Dogs Are Strange, Gross And Wonderful

Part One: A Nun’s Dog Was Given To Us, And Then Was Seduced By Our Cat ~ True Story

CS Sherin, September 19, 2019, edited 09-21-19

Being a dog or cat person has been such a big thing in our culture. I am truly an animal person, having an innate appreciation and love for most animals, and other creatures of nature. At the same time, I have experienced an affinity — a deep understanding of and with cats. They are accessible, fascinating beings who have always made life better for me. Dogs have been there for me too, but understanding them deeply has been a process over many years (particularly with three dogs in different eras of my life) rather than an instant access and affinity. Don’t get me wrong, I can delight in dogs, and have always loved them. It’s just that I don’t always fully understand them.

Like the rest of my life, getting to know dogs started off amidst odd circumstances…

When I was a kid, my single mother and I were close to a German priest, Gus, and an Irish nun, Rosemary — they both worked at an ecumenical retreat center in the tiny town where we lived. Fr. Gus ran the retreat center for most of the time that it was in operation, and Sr. Rosemary was the acting psychologist there. There were many other sisters and brothers there as well, who came and went, that were a part of my daily and weekly life in the 80s — from the time I was 8 years old until I was about 17.

Anyway, one year, Rosemary was given a puppy as a gift for Christmas. He was an American Cocker Spaniel, and came with a red bow around his neck. I will never forget the adorable puppy or the smile of glee on her face. Rosemary asked for us to help name him, and my mother came up with O’Shaughnessy right away to honor her Irish heritage, which Rosemary loved. We all then shortened it, most of the time, to Shaun.

My mother, me, Sr. Rosemary and Shaun. This is circa 1982, and we are visiting Sr. Rosemary and Shaun at the retreat center they called home at that time. Photo by Fr. Gus

Although Shaun was a heartwarming companion for Rosemary (and Gus, who also took to him and helped with him), it turned out that Shaun didn’t like any priests other than Gus. They told us that Shaun would chase after, and try to bite the legs of other priests, who were visiting the retreat center. Needless to say, this was bad for business, though kind of funny. It was also kind of strange, because Shaun was the most peaceful, non-violent, mellow dog you would ever meet. Because of this problem, Rosemary asked if we would take Shaun in as our own. My mother said yes — to my surprise and happiness! Since Gus and Rosemary would often visit us, and we saw them regularly, they still got to love on Shaun all the time. It worked out.

This was the beginning of how some big things were revealed to me about dogs, which really made an impression on me, at an impressionable time in my life.

After we left Shaun alone the first time, and when we came home, we found that he had had a massive tantrum. I had been into latch-hook rugs at the time, and had tons of the short yarn in open little boxes as I worked on them. Shaun had taken ALL the yarns, all of it, and had strewn it throughout the house, upstairs and downstairs. It was a staggering amount of energy he spent doing this. We couldn’t believe it! For me, as a kid, it was amazing to see how he could put his feelings all over the house like that, to let us know. Eventually it was funny. We could appreciate that he went all out…even though it was a major pain to clean up, there is a certain amount of respect we grant for that kind of dedication.

We had a little toy-box for Shaun in the living room. It was his pride and joy. Regularly, each week, he would take time to, seemingly, count each toy. Each toy was accounted for, and if it wasn’t there, he would look for it or ask us to.

O’ Shaughnessy in the mid-1980s at our house. Photo by CS Sherin

Most notable about this little blonde, long-eared, brown-eyed doggy, was that he was extremely loving, peaceful, and really, a pacifist. We chalked it up to his first bonds with religious order folks. When he and I would take walks, sometimes we would encounter an aggressive or even mean dog. Shaun wouldn’t fight back. Not even a bark, whine, or growl would be expressed. I learned quickly to pick him up if a mean dog was loose.

The influence of his religious upbringing went even further. He seemed uninterested in female dogs. This disinterest also extended to our very beautiful cat, Aubrey. Aubrey was a tiger cat with a blend of tan, black, and red colors, and beautiful greenish-gold eyes. She was a super model of cats. Aubrey fell in love with Shaun right away. She must have thought he was the cutest, sweetest guy ever. And, he was not much bigger than she.

Shaun was extremely uncomfortable with Aubrey’s attention. She would come up and sniff at his face, and then try to rub back and forth around his body, ending, always, with an elegant wrapping of her tail around his face and under his chin, like a caress. It was hilarious to watch, because he would only move his eyes awkwardly, sitting still as a stone. This would go on, day after day, and he would still simply sit, stoically unmoved by her advances and affection.

My mother and I would laugh, watching this, because it was clear that after weeks and months of this, Aubrey cat, was starting to get to Shaun, the dog. He was starting to soften and enjoy her attention, but didn’t want to disappoint us, it seemed. He definitely didn’t want us to know. At least, not during the day in the living room. He would even, sometimes, jump up, uncharacteristically, to the top back edge of the couch, like a cat, trying to escape her advances. Often their interactions were better entertainment than anything on TV — besides The Muppet Show.

And then, the weirdness of all of this reached its peak.

I was asleep in my bedroom upstairs, and up they came, to my room. Why my room? I was a teen in middle school at the time. They came up making a racket of sorts, and woke me. It was Aubrey, walking around slowly in my room, with Shaun thumping along at her back, behind her. I admonished them for waking me on a school night, and whisper-yelled to try to get them to stop. They wouldn’t. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He was crazy in love with her, that was clear, and she had broken down all his barriers. I was witnessing inter-species love!

After many times of this happening at night, and always in my room, I broke down, and told my mother. She didn’t believe me at first, and didn’t think it was possible. I asked if they ever went in her room. She said they didn’t at all, and that she had seen nothing of the sort. Well, I had news for her!

Eventually she believed me. She came from an era of no communication about anything sexual, so this was a bit of a breach for her, at first. But she came around eventually. Frankly, at that age, I needed the moral support. This was before internet. There were no people to ask if this was normal or not. Once my mother adjusted and accepted what I told her, we began to muse. We mused upon how Shaun’s first instincts had been shaped by his first adoption by a nun, and a priest who shared the care and duties for him. Both of them were children at heart, but lived a dutiful life, working and living as celibates for a spiritual purpose. They had high standards for Shaun, and he did his best to live up to them. Dogs want to emulate the unspoken standards of their pack. That is an endearing quality. But sometimes, this can inhibit some of the true self…

We laughed at how he had changed with us. Whenever Gus would visit, and when he had to leave, he would mention having to go back to civilization in a humorous way — he was a joker. But, really, as a kid, I thought about that. Gus and Rosemary felt relief and freedom visiting us. My mother created a peaceful, relaxed, hospitable home that was open and accepting of most anyone. It was a peaceful home-base for both of us, despite the stress, loss, and hardships of life at that time.

Fr. Gus visiting Shaun at our house in the mid- to late-1980s. Photo by CS Sherin

Shaun had come into his own. He had a box of toys, a house and yard of his own, a family, and extended family, and he had fallen in love. He was an endearing family member and companion. He was a gentle guy, always willing to go along with me, and whatever I was up to. Shaun had a really great amount of hair on the top of his head too, and I remember how delightfully fun it was putting mousse in it, and styling it. He didn’t mind at all.

This dog also loved when we would walk to see nearby cows in a pasture. Then, his feisty side would show itself. He would act very peaceful, getting as close as he possibly could, and the cows would approach him at the fence. When they all got close, he would surprise them with robust barking and running (on the leash). They would run for their lives, and I could see him laughing, in that way that dogs do. It was funny and fun for both of us, but not so much for the cows. It was harmless, though, and they fell for it every time. I have to think they were allowing him his game. Also, some memories of Shaun are strong because they were pungent. He also loved to roll in cow pies, as dogs do. Which is, obviously, disgusting. And cow pies simply reek. The worst part of that was when we had to put him in the car to get home, and the smell was so overbearing, that it was unforgettable.

Me and Shaun enjoying playing fetch in the water at a camping site up North, circa 1989. Photo by Mickey Collins

Many years later, life changed for us and Shaun.

My mother found an apartment in the city where I had started going to college. The apartment allowed cats, but no dogs. We were heartbroken to think of having to re-home Shaun. It was unthinkable. Gus and Rosemary had moved away a few years before (as the religious go where they are told to go) and we were all he had. My mother asked my godmother if she and her husband would take in Shaun. They had always had dogs, and were extremely loving and caring people — to dogs and everyone else. They said yes, and as hard as that was to do, we knew that this was the best-case scenario for everyone.

Some of the private, loving moments of life are shaped, saved, and blessed by beings other than us.

However, there was something we weren’t prepared for…

When I was on vacation from college, my mother and I went to visit my godmother, her husband, Larry, and Shaun. We were in for some big surprises. We came with the feeling of grief and guilt. But, that quickly faded away with all the new things going on for Shaun.

First of all, they renamed him Porky. I can’t not laugh out loud when saying this. The one thing that Shaun had always been extremely unhappy about with us was that we didn’t give him people food or a lot of treats. It was pretty boring in the food area, and part of that was because we were always low on cash. Anyway, we had a re-introduction to this dog-kid, Porky. He was thrilled to see us! It was beautiful. He celebrated, and he gave us kisses, and we hugged and pet him in joy. But then, it got to be too much, and he made a loud statement. This statement was just as loud as the yarn tantrum, in fact.

With body language he told us, quite clearly, without mincing words, that he loves us, but greatly prefers his new people and new life as Porky. He went over to Larry, and demonstrated how he gets wonderful back rubs from Larry’s feet while he sits in the recliner. He showed us how, though, he wasn’t fat, that his every food fantasy was catered to here, and that he wasn’t about to lead us on. I think he was responding to my feelings of wanting him to be my dog again, even though I knew it was for the best.

When he felt stubborn, even though he was a little dog, he could sit like lead in one spot, not to be moved. We most often found this when trying to get him to the bath. On this day, it was in me wanting to show him more affection while also feeling a little bit of wanting him back…he responded by refusing to leave Larry’s side. He didn’t do it meanly, he just wanted to be clear. We appreciated his honesty, even if it felt like a rough kind of snub at first.

All in all, the visit was enlightening.

Shaun aka Porky showed us that while he loved us, he prefers the man of the house, which was something we could never give him. It seemed to us at the time that he preferred male energy. At that time we made that assumption — but we know now that isn’t true. He preferred the man, the food, and the back rubs — he preferred life at my godmother’s house — it was all good, and what he wanted! And really, we couldn’t ask for a better outcome. Shaun wasn’t dumb, these are salt of the earth people — and we didn’t blame him a bit. We were actually deeply relieved. We recognized that his ultimate joys were being fulfilled. What more can you ask for, for someone you love and care about? It couldn’t have been a better retirement for him! There was no Aubrey, true, but there were kind, loving dog people. Porky was in heaven.

A photo of Aubrey from her elder years, circa 2000s. She never loved another dog, though she enjoyed the companionship of her brother and other cats we later adopted very much. She also adored my husband. I wish I had taken a photo of Aubrey and Shaun together, but back then I didn’t even think of it. Photo by CS Sherin

It was many years later, when my godmother called my mother, weeping, telling us that Porky died peacefully in the yard on St. Patrick’s Day. She had been putting off telling us. My mother and I extended our deepest sympathy and gratitude to my godmother. We were so grateful for the love of and from this family for Shaun the Porky, and we were amazed and touched that he had gone home on a day that honored Rosemary. Since she had also passed on, I felt like it was a spiritual synchronicity that said in a deeper way, that all is well.

Stay tuned next week, for Part Two of Dogs Are Strange, Gross, And Wonderful….

4 thoughts on “Dogs Are Strange, Gross And Wonderful

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