For the love of Shadow: A tribute to a big dog with a big personality

Julie Castle hugging Shadow the dog
By Julie Castle

It was one of the most heartbreaking decisions that Gregory and I have made. We said goodbye to our magnificent and iconic shepherd, Shadow. It was unexpected and tragic. He was the center of our home since we adopted him from Best Friends Mission Hills Adoption Center in 2012, shortly after his arrival from one of the Los Angeles city shelters.

As I write this in absolute grief on a snowy winter day, I can still hear his deep Chewbacca bark and feel his enormous paws on my lap. I keep believing this isn't real and that at any moment, he'll come running around the corner looking for a belly rub. But I’m learning, with each passing moment, that he won’t.

Shadow, 14, was a daunting creature in both size — weighing in at 120 pounds — and personality. When he stood on his hind legs, his front paws rested on 6-foot-2 Gregory’s shoulders, and he’d give a toothy grin with his alligator-sized mouth.

And wow, was he beautiful. His glossy black coat shone in the sunlight, and his very distinctive, deep baritone bark combined with his size commanded attention wherever he went. So understandably, Shadow could be intimidating upon first encounter. When we lived in town, he would occasionally escape from the backyard, and the streets would clear until Gregory or I could wrangle him back into the house. He was all bark and no bite, but I don’t blame our neighbors who hadn’t yet met him for heading inside their homes.

And while he did enjoy making friends, Gregory and I were the focal point of his life. If you've experienced shepherds, you'll understand that they have one job: you. They want to know your schedule, approve who's on it, and go along with you if they feel like you need security. And that’s how Shadow was.

Shadow’s loyalty knew no bounds. He was fiercely protective of Gregory and me, not just at home but as Gregory’s office dog, a job he held for years. He took that role very seriously, guarding the entrance to the office and insisting every visitor pay a treat toll before he allowed them in. If he already knew you, though, he’d flop on over and welcome you as his friend. At heart, he was just a goofball. Once you were friends, you were friends forever.

He was a sweet protector of our health-compromised small dogs with whom he lived over the course of his life with us. He doted upon ancient, arthritic Ester, a near-toothless Chihuahua; blind Ray-Ray, another Chi; and Stanley, a bossy King Charles mix with a ridiculous underbite who would stand on him while he rested, bark in his face, and lick him from head to toe. They would play for hours and hours on end, which, considering the size difference of giant Shadow compared to Chihuahuas and a King Charles, was quite a sight to see. And then when we adopted Sunny, she rejuvenated Shadow, helping to bring out that young, spirited side again. With her, he seemed to find a new lease on life.

Shadow loved getting outside and joining us on hikes through beautiful Southern Utah. Around the house, he had a big, dopey personality and was always up for chasing a toy or a tennis ball if Stanley or Sunny didn’t get to them first. But he was just as content to curl up on the couch with us, soaking up all of our love and attention.

He was silly. One of his friends always liked to pick out the loose floofs from his fur. He’d always act like he wanted to keep them to himself but then dramatically flop over for belly rubs and pretend not to notice as she de-floofed him. He had a mischievous streak too, figuring out how to open car doors and house doors, getting himself stuck in random places throughout our home, and acting tough with his big bark. But it was all good fun, and no one could ever really stay mad at Shadow for long.

Even in his final hours, when he knew his time was near, Shadow remained focused on Gregory and me. He saw our tears and could sense our pain and distress, and he attempted to comfort us. It was a testament to how deep his love was. I truly believe he would have walked through fire for us.

I knew him more deeply than I know most humans, and I'm eternally grateful for a love of that depth. Our pets are family. They accompany us through our highs and lows, celebrating with us and consoling us. Shadow’s passing leaves a canyon of sorrow that today feels as though it can never be filled.

I know that Stanley, Ray-Ray, and Ester were waiting on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge for him. And once he saw them, he probably let out his big, bellowing bark and galloped toward them. That thought will hold and comfort me when I inevitably worry if there was something more we could have done... if there was a sign we missed.

His final day was sudden, tragic, and painful. One day he was bright and lively; the next he was gone. But it would be a disservice to his memory to taint it with regret rather than to remember him for all the joy we shared together.

I came across this Irving Townsend quote recently, and it just about sums things up.

We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would have it no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan."

Our house is too quiet already. Rest in peace, Shadow. You were a good, good boy, and we will love you forever.

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Dog Best Friends Staff

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society