My late father lived the last seven years of his life at the Showalter Center, an assisted-living facility at Warm Hearth Village in Blacksburg. Showalter had a "facility dog," a stray who they named "Shay." Shay wandered in one day, liked the look of the place, and settled in for good. She was a mostly-German-Shepherd. The nurses and all the residents loved her, and she loved them in return.

Many years before my parents had had a German Shepherd. Towards the end of my father's life, Shay, with the telepathy that dogs have for the imminent passing of a human, would spend a lot of time with him: his room was next to the nurses' station where Shay lived. She would come into his room and sit by him, and from time to time, he would call her "Dante," the name of the Shepherd dog he'd lost in 1981. Three days before he died my father asked me, "I wonder if Dante is still alive?" which showed how his mind wandered to the past in his final hours.

Shay died, as all dogs must, in 2012, three years after my father. I was asked to attend a memorial for this loving creature who had meant so much to him, and to say a few words. This eulogy—which I think really doesn't do her justice—was written for that occasion. Shay's ashes are buried in a memorial garden at the Showalter Center but I'm sure her spirit still stands guard over the residents.

A Eulogy for Shay

I was asked to say a few words today about Shay, and what she meant to the Showalter Center, the staff here, and the residents. My father lived here for many years and Shay often came to visit him, bringing with her the comforting presence that was a fundamental part of her whole being.

Dogs are a special case among domestic animals. The dog is the only species that is voluntarily domesticated. More than 100,000 years ago, humans and dogs reached an agreement that has lasted to this day: in exchange for some scraps of food and a place to sleep, dogs volunteered to protect us, to guide us, to guard us, and to love us completely and unconditionally. Anyone familiar with dogs and humans knows that we got the best end of that bargain, by far.

Shay was that kind of dog. She came here as a stray years ago: we don’t know where she came from or what her life had been before arriving at Showalter Center; but we know that in obedience to her ancient instincts, she understood that here was a place where she was needed, where she could serve humans as she was born to do, where she could bring to all the residents, as she did to my father, the calm, comforting kind of love that only dogs can. She took up her role gratefully and we are all grateful that she did. For the remainder of her life she was not just a “facility dog,” she was the pet and friend of everyone who lives here, and the special companion to the nursing staff, whom she accompanied on their daily rounds, taking stock and making sure that her human friends were all okay. She was a faithful companion to everyone here, and her loss is a loss for all of us who knew her and loved her, because a light went out in our lives when she died, as she lived, in service to us.

There are people who will ask, “what’s all the fuss? She was just a dog!” But Shay was much more than that. She was a role model, an exemplar of the virtues that we all strive—but so often fail—to have: loyalty, courage, dignity, and a sense of duty that few of us poor humans exhibit. If there were more humans who lived their lives with the steadfast righteousness that Shay did, the world would be a better place.

Chapter 14 of the apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus includes a verse which expresses better than any other the reason why we are here today to honor our lost friend. It reads:

Some there be which have no memorial, who are perished as though they had never been, and are become as though they had never been born, and their children after them. They too are within the covenant; their bodies are buried in peace, but their name liveth forevermore.

This place, the home Shay loved, will be her memorial. We humans can never “own” dogs. We are privileged to be allowed to borrow them from God for a short time, but we always— always —have to give them back.