Shiloh was invited to be a model for the A Dog’s Life 2014 calendar, and I was asked to send some information to include in his bio. I went on quite a bit and there was limited space on the calendar page (he’s Mr Second Week in October!) so this piece is based on the email I sent
What can I say about Shiloh? Before we met, I knew he was a yellow lab, and I’d seen his photos – the first one from the pound when he was very overweight and looking sad and confused, and then some from his lovely foster home where he was looking more cheerful. We set up a blind date for him with my two girls, Chloe and Izzy, on Dollymount Beach on a sunny Saturday morning in October. Shiloh’s photos didn’t prepare me for the behemoth that was carefully unloaded from his foster mum’s car ... In a photograph, he looked like a plump, average height Labrador. If the average Labrador is the equivalent of say a 5ft 10 human, Shiloh is about 6ft 6.
He came straight over to me with a huge smile and pushed his big head against my legs and I was sold. I’ve always liked big dogs. When he stands beside me, I don’t have to reach down to scratch his shoulder - he’s exactly the right height.
His foster mum told me that he was very dedicated to the couch and tended to sit down a lot when out walking. He was approximately 80 kg (12.57 stone!) when surrendered to the pound in April 2012, by the time we met he was 55 kg (8.64 stone).
On day one he joined my on my small two-seater couch, and made himself at home. I had to call for help to get out from under him. Because he is a very big boy, his devotion to the couch quickly convinced me that if I wanted to sit down in my own living room, I would need a bigger couch. So now I have a corner unit that fits three dogs and one human quite nicely.
Shiloh’s preferred position is draped over the edge of the couch with his big head on my lap. So I have plenty of time to measure his head – from the back of his head to the tip of his nose, it equals the distance from my elbow to the base of my fingers – almost 20 inches.
Our first walk together was very comical, Izzy, his Old English sister, doesn’t so much go on a walk as on a mission to get somewhere, anywhere, first and as quickly as possible, while Chloe, his Collie-cross sister, likes to investigate as many gateways, lampposts, bins and sundry bits of litter as quickly as she can, which involves quite a lot of rapid zagging and zigging in front and behind. Both girls are also rescues, from situations where on-lead training did not feature so they can be a bit of a handful. Shiloh prefers to ponder along at a very stately pace. Because he was overweight, his neck was thick enough that a collar would slide easily over his head. As we proceeded along our way I found I was being hauled along by two dogs while dragging an empty collar, while Shiloh placidly examined some interesting litter a few yards behind.
As an indication of his size at the time, the collar I bought him fit round the waist of a size 10 teenager.
We eventually made it to our local park where Shiloh was an instant hit with the other dog parents. He just loves meeting people, and drags me over to greet everybody he sees. I discovered that he could run.
Shiloh running is quite a sight. Because he is not exactly the fittest Labrador in the world, he does not break into a sprint, what happens is a sort of lurching canter which increases to a gallop for a few paces, then there is a long process of deceleration – which reminds me of a big ship coming into dock. To stay on the shipping analogy, if Shiloh was the Titanic, the iceberg wouldn’t have stood a chance. Poor Izzy ran across his path during one of Shiloh’s charges and was bowled off her feet. Because Shiloh’s brakes aren’t so good, he just kept trundling, right over her. The only injury was to Izzy's dignity.
Another Labrador’s dad we meet in the park always breaks into the theme song from Rocky when he sees Shiloh get into charge mode. For the first few weeks, he would charge a little, and then lie down for a rest and refuse to move on – very entertaining for the audience in the park.
Shiloh’s gait worried me. He walked very slowly, and for his breed, he really should have been more agile. From behind, his walk reminded me of John Wayne and if I hadn’t known his name already, I think I would have called him Duke. He was not able to make it upstairs. On top of this, a week or two after he arrived I noticed Shiloh had a small lump on the side of his face. The vet diagnosed an abscess, so he had to spend a morning in surgery to get a molar removed. His legs and hips were also checked.
Although it seemed from an examination and some manipulation of his legs there was no obvious reason for his funny walk, while he was under the anaesthetic, we took the opportunity of having his back end x-rayed to see what might be affecting him. I felt so sorry for him when I left him for his operation; he was clearly worried that he would be abandoned again.
The x-ray showed that arthritis is beginning to set in on his back knees, common for Labradors, and also his spine around the base of his tail was beginning to compress. Oddly enough, my mum suffered from the same problem. While it is possible to operate on the spine to relieve the pressure, I know from my mother’s experience that the operation is very painful, there is a very long recovery period with a 70:30 chance of a successful outcome, and even if successful, the condition will return very quickly, as it is not curable. Putting Shiloh through this seemed really unfair, he would not understand what was happening to him so we agreed the best thing for Shiloh would be pain management, light exercise and keeping him on track with his diet. He was so happy to see me and get brought home again my heart went out to him.
Because of my work I am in contact with a lot of human medical specialists so Shiloh has access not only to a great vet but to advice from one of the top Rheumatology specialists in Ireland, and who advised a few short walks each day rather than one long one, and to help improve his muscles (to support his achy bones) he should get as much opportunity to move in different ways as he can, for example, up and down stairs, over uneven ground an different types of terrain such as grass and sand or clay, rather than flat paths.
So we go out at least twice a day and I spend a lot of time going up and down stairs because now that he can manage them, he follows me everywhere in the house (including the bathroom). His couch potato habit is handy, as I can encourage him to get up off one couch and (at first, he climbed, now he jumps) onto another one. I worked on getting him to go up and down the stairs, and by the end of December 2012 he made it all the way up under his own steam. Which means I no longer have a bed of my own.
The bathroom is tiny so when he follows me in there, it is quite an operation to get him back out again, he can’t reverse, he can only turn round like a horse (e.g. he has to walk in a semi-circle). I've put down a lot of non-slip bath mats around the house so he can navigate the laminate and tiled floors without losing his balance.
As of 19 July 2013, he weighs 5.60 kg (7.17 stone) only 5 kg left before he hits the average weight scale for a Labrador. As his belly is not quite so large, Collie-sized Chloe can run under him as though he is an archway.
He’s gathered a few nicknames since he’s arrived – Mr Big, Honeylump, Handsome, Sunnybunny, Criminal and Chunkalove. He got the nickname Criminal because there are times I wonder how much of the John Wayne walk is habit rather than symptom - in spite of his lack of fitness, if food is the target, Shiloh is going to do his best to get it, including reaching to the back of a kitchen unit, which involves standing on those wobbly looking back legs. He is exceptionally good at demolishing bins; thankfully he has a preference for the green bin rather than the black or brown one. In this he has a very able assistant in Izzy. Between them they have destroyed two of the big outside green bins that are supposed to be dog proof. They have also dismantled the compost bin in the back.
Just before Christmas, they took apart a Christmas box destined for America – the chocolate advent calendar did not survive, but the eventual recipient of the Ninjago warriors accepted that they must have been trying to fight their way out of the packaging.
His hobbies, apart from the joint demolition projects with Izzy, include playing sock (as long as there is a human foot in there…), some light tug-o-war, relaxing, strolling, sniffing, shoplifting, more relaxing and singing for his supper. Really and truly, he does sing when his meal is not handed to him immediately. The shoplifting happens at the local pet shop and the aquarium store round the corner from us – he is quite fond of fish food.
He really likes meeting people, and shares a large fan base with his sisters – when we go for a walk, we have to stop and chat to everybody along the way. Given half a chance, he will walk through anybody’s open front door for a visit. In common with his two sisters, he likes to try and break into the chip shop, the cafe, the garage which has a hot food counter, but completely ignores McDonalds when we go past. It makes me wonder why anybody thinks there is any food value at all in a McDonalds :)
He has a very relaxed attitude to life. When something interesting happens, such as the local fox visiting the garden, Chloe will ricochet hysterically round the house and garden, Izzy flounces after her, and Shiloh opens one eye, looks at me from whatever couch or cushion he is lounging on, as if to say “they’ve got it covered” and goes back to sleep.
He’s a very good dog, most of the time :), but if he does not want to move, he knows how big he is and is adept at practising passive resistance – basically he stands (or more often lies) his ground and smiles benignly, as much as saying “make me, if you can”. Whenever the weather is nice and dry, I leave the dog beds out in the garden to air. Shiloh likes to sunbathe, and he especially likes this when he has a nice bed to lie on. Now, every time the weather is good, he waits patiently for his “sun lounger” to be put on his favourite spot. When indoors, he and his sisters follow the sun round the house. He has joined in the tradition that all our dogs have taken up over the years- between 2:00 and 4:00 pm every day, they all have a siesta. It started with Tim, a beloved collie who was with us for eighteen years, Chloe and then Izzy joined him and now Shiloh has the habit.
Shiloh is a wonderful, loving dog, full of character. He is really good with children, and has managed to draw conversation from a little boy he met in the park who has autism. One little chap fell in love with him and clamped himself to his neck. Shiloh's response was to continue plodding along with the little boy hanging from his neck like a scarf - he's that patient. It’s such a pleasure to come home and see his big face smiling out from the kitchen window (Chloe and Izzy are generally stationed at a top floor window each) and to see the “hello dance” the three of them perform as I come in the door. Every day with him is a joy and I feel really lucky to have him.