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by Ladyoz
Rated: E · Essay · Animal · #1214409
The story of Wicket and Pippin, my beloved dogs.
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He didn't have a name.  He was the smallest of the litter, and all of his brothers and sisters had already been sold.  He was sleepy, and he lay flat on his little tummy on the palm of my hand.  I paid the breeder the required A$200 purchase price, and took him home.  He was six weeks old, and he was my first Shih Tzu puppy.

Choosing a name for him was easy.  He had a face like an Ewok; those fluffy teddies from Star Wars™.  Big brown eyes, and a white tuft of fur fanning around his little black nose.  So, the name Wicket was the obvious choice.  The breeder later told me that the name Wicket was appropriate, as his father's registered Kennel Club name was Skywalker Luke.

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Wicket at 10 weeks of age

When he was 8 months old, Wicket swallowed a needle and thread.  I remember dropping it and being unable to find it on the carpet.  How he got it down his throat without having it stick somewhere is a mystery.  I wasn't aware that he'd swallowed it until a few days later, when he started to yelp each time he tried to go potty.  A quick trip to the vet and an x-ray revealed the sticker.  He had surgery to remove it and spent five days in hospital recovering.  He was not allowed to go home until he had pooped to the vet's satisfaction.

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The actual needle that Wicket swallowed

Wicket recovered, but not completely.  A year or so later, he began to have potty and tummy problems.  A new vet diagnosed an ulcerated colon, which is an incurable condition.  It meant that Wicket's diet for the rest of his life could be nothing more than boiled rice with boiled chicken or boiled hamburger mince.  He could have nothing fatty or rich, no people food, no milk; none of the things he loved.

I took great care with his diet, and he gradually settled down.  I exposed him to as little stress and excitement as possible, because these were things that triggered vomiting and diarrhea.  Unpleasant any time, but worse for a long-haired dog.

I allowed his coat to grow to its full Shih Tzu length one time only, then had him professionally groomed.  After that, I kept his coat trimmed myself, because it was so much easier to maintain when it was shorter.

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Wicket, full-grown, full-coated, and wet-whiskered

Wicket was the love of my life, and my constant companion.  He loved to ride in the car and would pout if left at home.  For the first few years, if he was left alone in the house, he would find something (usually a box of tissues) upon which to exact his revenge.  Separation anxiety, they call it.  He eventually grew out of it.

Wicket had more toys than I ever did when I was a kid.  Stuffed animals that squeaked when he played with them.  All of his toys, no matter what they were, were called "bunnies", and if you told him to "pick a bunny", he would rummage through all of his toys to choose one for you.  Every Christmas he got a new bunny, and half the fun was watching him unwrap it for himself.

His pet hate was taking a bath.  He learned that when I grabbed a particular towel, he was going to get it.  I always had to search the house to find him when it was bath time, and he would sulk until he was all dry and fluffy.  He grew accustomed to his grooming sessions, but always hated the bath.

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"I'll get you for this!"

And yet, he also learned that the best place in the house to find cool, fresh water was the bath tub.  Many times during a long hot summer, one of us would go into the bathroom, switch on the light, and find Wicket standing in the bathtub, gazing fixedly at the drain, waiting patiently for someone to turn on the cold water for him.

On February 14 of 1998, I married an American man.  Eight months of paperwork later, I left my native Australia, and my Wicket, and moved to the United States.  I could not take Wicket with me because of his frail health.  It broke my heart to leave him, and he knew I was going.  For weeks before my departure I would sit in the living room at night with open suitcases and boxes, as I went through my things and sorted, and packed.  Wicket would sit with me every night and watch everything that I did.  He knew I was leaving.  On the morning of my flight to Los Angeles, he lay on his tummy underneath a chair, and would not even come out to say goodbye.

I saw him again in August of 2000, and was shocked by how much he had aged.  He was nearly blind, as is often the case with Shih Tzu's as they age.  He had not forgotten me, and though he couldn't see me, he recognised my scent and welcomed me home as well as he could for that one brief visit.

I never saw Wicket again, as he died from congestive heart failure in April of 2002.  I still miss him terribly.

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Check out my Dad's poem in memory of Wicket:

 In Loving Memory  (E)
A poem in memoriam for our dog, Wicket
#1222125 by Oldnbold

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In May of 2000, after several trips to the animal shelter in Camarillo, California, with the view to adopting a dog, we stopped at the shelter on the spur of the moment on a Saturday afternoon.  I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted another Shih Tzu, but didn't really expect to find one in a shelter.  Puppies from reputable breeders in the United States can cost $800 or more, and I didn't have that kind of money to spend on a dog.  We had walked almost all the way around the shelter, when an employee asked what kind of dog we were looking for.  On an impulse, I said, "Shih Tzu."

"There's one in number twenty-eight," the employee said.

We'd already gone past #28, and I didn't recall seeing a Tzu in that kennel.  So we went back for another look, and there he was.  His coat had been shaved very short, and he looked more like some kind of bulldog-cross than a Tzu.  I asked to meet him, and one of the employees brought him to us in the little yard out back.  He was a bit stand-offish, but not unfriendly, as is the Tzu way with people they don't know.  My husband wasn't so sure about him, but he left the decision to me.  I got the dog to play with me readily enough, and knew he'd turn out to be a good one.

So we paid the $50 and adopted him.

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Pippin, when we first bought him home,
still a tad stand-offish, and very short-coated

He had to be neutered before we could take him home, so I went back to the shelter on the following Tuesday to pick him up.  I'd already decided on his name -- Pippin -- because, like the hobbit of the same name (from the books, not the movies), he was short and had hairy feet.  He sat very quietly in the car all the way home, and was very polite to the family when they came home that night.  My husband thought he was an ugly little critter, but I knew better.  I knew how he'd look when his coat grew out.

Pippin settled in quickly enough.  He was already house-trained, and only had two small accidents before learning how to get my attention when he needed to go out.

I had 7 days to get him his rabies shot and have him licensed in Ventura County.  The vet who gave him his shot guesstimated Pip's age as 3 or 4.  As he was a stray, nothing is known of his past before he arrived at the shelter in Camarillo.

My husband told me later that when he paid for Pippin at the shelter, he was told that we'd arrived just in time.  Had we not adopted Pippin that day, he was scheduled to be euthanized the following week.  That horrified me, and I wondered how many rescue Tzu's don't find new homes because they aren't bouncy and playful like other dogs, but are a little aloof.  It's only because they don't know you, and it's been my experience that all Tzu's, and Lhasa Apso's, are the same in this regard.

I knew when Pippin was starting to feel at home when he barked at his first dog, viewed through the front screen door.  Prior to that, he had not made a sound.  Once a Shih Tzu knows he's home, he becomes territorial, and will annouce his claim to any other dog who dares approach his kingdom.

Unlike Wicket, Pippin loves his bath.  To this day, he will sit quietly and watch as I gather his towels and bottles of shampoo, then he will follow me to the sink and wait for me to get the water temperature just right.  When I call his name, he comes right to me and puts his paws up on my leg, so I can pick him up.  He loves how he feels when he's clean and fluffy, and doesn't mind at all being wet and sudsy.

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When his coat started to grow back, he looked much cuter

Pippin has a bit of an underbite, which results in a permanent toothy grin.  He also has a habit of poking out the very tip of his tongue when he's relaxed or sleeping.  We call it, "The tongue of contentment."

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There it is, The Tongue of Contentment!

As with Wicket, all of Pippin's many doggy toys are called "bunnies".  He's the only dog I've ever known who can generalize.  He groups similar objects together.  And he knows what belongs to him.  He has his toys, his leash and collar, his bed, and he clearly understands that these things are his.

He had separation anxiety issues too, but has grown out of it.  He loves to ride in the car, and if you ask him, "Do you wanna come too?" he charges out to the door, waiting for his leash.  He walks very well on the leash too, and though he likes to lead the parade he is very easy to steer.  Being male, he likes to stop every few feet, or at every tree, post, wall, fence, stretch of kerb and blade of grass to leave his mark.  But he's learned well that if I say no, he is to ignore the object and will continue to walk without trying to stop.  Otherwise, a half hour walk would take all day.

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Pippin today

Pippin is a healthy, happy, loving dog.  He's extremely gentle and even-tempered, and loves kids, especially babies.  There's not a mean bone in his body.  He is currently about 10 years old, though we're not sure.  He doesn't look more than 7 or 8, and the vet's guesstimation of his age when we first adopted him may have been quite wrong.

Sometimes he dreams, and his tail wags and he yips softly.  I wonder, at those times, if he's dreaming of his last family.

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UPDATE - March, 2010

Pippin has been diagnosed as having Canine Cushing's Disease. This means that he has a tumor either on his adrenal gland or his pituitary gland (his brain) which is forcing his body to produce too much of a hormone called Cortisol.  The effect of this is that his liver is being destroyed, he has lost most of his hair and muscle mass and has become thin and bony.  His immune system is also compromised, which means he is susceptible to infection.  He is not in any pain from this, and spends his days sleeping peacefully in the warm sunshine in his favourite window.  It is very hard for us to watch him deteriorate and be unable to help him.  We do not expect to have him with us for very much longer.

UPDATE - September 30, 2010

It breaks my heart to report that Pippin passed away after suffering a stroke.  His ashes were buried in the garden under his favourite window.  His paws left prints on our hearts.

UPDATE - January 2011

We rescued two Shih Tzus from a local shelter in December of 2010.  After we lost Pippin I swore I wouldn't have another dog for a while, but these two were love at first sight for me.  They are brother and sister and they are very sweet little darlings.  They are Scruffy and Rosie!

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A Word About Tzu's

Shih Tzu's are not high-energy dogs, but they will bounce around and play with you as readily as any other dog.  Their coats are high maintenance, though, so be prepared for lots of grooming or regular clipping.

Like any dog, a Tzu is as "smart" as you encourage him to be.  By this I mean that dogs who are left out in the yard are dogs to the end of their days.  But dogs who live indoors with people, who spend all their time with family who give them the structure, guidance, and attention they deserve, will turn out "smarter."  Shih Tzu's are not the most intelligent breed, but given training and consistency, they aren't the dumb blondes of the dog world either!

And don't ever let anyone tell you that dogs have short-term memories.  Wicket remembered every person he ever met, even if he didn't see them for years.  And Pippin is the same.

So, if you're looking to adopt a dog, and you see a Shih Tzu who needs a good home, but he seems a bit snooty or disinterested, don't let it dissuade you from taking him home!  He just needs a little time to get to know you.  Once he does, he'll reward you with all the love and loyalty you deserve.

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