Much is now forgotten or at least muddled in my confused memory. If I’d known the significance of Shiner then, that he would become an integral and pivotal part of our family, I might have taken better note, but back then he was just a stray hound, vulnerable at best, annoying and difficult at worst.
As Hayley, the girl who found him and his siblings, tells it, it was a cold and wet Christmas Eve that she was driving along the road when she saw them: a little clump of rain sodden creatures on the shoulder. There were five of them. Emaciated and wet, they looked like large, broken birds. One of them was lying atop the runt to protect him. This protector of the runt was Shiner. They were redneck dogs, and Hayley did her brilliant best to come up with redneck names: Rudy the runt, Crocket, Tater, Rooster and Shiner.
Since I had a big side dog yard and a giant Taj Mahal dog house (a separate space so I could always stop for strays on the road), she asked if I’d take the hounds. The little gang of siblings all lived outside in the yard together while I lived inside (and out) with Flash and Chance and Sasha, back then.
The hounds had probably had two different sires as some looked like hound/pit mixes and some looked like hound shepherd mixes. Shiner, mostly Walker hound as we later discovered, was the only one that was predominantly white, so I called him “the white one” at first, before Hayley bestowed the red neck names. And my heart was closest to the white one because, having a crooked, once broken leg, he was picked on, the others variously humping him and wrestling him to the ground. I’d lift him into my arms and turn him upside down and hold him. He was a sweet, lovable hound for having endured such a rough beginning. That’s why it came as such a shock when he turned vicious.
To help relieve me, two kind volunteers took on fostering the hound puppies and in time, one by one, they were all adopted. Except for Shiner, the white one. When Shiner wasn’t adopted, his foster mom after me sent him to the S.P.C.A. It’s a no kill shelter, so there Shiner stayed. And stayed and stayed. Waiting for someone to see him and offer him a home. Shiner to this day still holds the distinction of having the longest record at Almost Home, our local S.P.C.A. And my brother and I still shudder when we think about it, for had I known back then what I know now, I’d have never let him stay there. Walker Hounds go mad when penned in. And here was Shiner living out his days in an 8 x 10 room. He did go mad, and his form of madness was to begin barking and biting, further lessening his chance of adoption.
Time had passed and I had pretty much forgotten about the hounds who once lived outside in my side yard. But one day I saw Hayley. I asked how Shiner was doing and she gave me a funny look and told me what was happening, the cowering, the barking and biting. I was stunned then horrified, but the result was that Shiner came back to the home where he’d first been with his brothers. Except the dog who returned was not the Shiner I knew. He was wary and angry and scared. He barked at me, seeming not to remember the person who’d loved him and held him upside down.
Alas, hounds are food motivated and with the help of good food, Shiner came around after a week or so, jumping up on me as I came out to his yard carrying breakfast or dinner, and wiggling and wagging when it was time to leave the yard and go on walks. But the walks only served to give him a taste of the distant hills, and afterward, Shiner easily and effortlessly learned to climb out of his confinement, perhaps forever fearing the enclosing walls of the shelter. He’d run wild and free most of the time, with me vainly trying to get him back in the yard.
A little before I brought Shiner home the second time, my brother came to live with me, or live down in my Writing Room, actually. Ted had sold a lucrative landscaping business to pursue his passion of photography and get a degree at the top school in Massachusetts. He rented his home, but when he returned to Virginia, the renters had still more time on the agreed to contract so Ted stayed with me until they moved out. He knew my three little hounds well, and life was good and simple, sharing meals together out in the yard. Perhaps most of all, life was quiet.
Until Shiner came along. It was hate at first sight. Ted disliked Shiner, and Shiner wasn’t too keen on a man either. He’d spy on Ted from the tall grasses and bark and bark. Ted couldn’t understand why I had brought this ill-behaved thing home. And life went on like this for a while, with Shiner wearing on us both. Perhaps that’s why, at some point, Ted decided to train Shiner, realizing as he did, and before I did, the intelligence of this hound, not to mention his desire to please and his inherent loving nature. Shiner would raise his Walker hound body up, front paws on the window sill and peer in at Ted. Sometimes he’d run around to where Ted was sitting in the afternoon light, and my brother would reward him and toss out a piece of popcorn that Shiner would catch, “flump” with his loose lips. Their respect for one another grew, and as it did, so too did their bond.
Ted Pfaltz stands with Shiner
Shiner would come to have a host of nicknames, all of which Ted bestowed, and one of which—the earliest—was, The Troglodyte, after he (Shiner, not Ted, that is) lived under my porch for a spell. He was still an outside dog and my brother teased that he could see the others inside on cushy sofas eating rabbit, while he remained outside. But not to worry, Shiner’s life was to improve.
The renters left Ted’s home and the time came for him to leave me, but not before first surprising me and asking if he could take Shiner. It was not a decision he had made lightly. Shiner, though smart or maybe because he was smart, was still an extremely difficult dog. He was still fearful of humans and anxious in strange situations. He barked and he bit, and separation anxiety caused him to tear up the house. During his tenure at my house, he bit two people. Having Shiner would essentially mean that Ted couldn’t have guests or friends come over, or only with difficulty. But my brother, the man who had so vehemently disliked this dog, had fallen in love with Shiner and Shiner equally with Ted. And so he legally adopted from the shelter the dog with the longest record of residency.
Ted lived on fifty-five acres and fenced a large part with invisible fencing. Shiner could now hunt to his heart’s desire without too much worry. Of course there were deer and bear and snakes, but Shiner was far from stupid about wildlife, and also quick to learn and honor the fence’s boundaries. Despite his powerful nose and drive, he never ran out to the road. In addition to having the run of many acres, my mother often walked him while Ted worked during the day, driving him to a nearby park where Shiner could sniff for new scents.
That was in 2009. Fast forward nearly ten years to when Ted noticed Shiner’s right eye bulging slightly. The next six months would prove challenging for Ted and Shiner. The vets guessed the bulging eye was caused by an abscessed tooth. Shiner underwent anesthesia, and awoke missing five of his teeth. But the removal of teeth didn’t solve the problem, and Ted had to drag Shiner yet again to a different vet in attempt to understand what was going on.
By now, Shiner had aged, Ted had worked wonders with him, and even though he was still fearful of humans especially if they approached his property, he was much better than he had been. But to be taken back to the same place that removed his teeth caused him to panic.
Except this time, instead of teeth, the vets took an eye. After a cat scan, the doctor had explained to Ted that the only way to understand what was happening was to go in and look. If there was a tumor they would try to remove it, but with the location so close to Shiner’s eye, he warned the eye might have to come out.
Shiner came out of anesthesia a one-eyed hound. Better a one-eyed hound than no hound was what Ted thought, but still the trauma was a lot for Shiner to endure. Days of rehabilitation followed, with Shiner healing from a Frankenstein’s monster-like incision that ran across his face and down his muzzle. While his physical healing was quick, given what he’d endured, the emotional scars would take longer.
Even now, Shiner still swipes at his eye as if trying valiantly, yet fruitlessly to get it to open again like it once was. Harder for Shiner was that the surgery destroyed his tear ducts and damaged his nasal passages. Anybody who knows hounds will know that their nose is their life. One nostril would become completely blocked on a daily basis, Ted going through great lengths to clean it out and Shiner patiently allowing him. But still the one-eyed, one-nostriled hound would not give up on life, and Shiner continues to run through the fields. He knocks into things, and he has slowed down a lot, but perhaps this is as much due to age as to his status as a one-eyed hound.
This story about our hound will end here, with Shiner taking a “pause” from life to sit in his chair on the Ted’s porch to wait for the man who rescued him to come home. But Shiner’s story itself, his shining Shiner life, goes on, courageously. And he reminds us all to preserve, because with a little perseverance and hope, anyone can go from being a troglodyte to sleeping in a warm home with love.
Note: I wrote the above story in the fall of 2017. Shiner moved on from the physical world of hunting and scents that he loved so much on Sunday 12 November. Although his physical presence is gone, his shining Light moves forth, forever in my mother's heart and Ted's, and those who knew Shiner and whose lives he touched. Shiner 2007 ? - 12 Nov 2017. Shine on, Shiner.