Mondays with Shelby

Learning life lessons from a special pup
By Liz Swenton, December 2011

The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in. —Morrie in Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

In September of 2009, my boyfriend of two years passed away. Just days away from talking to our family about our planned engagement, and I was left alone, wondering how I could love again.

Coasting through life on autopilot the first few months after his death, I turned to family, friends and therapy for support as I journeyed through the grieving process. Two years later and doing much better, there are still days when the thought of “starting over” is daunting.

Earlier this year, I met Shelby, a Border Collie who belongs to my friend Al. He’d often shown me pictures of her on his phone but all of these did her no justice. Shelby, who turned 2 in November, instantly wowed me with her energy, vibrant personality and companionability. And we cannot dismiss her charming good looks and black and white coat. Al trained Shelby when she was just a young pup, and she is by far the smartest dog I know.

When I first met her, Shelby was showing off her athleticism and intelligence. We played Frisbee for a few hours at a park, followed by an afternoon swim in a river. It started to rain but she kept on swimming and running as if she didn’t have a worry in the world.

While Al drove home, I spent the whole ride, turned around in the passenger seat, facing Shelby, petting her and letting my mind wander.

All through the week back, I couldn’t stop thinking about Shelby and the smile she put on my face throughout the day I’d constantly ask Al about Shelby, and he’d often email me pictures of her, until one day he offered her therapeutic services.

On a day off from work, Al dropped Shelby off at my apartment in Boston, around 9 in the morning. She ran circles around my kitchen and started to whimper, so I immediately took her outside. We walked to the South End, the most dog-friendly neighborhood in the city, where we played Frisbee at the local dog park and enjoyed treats at a dog bakery.

We met Al for lunch and I couldn’t stop talking about all of the adorable things Shelby did in the morning—the way she hops over the subway grates on the sidewalk; her love for squirrels and the way she approaches them with caution; her fear of sprinklers and water faucets; how she shakes her entire body when you approach her singing her name. Nothing I told him was new material, but I just couldn’t keep my love for her inside.

On our way back to my apartment, we stopped at a local dog boutique on Charles Street, where Shelby tried on various Halloween costumes and admired the selection of cookies and pupcakes.

Back in my apartment, she climbed onto my bed and took a nap. Being a little obsessive-compulsive, I was surprised that I allowed a dog onto my bed. Fur was everywhere (and still is) but it was so irrelevant to the happiness I was feeling.

The next day, I was in an amazing mood and owed it all to Shelby. It was becoming clear to me that this pup put pep in my step and was helping with my healing process.  

I spent the following Monday with Shelby as well, but this time we played soccer in Boston’s Public Garden. Shelby had an audience of adults, children and even other dogs watching her with awe. I felt like a kid again, free-spirited as I kicked around a soccer ball with Shelby. One boy even asked if she could join his school soccer team.

After three hours of play, Shelby was covered in mud so I took her to a do-it-yourself dog spa. I was nervous to give my first dog bath but the groomer showed me the ropes. I gave Shelby a good scrub and was soon covered in soap. She was happy until it came time for the dryer.

Back at my apartment, Shelby got comfortable in her favorite spot on my kitchen floor next to a small, red area rug, all curled up next to her new favorite toy, the iBone. I had to do some work on my laptop, so I called Shelby over to the couch and she immediately came running. With her nose nestled on top of my keys, she began to snooze as I sent a few emails. The day was filled with nothing but smiles, laughter and love.

And so Mondays with Shelby was born, inspired by one of my favorite novels, Tuesdays with Morrie. In the novel, author Mitch Albom spends fourteen Tuesdays with his former Brandeis University sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, who had been diagnosed with ALS. Morrie teaches Mitch about love, life, communication and happiness.

Even though I’ve only spent a few Mondays with Shelby, this magnificent canine companion has taught me similar lessons. Through the tilt of her head when I give her a kiss, the left ear curled over when I tell her she’s amazing or the way she head butts the soccer ball at the park, she is my Morrie. I look forward to spending more Mondays with Shelby, the pup that brought me back to life.

To all dog-lovers out there, have you turned to pup to help you through a crisis?

Liz Swenton is the director of operations at a Boston-based public relations firm. In her spare time, she enjoys dancing and creative writing. She's an active contributor to the Music Drives Us blog, a nonprofit organization educating others on the importance of music within the community. She was also recently published in a drug-prevention book targeted to teenagers.

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