Shih Tzus are toy dogs, one of the breeds that are purely silly balls of fur with no practical value. This dialog from Fawlty Towers captures them perfectly:
What is he?
He’s a little Shit-zu.
Is he really? But what breed is it?
They’re lap-dogs, aren’t they?
A Lapp dog? Hard to imagine him stalking a reindeer, what?
Won Ton (because the breed comes from China, of course) was a perfect example. He loved to chase tennis balls, but could never learn to bring them back, so a game of fetch consisted of one throw. When you tossed him a treat, he would let it fall and come to a complete stop before trying to pick it up. If by bad luck it actually touched his face on the way down, he’d shy away from it. And the few times something landed on his snout and stuck there, he was completely helpless until one of us took it and hand-fed it to him. He didn’t mind our howls of laughter, either because he was always a good sport or (more likely) because he had no clue what was going on.
Won Ton liked to go for walks, but scurrying around on such short legs is tiring, so at some point he’d simply refuse to take another step, and need to be carried the rest of the way. He never learned how to drink the amount of water he needed. He’d gulp down far too much and spit the rest up, just like a baby. He had a way of sneezing and and shaking his head afterward that made him seem like a fussy old man. He wasn’t quite tall enough to step up onto the car floor. Each time, he’d pause, gather himself and leap. He wouldn’t come in though the back sliding door unless it was open all the way, as if in his mind he was a giant, rather than ten pounds dripping wet.
He had, I’m quite sure, no idea that he was a dog. We had another dog for a time, and Won Ton completely ignored him, oblivious to any attempts to make friends or play. He also mostly ignored the cats, though once in a great while he’d snarl at them and watch them bolt. But he loved people. Everywhere we went, people asked if they could pet him, both because he was an adorable, big-eyed ball of fur, and because they could sense how much he’d enjoy it. I used to bring him to Little League games, and years afterward if I ran into someone from those days around town, they’d ask how he was.
He’d gotten older, as dogs will, and little by little he started to fail. His toilet training, which had always been imperfect, became nonexistent. His scurry, which had become a stately walk, was now an old man’s hobble. He’d never been a good eater, but now he’d only eat when hand-fed. He seemed rarely to have control of all four legs at once.
So, today we reluctantly decided to do what was needed, and the vet was lovely about it. She let us spend time with him until we were ready, and then let us hold him until he was gone. And we all knew that we’d done the right thing, and that he didn’t suffer, and that it was peaceful at the end, and that now with the whole family together was the right time, and that fifteen years is a good, long life for a dog. And all of that’s true.
But, dammit, I miss him.