Passage excerpts from book


The following are extended-length passage excerpts from the book “Saved By Shayna: Life Lessons From A Miracle Dog”:

From Section II(2): “The search became long” >

From Section II(3): “And then… it happened” >

From Life Lesson 8: “Loving your dog means being a savvy shopper of dog products and services” >

From Life Lesson 12: “Love may be infinite – but time isn’t” >

From Life Lesson 16 (by Shayna): “Try to find as many reasons to say ‘Good!’ as to say ‘No!'” >


From Section II(2): “The search became long”

Context: This passage picks up after I describe the traumas I endured just prior to 9/11, the emotional tailspin I went into after the attacks, and my move to Charlottesville, VA from Ft. Lauderdale, FL – without knowing a soul, or having a job here – to restart my life, and begin searching for my first dog.  I was mostly seeking a “connection,” hopefully in the form of a brightly-colored male puppy who would grow up to be  a fairly big dog, like a mix of a Lab, German Shepard, or Golden Retriever. 

As my search wore on, and weeks turned into months, several questions emerged in my mind, which really shook me to my core:

Who am I to judge which puppy is the “right” one for me – and how will I know?  Against what standard can this answer be measured, so I know it’s valid?

Should I go with pure impulse, or stick to my original criteria – of a brightly-colored male Golden Retriever, Lab, or German Shepard, or mix thereof?  Why am I being so superficial?  Aren’t I a mutt, a mix of Austrian, Russian and Polish ancestry, and a bit of an odd-looking character, who’s always resented being judged on that basis?  Yet now, aren’t I doing the exact same thing, at least in part, to the dogs I encounter? 

Am I being a selfish elitist for wanting to wait for a dog that meets the physical criteria that I envision?  Don’t every one of these puppies – each beautiful in its own way – deserve a loving, ‘forever home’ – right now, today? 

And who am I to say, “No, you’re not good enough, or what I’m looking for”?

That last question really got me, every time.  Every one of those puppies deserved an individual, couple or family who would love and nurture them, and provide them with training, compassion and encouragement.  Every one of them deserved this – the beautiful ones, the odd-looking ones, the purebreds and the Heinz-57s; the ones with behavioral “issues,” whether overly-dominant, spastic, or withdrawn and frightened.  Every one of them deserved to leave the CASPCA destined not just for a new place to lay their head, but a real, honest-to-goodness home, where they’ll feel loved, valued and protected.

I started to feel terrible guilt.  Who was I to decide which puppy gets a home with me, and which doesn’t?  To decide which will have the chance to enjoy the great life that I will work hard to give him or her, and which will be made to take a chance with someone else – with absolutely no choice in the matter?

Yes, I know, we’re “only” talking about a dog here, not a person.  But again – to me, this was not like making a commitment to make payments on a vehicle; this was a living, sentient creature, to whom I would be making a lifetime commitment.

I knew that the fastest, easiest way to end my frustration and guilt would have been to simply take the first puppy of any kind, for which I felt some affection, and hope for the best.

The only “deal-breaker” that I anticipated was excessive barking.  First, because I couldn’t handle it, and second, because I was living in a pretty small apartment at the time, with lots of other people in close proximity.  While I assumed that problem could be worked out by an experienced trainer, I didn’t feel it would be right for me to bring such a puppy into that environment, and make my neighbors suffer (and hate me), until the problem was resolved.  Outside of that, though, any dog that fit my general criteria was, technically, a contender.

That put a lot of puppies into contention, at once.  And my guilt continued, because of it.  Yet that “little voice” in my head kept holding me back.  If I were to summarize what it kept saying, it was basically:

Wait, Jon… just wait.  There’s no hurry.  This is your time.  This time, you’re going to be smart. 

You’ve got to harden your heart, to help ensure that you’re looking at this not only from an emotional perspective, but also from a practical and rationally self-interested one.  Meaning, you have to make sure that the fit is right for you; if you do this mostly or even partly out of pure charity, this is going to end badly – very badly.

This time, you’re going to wait.  It will be worth it.

And so, more weeks went by.  I met a few dogs that came close to what I thought I was looking for, and from whom I felt good vibes.  Yet that “little voice” kept echoing in my mind:

Wait… wait, it will be worth it.

As the weeks turned into months, I began getting really discouraged, and even more down on myself.

The CASPCA staff had no more advice to offer.  I think I’d become something of a conversation piece there (probably not in a positive sense).  Although I’m a friendly guy, as the weeks wore on, I got the sense that some of the staff started getting a little annoyed.  Which spurred me to think, I should just adopt a puppy, and be done with it.

During this three-month span, I went through quite an emotional roller coaster, waiting for a thunderbolt that would tell me, “THIS is the right puppy for me.  THIS is the one I’ve been waiting for.”

And then, another thought hit me: What if, as in the romantic aspect of my life, finding the right puppy means I’ll be waiting for a very long time?

As I describe in the full version of Section I, it took until age 26 (1990) to meet the girl that made me feel the Earth move under my feet (and then, I completely messed up, in large part because I waited too long to say anything).  It wasn’t until 1998 that I met Patricia, and while I loved her deeply, it was not the same.

But that “little voice” in my head kept holding me back.  The CASPCA staff knew I was getting impatient, and I remember one of them gently teased me, “What, none of our pups are good enough for you?”  I knew what she meant.  But I, too, was getting tired of hearing myself trying to explain to them, and friends, what I was feeling (and not).

I decided to give myself until Monday, March 25, 2002 to find the “right” puppy for me, and if I didn’t, I would discontinue my search at the CASPCA.  Perhaps I would take a break and reconsider, or start visiting other SPCAs in Central Virginia, or start looking online.

And then, just when I was about to give up…

…it happened.


From Section II(3): “And then… it happened”

So I went into her cage, picked her up, and held her in front of me, eye to eye.  We just looked at each other.  Her, with her puppy smile; me, with a look like… I don’t know what I looked like, but it felt very special.

Shayna leaned over and began to lick my face.  Other puppies had done this during my many previous visits, but it wasn’t quite the same.  Whereas I felt their “kisses” were out of loneliness, desperation, or because of something I’d eaten earlier that had left a delectable aroma on my face, I sensed that Shayna’s “kisses” were from a more profound place – of saying:

You see?  Sometimes appearances can be surprising, eh?  Good on you, Jon.  Good on you.

And as I looked in her eyes, something hit me.  Hard.  Something very powerful, and very profound.

For only the second time in my life, I felt the Earth move under my feet (the first being the moment I met the girl with whom I thought I would spend the rest of my life, back in 1990).  It was a thunderbolt that rocked my entire existence; the signal that I had been waiting, hoping, and praying for.  And that “little voice” came back, and said:

This, Jon, this may be the one.  This little girl, this beautiful black puppy, confined in this cage, whom you met against your better judgment – this may be the one you have been waiting for. 

Even though her gender and outward appearance don’t match what you envisioned for your first dog, she may just be the one.  Look at her.  Breathe her in.  Do you feel that connection?  Do you feel that spiritual compatibility? 

Think, man.  Think!

3months1So I carried her over to the leash rack, clipped one on her, and set her down.  And we walked – just as I had with probably sixty or seventy or more other pups at the SPCA during my visits.

But this was very different.

As we walked, and looked at each other, and took in each other’s auras, and played together in a little grassy area nearby, I felt an overwhelming sense of… something within me, bubbling to the surface.

It felt… natural.

It felt like we were… at home, together.

As I held her, and played, and held her some more, I felt tears coming to my eyes.  And then I began openly crying.  Hard, heavy tears.

I think it was because the more she looked at me, and the more I breathed in her aura, and the connection I felt with her, the more it seemed that after all the pain, shame and humiliation that the universe had dealt to me… after all the broken dreams and wasted efforts and disappointments and betrayals that had seemed to define so much of my life… it felt like in this one moment, the cosmos handed me a winning lottery ticket, in the form of the real, true, “perfect” first dog for me.


From Life Lesson 8: “Loving your dog means being a savvy shopper of dog products and services”

If you’re like me, at least once a day you tell your dog, “I love you.”  We’re not alone; a 2008 national survey revealed that 91% of pet owners report saying “I love you” to their furry friends.  It’s easy to say – because in your heart, you know it’s true.

But I’ve learned that love requires much more than showing kindness and affection, and saying those three little words.  It requires doing what is in your dog’s best interests, both spiritually and physically.  The key to doing this is knowledge – not assumptions or guesswork.  Knowledge is the only way to know how to approach your dog’s needs, and to judge the quality of the products and services that you may consider obtaining for him.

When you think of the responsibilities inherent in being a dog’s “parent,” being a “savvy shopper” probably isn’t one of them.  But think about it: Why do you shop around for your TV, stereo or smartphone?  Several answers come to mind: To learn about the products that each manufacturer is offering; how they rate in terms of quality; the warranties that back them up; and which retailers are offering the most competitive pricing and services (delivery, set-up, etc.).  Only then are you in a position to purchase with confidence, because you’ve acquired the first-hand knowledge that is vital to informed decision-making.

What I belatedly learned is that the effective dog parent cannot afford to do any less when it comes to the products and services that are available, and even those that are recommended by the “experts,” for a dog’s health and well-being.  Some people may dismiss this concern.  After all, they’ll say, we’re “only” talking about a dog, and anything on the market is probably okay for them – or it wouldn’t be there.  Others will say that one should effectively have blind faith in whatever one’s veterinarian says.

Both are wrong.  By virtue of the fact that you’re reading this book (and that you’ve made it this far in it!), I’ll assume you take this matter very seriously – and that you know, or suspect, that how you approach it could make a huge difference to your dog.

I was never dismissive of these concerns.  But I did make grossly unwarranted assumptions about two vitally-important issues – which proved to be both dangerous and costly:

1) I assumed that I could intuitively judge the quality of care and pricing we were receiving from our veterinarian.  This ended up costing me a small fortune, which could have eased other aspects of Shayna’s and my life together, after my 2002 accident turned my life upside down, and imposed severe economic hardships on me.

2) I assumed that I could intuitively determine which dog food, treats and human foods would be safe for Shayna to consume.  Were it not for Shayna’s iron-like digestive tract, this erroneous perception could easily have gotten her very sick or killed her, within her first year (discussed soon).  Other errors helped to push her into mild obesity for a time.

But how can you tell the difference between accurate and erroneous perceptions?  Through your own independent research of what’s being offered to you and your best friend, and your honest evaluation of everything you think you know.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned about the physical aspects of dog care, from which you may benefit – especially if you’re a new or aspiring dog parent:


From Life Lesson 12: “Love may be infinite – but time isn’t”

Realizing that our days together won’t last forever, I’ve learned to strive to make the most of every day that Shayna and I have together, and to do the little things that make life sweet.  This “life lesson” was not learned exclusively through my interaction with Shayna; as described earlier, I endured the rapid-succession deaths of four of the most important people in my life, shortly before 9/11.  And in the case of Patricia, I learned that death can jump out of nowhere and, within weeks, snuff out the life of a healthy, beautiful, vivacious middle-aged woman, in a horrible and ugly way.

But the miracle of the life that Shayna and I enjoy definitely expanded the principles of this lesson to new proportions, made me value every second as never before, and avoid allowing myself to take anything for granted, ever again.

When I adopted Shayna, I made my promise to her to give her the best life I was capable of.  With my newfound realization of the finiteness of her life, this commitment clearly took on new meaning, and new significance.

Two movies that I saw shortly before adopting Shayna also helped to punctuate this commitment, and to realize how precious every moment of life really is.  They also helped to teach me how the way we spend the individual moments that constitute our lives, and how we honor those we really love, can end up determining the direction and outcome of our existence.

The first movie was “Hope Floats” (1998; trailer), which stars and was co-produced by Sandra Bullock.  Sandra plays Birdie, a Chicago woman who went on a national TV talk show, thinking that she’s going to get a cosmetic makeover – but instead is informed that her husband has been cheating on her with her best friend.  Birdie takes their pre-teen daughter and returns to her hometown in Texas, to stay with her mother (Gena Rowlands), an eccentric yet grounded, happy woman.  Birdie is unable to pry herself out of her depression, rejects the advances of a genuinely decent man (Harry Connick, Jr.), and drifts and wallows.  Her mother, frustrated with Birdie, finally tells her:

Do you think life goes on forever?  That behind every chance is another one and another one?  It’s the worst kind of extravagance, the way you spend your chances.

For one who was spending his life assuming that there would be endless time and chances to turn everything around, as I was, that was a line that I played over and over in my mind – especially the part that followed it, when Birdie’s mother passed, and she had to learn to care for herself, and her daughter, all over again.  (This movie was generally panned by critics, yet is another reason why I adore Sandra, for producing and starring in it.)

The second movie that really punctuated this theme for me, in several additional, profound ways, was “Vanilla Sky” (2001; trailer), a psychological thriller & love story by one of my favorite modern writer-directors, Cameron Crowe.  The main character, David Aames (Tom Cruise), realizes that he’d treated a woman who loved him very poorly – and that her resulting psychological breakdown ended up costing him a lifetime with the first woman he actually loved (Penélope Cruz).  Then, in a soul-jarring moment of self-realization, when someone else chronicles how carelessly he lived his life – and how a life is composed of individual moments and decisions – David whispers, seemingly asking the universe:

The little things… there’s nothing bigger, is there?

Watch this scene here. After I adopted Shayna, and saw these movies again, those lines took me by storm. They reminded me that no matter how grand my dreams, or how much I hope to achieve, or how hard I tell myself I’m working to provide a better life for myself and Shayna, that’s not what she sees and experiences.  Rather, what she sees and experiences are individual moments that collectively constitute an hour, a day, a week. That’s all that matters. If someone were to ask her, “Shayna, was today a good day? Did you have fun with your dad?,” my objective, my obligation, is to ensure that if she could answer, as often as reasonably possible, she would respond with an enthusiastic, “Absolutely!”


From Life Lesson 16 (by Shayna): “Try to find as many reasons to say ‘Good!’ as to say ‘No!'”

The four most important words Dad ever says to me

Telling Daddy with a kiss how much I love him, at Dr. Raab’s office (May 8, 2013).

Telling Daddy with a kiss how much I love him, at Dr. Raab’s office (May 8, 2013).

If you were to ask Dad what he thinks the four most important words he says to me are, I think he’d say they are, “I love you, Shayna!”  While those words do, in fact, make me feel wonderful, I already know that he loves me.  I’ve known it since the first time he said it to me, more than eleven years ago, and I am reminded of it when he utters those words to me numerous times, every day.

The four words that I consider most important, though, in the context of this Life Lesson, are: “You can do it.”

Dad says those words whenever he’s teaching me a new trick.  You may not think I know what those words mean, but keep in mind their context: he says them when he has introduced a new toy to our routine; or he wants me to do something new with one of them, such as to put them into my new basketball hoop.  I will look at him for instruction, after he’s given the command, and he will look deep into my eyes, and whisper, “You can do it!  Put the (toy) into the (destination).”

When I hear those four words, I know that he believes in me, that he knows I am capable of learning what he’s trying to teach me.  This bolt of self-confidence – of Dad’s expression of confidence that I can do things that even I may doubt myself – always makes me feel like a million treats.