This is the true story of Shye, my rescued vegan chihuahua. I’m dedicating this post to everyone who has been courageous enough to adopt an animal and to love them as deeply and unconditionally as I loved Shye, because it means that the pain of losing them feels unbearable, and the grief sticks with us forever.
Shye was my ride or die, and she rode with me everywhere up until the day she couldn’t anymore, and on that same day, she died.
I remember with total clarity the precise moment I saw Shye for the first time.
I was walking slowly by the stacked kennels of stray and abandoned dogs at Miami Dade Animal Services, my heart aching knowing that I was only going to be saving one life that day.
Most of the dogs were sitting or standing toward the front of their cages, looking at me as I passed by, some with eyes full of hope and longing, others with the sad eyes of despair.
When I reached Shye however, her back was to me. She was sitting at the far end of her small kennel staring at the bare metal cage backing. I called out to her, “Hi sweetie.” She arduously turned her head. Her intensely beautiful golden brown eyes locked mine for a moment, and in that instant I knew I was her person and she was coming home with me.
On the way home, my boyfriend at the time, Dan, drove, and I sat in the passenger seat holding Shye up so she could see out the window, which is what she wanted. Her senses were on high alert, ready to fight or flee if need be. The sunlight hit her expressive face and illuminated her gorgeous eyes in a way that I will never forget.
I was curious, too. The shelter claimed her to be a 2 and ½ year old stray brown chihuahua with white markings. She presented herself as untrusting and shy (hence the name I gave her), and I was determined to give her the very best life I could no matter what.
Shortly after arriving home and meeting Valentino Rossi (aka ChiChi), Dan’s chihuahua, she got very sick with pneumonia. Her first week with me was spent doing nebulizer treatments, and nursing her back to health.
Our first year together was eventful. Dan and I broke up and Shye and I moved to a tiny little apartment in the heart of South Beach… the first of seemingly countless moves and numerous break-ups we would experience together throughout her life. Shye didn’t seem to mind moving at all however… As long as we were together, we both felt right at home.
It took Shye about a year and a half to fully trust me. It was obvious she hadn’t known unconditional love by a human being before. I showered her with it until the protective shell around her heart began cracking, chipping away, and eventually was gone completely… at least when it came to me. She had a clear policy: Trust is earned. And it was earned in HER time frame (if at all).
This meant that the reward was MASSIVE for the people who were patient and persistent… who showed her unconditional love even when she was prickly at first. When someone finally earned her trust and experienced her love it was something to be celebrated. To be in Shye’s inner circle of trust was an honor to be cherished.
During those first few years, this little chihuahua was motivated to run. She would run alongside me for over a mile, sometimes over two. And fast. It was unbelievable given her size of only about 9 pounds!
Shye came with me everywhere, including Sobekick Gym where I trained and taught classes. She became the mascot of sorts and boy did she represent! She was feisty as hell. She would walk right through the middle of 30 people punching and kicking the shit out of the heavy bags, music blasting and sit herself down in the middle of the mat.
Johnny, the owner of the gym, became a close friend and I was so grateful that he gave her free reign to be herself, even when he got the occasional complaint from a member or trainer. Johnny became Uncle Johnny before long.
After classes, as members stretched, she would find the sweatiest human and intently lick the salty sweat off their body. The members learned quickly that it was best to just let her do her thing and not try to pet her.
She wanted it to be known that although she was small, she was one tough bitch!
Shye despised being spoken to in a high “baby voice.” If someone tried to pet her while talking to her like a baby, she would give them a warning bite. She gave a lot of warning bites, often following a warning snarl, showing off her canines.
Shye was a badass. She never whimpered. She made her needs known with an intense stare first, and then a sharp bark if she was ignored.
Shye was full of life and brilliantly aware of her surroundings at all times. She was on guard, ready to protect me, herself, and her territory at all times. She was not going to be a victim. She was a powerful force, bundled into an adorable little body.
Shye was popular… I’d even call her famous around town and online. In fact, during the year I spent a lot of time with Alex Rodriquez, the paparazzi not only followed me around… they also stole shots of Shye and wrote about her in the tabloids.
She was with me through many relationships, and although the relationships weren’t always healthy, the one non-negotiable was that Shye was my #1. The men in my life respected that and a beautiful bond was formed between her and each of them. And when the relationship ended, Shye was happy to return to a routine that was focused on just me and her.
When I first moved to South Beach from North Carolina in 2002, I had never seen a dog in a stroller, and when I did, all sorts of judgments pop into my head. Then, when Shye injured her ACL, it occurred to me just how well a stroller could fit our active lifestyle and enhance our lives, so I purchased Shye’s first stroller, which I nicknamed her “rover” so she wouldn’t feel babied.
The first rover was cheap and chintzy, and I was a bit self-conscious using it. As time went on, Shye’s rovers got progressively more luxurious and I became more and more confident, even proud. They came in handy for long walks, eating out at restaurants, and for our Sunday Fundays at the Yard House. They also doubled as a grocery cart, since living in South Beach I was able to walk to do most of our shopping and errands.
Besides Sobekick Gym as a home-away-from-home for us both, for many years we spent every Sunday at the Yard House with a group of friends. We walked there with the rover, but once Shye saw that we were heading toward the Yard House, she would insist emphatically on walking, intently leading the way, and as we got within 3 blocks she’d start running and wouldn’t stop until we arrived.
She loved the Yard House and was happy to sport a jersey and be passed around to the people at our table who she trusted, particularly Dawn, Christian, and Johnny. She was very much a part of the gang, and sometimes Holly and Danny would bring their dog(s) in a stroller too, who she would ignore.
Speaking of Christian (my boyfriend for a couple years)… Shye quickly won him over. He never thought he’d have a relationship with a chihuahua, but it didn’t take long before they became buddies and Christian insisted on being called “Daddy.”
It was like Shye knew that he needed a cuddle-buddy. You see, I like my space when I sleep. And so she took on that role for me! And in return, Christian not only happily pushed her in her rover, he also proudly wore her in her bjorn-like front carrier on our longer walks, much to the delight of people passing by who would giggle and sometimes take pictures.
Shye wasn’t much for playing with other dogs. Besides Chichi, there were only a few dogs that she was happy to hang out with. And by happy, I mean it was more of a co-existing situation as opposed to an interactive experience. One of those dogs was my cousin, Lauren’s dog, Lucy, a Pitbull mix, and the other was Dawn’s dog, Delilah. In their later years, we nicknamed them the Golden Girls.
Shye was always up for adventure… As long as the adventure was with me. Shye didn’t love the water, but when I got on a paddle board, she was ready to hop on too… No matter how choppy the water (we fell in many times and yet she wouldn’t hesitate to hop right back on the board the next time I went out). Same with kayaking, and boating. We even took a ride on a client’s cigarette boat, reaching speeds of 90 mph, as she sat on my lap, facing the wind, her saliva spattering me in the face.
Shye came with me on every trip to Hogs and Kisses Farm Sanctuary, including when Anne, Mike and I drove the trailer up to pick up Rubia, Grace, and Dolly, our first pig rescues. Back on the sanctuary, she appreciated simply being a part of the daily chores, riding in the gator, and exploring the pasture. She wasn’t afraid of the 700 pound piggies, but she was aware of their massive size and didn’t want them too close.
One winter, the power went out while we were there and we went a couple days without heat in freezing temperatures. Shye didn’t complain. She let me wrap her in blankets, so that only her eyes and nose were exposed. She’d always take one for the team if it meant we got to be together.
Our mode of transportation in Miami was mainly my scooter the last many years. She sat in a front carrier, doggles on, attracting looks from tourists who would often point, smile or laugh, and sometimes take pictures from their cars.
Shye was vegan and a voracious eater most of her life. I’d love to say she was food-assertive, but in truth she was food-aggressive. If there was another dog around when her food was presented, even if that dog was 100 pounds, she was prepared to fight for it. She ate plant-based dog food and chowed on veggies and legumes. She especially enjoyed cucumbers, chickpeas, edamame, peas, and broccoli.
In her midlife Shye packed on an extra pound or two (like I said, she was a voracious eater). She was strong and healthy with a sturdy frame. It would piss me off when someone would comment on her weight, which happened quite frequently. Talk about rude! I would mostly bite my tongue, and instead of voicing my real thoughts and flipping them the bird, I would say… She has the whole crossfit powerlifting thing going on.
In her later years, her appetite decreased a bit, and she often wasn’t ready for her first meal until later in the day. So I started offering her a few pieces of Sweet Earth’s vegan Mindful Chicken when she first got up in the morning, which she absolutely loved. She would wake up and walk over to the kitchen and wait with a wagging tail for her daily dose of plant-based chicken, that came along with it her medication, Metacam, for the joint aches and pains that had developed in her older age.
Shye and I were so fortunate to have my mom move down to Miami, and to have my amazing sister living close by. On the infrequent occasions when I took a trip that wasn’t Shye-friendly, Shye would always have the best care, usually thanks to my mom.
For most of her life, Shye slept on the bed with me. We would snuggle for a little bit before taking our places and falling asleep each night. One morning, I woke up to a yelp as Shye had jumped off the bed and lay paralyzed on the floor. My heart felt like it had been stabbed and my stomach dropped as I did my best to comfort her while calling the vet. Even in her pain, Shye was calm and I knew she trusted me to take care of her… To get her the help she needed.
We rushed her to the clinic. She was in pain and could not stand up. I was both terrified and sure that she would, eventually, be okay. The next stop was an emergency visit to Southeast Veterinary Neurology. Shye had injured her neck spine. The options were surgery, or to give her a chance to heal on her own with bed rest. We opted for the latter, and within a few months, Shye was walking, albeit her mobility was limited.
Only a few months after regaining her ability to walk, a freak accident happened. We were walking on the sidewalk to yoga and I bent down to scoop her up and loss my grip and dropped her. My guttural scream echoed the neighborhood. She lay motionless on the concrete.
My mom was nearby and we rushed her back to the neurologist. This time there was only one option if we were to fight for her life…. Surgery. She had 3 discs that would need to be fixed if she was to live, and it was unclear if she would regain use of her limbs. It was risky, especially given her age (she was around 14 at the time), but Shye had so much fight left in her and I knew intuitively, without question, that we had to try.
Sure enough, Shye came through the surgery with flying colors and we began the long, grueling, healing journey. Despite being paralyzed, unable to use her legs at all those first few weeks, her spirits stayed high. Before long she was ordering me around from her luxurious rover, letting me know when she was hungry. I would spend hours a day just holding her and loving on her. And after a few weeks, there was movement in her legs!
Week after week she got stronger and in time, Shye not only began walking again on her own, she began running! Thanks to the surgery and her relentless determination, Shye gained more mobility than she ever would have if it weren’t for that terrifying accident. The massive scar that ran from her chin to her chest was hidden as her hair grew back and we were able to joke that Shye must have been gifted the 9 lives usually only given to cats.
Shye’s last few years on earth were fabulous. She slowed down a bit, but happily continued to join me for outings, particularly hanging while I trained boxing at the park with Josh and JoJo, trips to South Pointe Park, UFC gym, the beach, out to eat, kayaking, camping, and visits to Hogs & Kisses.
During her last few months, I met, and fell in love with a human soulmate, Quinn. And I have to wonder if she knew that I had found a being who was so capable of loving me, that she could feel okay about leaving this realm and ascending to the next, because one Friday morning, only a few months after meeting Quinn, Shye suddenly fell very ill. After rushing her to the vet, then the neurologist, and finally the ER, Shye left her body with me by her side, stroking her beautiful little head, looking in her soulful eyes.
Shye was my everything. My whole world revolved around her extraordinary, spunky self. She was my significant other for 15 years. She was the light of my life. She was my +1. She was my teacher, my coach, and my best friend who gave me so much love and brought me so much comfort.
Shye was my ride or die. She rode with me everywhere up until the day she couldn’t anymore… and on that same day, she died.
And now I am figuring out how to navigate life without her… To bear the unbearable pain of loss that hits us when we have the courage to love as deeply as I loved Shye.
In speaking with Teresa Whalen, animal communicator and pet loss grief expert, following Shye’s death, Shye let me know that she would be hanging around me from the other side of the rainbow bridge, that she had no interest in reincarnating to be someone else’s pet because I was her one and only human, and that she would be the first to greet me when it’s my time.
She also said that she’d mess with the lights to help her presence be felt. I didn’t know what she meant, but sure enough, in the following days, the lights in the hallway started flickering, and I woke up at 3AM to the light in my room having been turned on.
I feel incredibly grateful for my amazing friends, my incredible family, my partner Quinn (who was right there with me at the end), and my compassionate community for all the kindness and support you’ve shown me through this challenging time.
I take solace in my belief that Shye and I are quantumly entangled forever, that her soul lives on, and that I will be with her again one day.
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