mile long that exhausted this poor, emaciated puppy at first. As he rested in the car, I would go for my run, then I would take him to the “dog” side of the park to play with all the new puppies. Seems everyone at the park had gotten a new puppy or dog that year. Shadrach was happy for the first time in his short life. He had food to eat everyday, love, friends to play with, and a warm, comfortable bed to sleep in each night.
Then the training began and if you’ve never had a Mastiff, trust me they will try your patience! Shadrach was initially scared of everything. A ball. A garbage can. Everything. He learned we meant him no harm, but that he did have to learn to take our commands. To his credit he has only pooped in the house once in his entire nearly 9 years with us and has never urinated in the house. He has also never torn up one thing in the house – not a shoe, not a decoration, nothing. Well, his toys take a major beating! My constant vigilance of this puppy made it so I was able to do positive reinforcement training as a normal part of our life. He took up almost all my time initially – which was a good thing so I couldn’t dwell on the loss of my cousin. He was such a fast learner also. Shadrach has always been a very observant dog and in my opinion highly intelligent.
As I said he did no damage in the house but the yard experienced this toddler and teen pup! He learned though…or maybe it was us who learned how to allow him to be a dog without losing our yard entirely. I did lose part of the yard, but I honestly was more interested in giving this dog the life I felt he deserved – for once not thinking selfishly of my own wants. We gave Shadrach his own digging “garden” which is his to this day…well we sold our house recently and will be moving soon but that’s another story. Shadrach will always have a digging garden wherever we live as long as he is on this earth with us.
He also created a game with our honeysuckle vines. He knew I loved those vines and he loved to chew on them! He’d see me come out in the yard and with mischief in his eyes he’d begin to mouth the vines. Hehe, he would then bark at me and run because he knew I’d chase him and say, “Don’t you do that, I’ll get you” and so went our game – that HE not only invented but always initiated. And people say animals don’t think! The honeysuckle are also still with us so he learned they weren’t chew toys, the game however has endured.
Now why I believe he deserves the honor of hero dog: he saved my life. I was floundering, not knowing what direction to go with my life and I wasn’t getting any younger…I’m still not! When Shadrach was about 2 years old (maybe 3, I can’t remember which) he developed an odd skin disorder. The vet found it to be “idiopathic” and because I believe I’m in polite company here I won’t say what I think about that diagnosis! Antibiotics were prescribed both topically and internally (which amazes me, especially since there was no real diagnosis to warrant this prescription – but I’ve since learned that is MY responsibility as an owner to discern). Shadrach had an allergic reaction and several hundred dollars later he was sicker than when we started. So began my journey into natural health for animals and my journey back to natural health for humans which I’d allowed to lapse.
We discovered that Shadrach was allergic to the new paint in our house and we were able to help him heal with natural remedies. We’d already started him down the path with a more natural diet but we weren’t there yet. We did eventually arrive though. Shadrach has been my constant inspiration throughout my journey into natural animal health. I went on a quest – initially in anger at the medical profession for what happened to my beloved boy who had already suffered at the hands of humans. He was very manhandled at the emergency clinic but since I want this to be a positive story we won’t go into the details and I’m not here to denigrate any profession. However, this was the catalyst that forever changed my life.
Later – after much studying and research – I started blogging on natural animal health. I studied extensively on how to help Shadrach thrive by applying what I learned. And now all these years later I am still blogging on natural DOG health. Well actually Shadrach is doing all the blogging these days. He took over my blogs, and is doing a better job of it all I think. Of course he focuses almost entirely on dogs though. He also inspired my now bi-weekly podcast, Animal Talk Naturally with colleague and like-minded dog lover, Dr. Jeannie Thomason. Before I forget, Shadrach inspired me to do even more. He is why I am now a animal naturopath, studying further for my human doctor of naturopathy degree. And I also co-authored the book, Whole Health for Happy Dogs, with holistic veterinarian, Dr. Jill Elliot…and all because of Shadrach. You see it was the blog that got us the book deal in the first place. And it was with him in mind that the podcast was begun and what fueled the initial content.
Shadrach filled a huge void in my life that I wasn’t even aware of until he came into it. My husband and I know without this wonderful dog in our lives, things would be far different for us. Shadrach is one of the most communicative, opinionated dogs you’ll ever meet! He doesn’t have any competition medals. He isn’t show quality. He is just our wonderful boy who made a world of difference in our lives so we could go out and help others. Everyone who meets him thinks he’s gorgeous – and I concur, drool and all! People think he’s the funniest dog they’ve ever met because he is so vocal. When he likes someone he really lets them know how much. And when he doesn’t like someone, he is very obvious in his disdain of them by totally ignoring them. He’s as real as I wished all humans were. And he is our best friend. Truly our best friend.
I am forever indebted to God for His incredible gift of a poor, scraggly, ugly duckling puppy who became Shadrach, the beautiful, engaging, intelligent dog who has graced my life these past 9 years. He is my heart dog and will always be.
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