Shakti was rescued from an abusive home at four months of age.
I didn’t choose her, she chose me. Finding each other was the most serendipitous experience imaginable.
In May 2005, I visited my hairdresser Jo to find her distraught after rescuing a black and tan Collie X puppy with a broken leg. Jo found her on her tenant’s property, locked in an outside shed. She had been left alone while her owners went to university. Her crying alerted my friend, who immediately investigated and was horrified at what she found. The puppy was immediately taken to her vet and diagnosed with a fractured leg. Her leg was bound and to help it heal, it was recommended that she spend six week’s confined in a crate.
The puppy’s owners returned that evening and were horrified to be presented with a vet bill and a furious landlord. “She fell,” they cried in their defence, but the vet had diagnosed an impact injury, and was very angry at what he saw. Suddenly, their cuddly puppy wasn’t such a source of joy. “Do you want me to find her another home?” my friend asked, and they immediately agreed. That was when problems arose. The RSPCA wouldn’t take an injured dog that needed money spent on it, and besides, they didn’t have room for her and her crate. Subsequent requests to other animal rescues also led to refusals.
For some reason, without any thought, never having seen her I said, “I’ll have her”.
That was the beginning of 15 happy, adventurous years with my girl. The best dog anyone could wish for. She was re-christened Shakti (Indian goddess of power and strength) and she took over my life.
Our life together
Beginning training Shakti was difficult because she was unable to walk on her injured leg for 6 weeks. However, a local trainer was happy for us to visit his Saturday morning group for socialising before commencing basic training. She really enjoyed this and progressed through the stages set by the trainer.
We were fortunate to live in Unley, South Australia, which had a fenced, off-lead dog park that we visited every afternoon. She absolutely flourished in this environment. She met the same dogs on most days. It was a large area with plenty of space and interesting sniffing places, but best of all, a creek ran through it.
I don’t know what other breeds were in Shakti’s mix but it was impossible to keep her out of that creek! She and some of her special friends headed for it like homing pigeons. Even in summer when the creek was reduced to a few muddy pools they still managed to find somewhere to get wet and muddy. Our time in Adelaide was really pleasant but because of my work commitments and the uncomfortably hot summers, I made the decision to move near to Geelong.
I found a house on an acre in Indented Heads giving Shakti a lovely playground, beach walks, accommodating neighbours, and a good life. Our next-door neighbour had a kelpie named Lola who on the dot of 7 am would be pounding on the front door and barking. This was Lola come to play. So, the order of the morning was to quickly make a coffee and begin tossing tennis balls to the two dogs, who raced like maniacs around the yard after them. Heaven help me if I slowed down.
Eventually there was consensus that the game was over, large bowls of water were consumed, and Lola would trot off home for breakfast and I would collapse in a heap.
It was an idyllic life for a dog, the neighbours knew her and kept treats for when she visited. We had no postal delivery, so a walk to the post office meant a slow walk home via the beach menacing the sea gulls and pelicans.
The only thing she hated was a visit from the dog groomer. The van would pull up in the drive and Shakti would bury her head in a large bush by the front gate. “If I can’t see her, she can’t see me,” seemed to be her belief, but of course she forgot about her furry back end poking out and visible to the enemy. She detested the whole process and cried piteously the whole time.
Instead of Unley park, I found a dog group that met at the Portarlington Football oval each afternoon. It was here that she met the love of her life, a beautiful Aussie Shepherd Mr Ebony. It was love at first sight, a true Heathcliff moment as they bounded towards each other and then off to explore the bush surrounding the ovals, their owners panting along behind.
A working team
It was at about this time that I was introduced to Delta Dogs. This organisation provides training for dogs and their owners, at the end of which a rigorous 10-point test. Dogs that pass the test can visit retirement homes, hospitals and schools. The advantages the visits provide to patients and staff are numerous. It is an invaluable service. Shakti and I would visit the Geelong hospital, where three wards requested dog visitors; and to a primary school where she helped Year 1 students with their reading.
Visiting the children was delightful. There was great excitement when the children saw her arrive. They would hold out a selection of books to see which one Shakti would choose to hear read. Most of the time the books had a smell of something delicious from their lunchbox and she would sniff inquisitively. “Shakti wants me to read this one,” would be the excited cry, and a small body would be draped over hers, and the reading would commence.
The hospital visits were also very fulfilling, although sometimes not such happy occasions. Some patients were very ill but appreciated being able to pat Shakti. Often it was the staff who most appreciated a cuddle. On one occasion an immaculately dressed consultant got down on his knees, wrapped his arms around her neck and said, “I’ve had a b...r of a morning,” the poor man was so grateful for a canine hug.
On the days that I travelled to Geelong for a sewing group, Shakti went to ‘play school’. A fabulous facility run by Bellarine vets with toys, play equipment, other like-minded dogs, and delightful carers to cater to their needs: dog heaven. They ran and played and chased and frolicked all day. Here, she also had a special friend, the delightful Billy (cook). He demanded her undivided attention and if she dared to play with another dog, he would grab her by her tail and pull her away. She was his friend and she’d better know it.
When I would collect her at the end of a wonderful day, she could barely keep her eyes open and was asleep by the time we got to the main road. I was so grateful to have this facility, I never worried about leaving her on her own, I knew she was happy and well cared for.
So, our lives were happy and fulfilling.
Shakti developed arthritis in the site of her initial injury, which the vet had advised was likely, and this slowed her down a little.
Eventually, living on a large property, the distance from my sewing group in Geelong and book groups all conspired to make living in Indented Head a problem. So, I moved to a unit in Leopold with not much of a yard. The lack exercise available to Shakti in a small yard was compensated for by walks with the lovely Susie Clawbaby and her new bestie Banjo.
Shakti was now 12 and beginning to slow down, but medication and exercise kept her going. She still played with her Portarlington friends but tired more easily. She still maintained her role as official welcomer and maintained a full social life.
Gradually, her arthritis grew worse, some days more than others, exercise had to be limited and walks shortened but she still waited anxiously for Suzie to arrive even if the walks were a shuffle around the block. Her lovely friend Carolyn would take her out as well and was greeted with mad enthusiasm and hysterical joy.
Doggy friends had told me, “you will know when it’s time”.
Dr Alicia was visiting her more often and her pain killing medication was increased. Muscle wastage added to her problems.
But the final straw was the onset of dementia. Shakti didn’t know who she was, where she was, she tried to hide behind objects - it was awful to see. One very wet night she was outside barking at the rain, refusing to come inside. When I eventually got her inside, she was shivering with cold and crying. An awful situation for us both.
When the time came, we could not have asked for a better, more dignified end to her life. Carolyn had taken her to visit her favourite tree. Her beloved mother was with her and she lay on her bed while Dr Alicia administered a tranquilizer, and she gently went to sleep as I talked to her reminding her how much she was loved.
This is Shakti’s grave, it was beautifully created by Eric on his property. She dearly loved Eric and his wife Karen and was Eric’s shadow whenever she visited him.
The plant is a Grevillia “woolly bear” which seems really appropriate.