What my dog taught me

By Joel Jellison

I’ll never forget the conversation I had with my wife.

It was November 2012, and we’d just parked our car outside of a Topeka pet store that we often visited to look at puppies. We’d just visited a few weeks earlier and Haley had fallen in love with a Skye Terrier.

I knew the reason she wanted to go back was to see if he was still for sale.

“Don’t get upset if he’s not there,” I told her. She nodded and knew she had to be realistic about it, but I could sense the hint of sadness that came over her at the realization — it’s a pet store and they don’t keep puppies long.

When we walked in, the sales associates were on us right away. They asked us if we were there for the Skye Terrier. He hadn’t been played with since we took him out, they claimed. And, oh yeah, now he’s on clearance. An hour later, we were heading home with our first dog.

Today would have been Sheldon’s second birthday. He died on May 1, after a battle with what our veterinarian believed to be a genetic disorder that caused slow paralysis in his limbs.

We’ve only recently found out Sheldon came from a puppy mill in Missouri. If you aren’t familiar with that term, a puppy mill is the common name for a large-scale commercial dog breeding business. Because of the size of the operations, the dogs there are sometimes severely neglected, and the breeding practices are often irresponsible.

Since Sheldon’s death, Haley has become friends with a reputable Skye breeder from Texas. We were shocked when she looked at out paperwork from Sheldon’s purchase and explained to us just how inbred our puppy had been.

We were again shocked to learn that one of this breeder’s customers contained a nearly identical lineage for her Skye, which, as it turns out, came from the same puppy mill two years prior to Sheldon’s birth. That dog died before its first birthday.

We now believe that Sheldon’s health difficulties were most likely due to this inbreeding. When we brought it up with the pet store in Topeka, we were directed to call the company that owns it. When I called, they told me there was nothing we could do, and we should have bought pet insurance.

But let me go back. Today is also the anniversary of when we first noticed Sheldon’s problems developing.

My wife and I don’t have kids, so our dog was like our child. We scheduled a birthday party at our house last August and invited friends to bring their dogs to play around.

About an hour before the party started, I noticed Sheldon was having trouble standing. And when he did, he was wobbly. Two days later, we had him in the vet’s office.

Before Christmas, Sheldon could barely walk on his own. He’d mostly look at you and wait to be picked up and brought over. He could move a few steps at a time, or drag his body across the floor.

Where some might have given up, we were determined to fight for him. We were told surgery wasn’t a good option, so we had Haley’s father design a wheelchair for him. It helped Sheldon stand up straight and move without having to drag his stomach across the ground.

He didn’t always like it, but it helped him get in the right position to eat.

Eventually, though, the wheelchair also started to become less usable for him, too hard to move on carpet.

That was a reason we were so excited to move into our new house. When we looked at homes, we would always look at whether it had tile floors and the size of the driveway. Always thinking of how it would benefit Sheldon.

A week after we moved in, things took a sudden wrong turn for his health. During the afternoon, I noticed he started to breathe more heavily. I assumed he was panting because he was thirsty, so I gave him more water.

By the time Haley got home from work, it had gradually gotten worse. We called a vet to get him in, but the office was closed. He died before we had a chance to take him to K-State’s pet emergency room. Words cannot explain how difficult it is to see your dog die inside your home.

What I hope someone can take from this is buying a puppy from a store isn’t always a sure thing. You should do as much research on a dog as you can before leaving with it.

No, this isn’t the singular result of buying a puppy from a store, but if you look online, you will find a startling number of similar stories.

There are always multiple options in finding a dog, including shelter adoption and contacting breeders.

Sheldon’s death has left a hole in our hearts, and we’ve both come to the realization that no other dog will ever be able to replace him. We will never forget him.

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