article image

Guest Essay: The Perfect Armpit Pooch

“I am I because my little dog knows me.”

—Gertrude Stein


There have been nine canines in my life: I’ve adored each one madly. It was with Shayna the Shihpoo I began to realize what is in a dog’s DNA just might be more amazing than ever thought possible.

The first in my queue of four-legged babies was Scotty-Pal, a dog I had for 12 minutes, but that’s another story.

We adopted Dixie, the Cocker Spaniel, in Fort Campbell, Ky., where we lived for my husband’s Army stint. Mickey was requisitioned from Brooklyn to head the accounting department at Army hospital in Clarksville. We named the pooch Y’all o Dixie.

Ashley and Truffle, the Standard Poodle cousins, were four-legged human beings, as any Standard Poodle parent will bear witness. They were with me for 12 and 13 years respectively proceeding the fluffy focus of this story, the 12-pound canine that carries her long tail high and over the back.

It was at one of our family meetings both my offsprings decided big dogs were a thing of the past and an armpit pooch was in order since no one of my years should have to lift a 70-pound dog as I had to do with Truffle at the close of her life.

Enter Shayna. didn’t have to show more than one photo, and I was hooked. My son and I picked her up at the two-woman rescue facility in Yuba City. She had been on intravenous feedings since birth, was the sole survivor of six in the litter to have lived and beaten the deadly Parvovirus, and hand-fed till we came for her. “If your veterinarian gives her an all-clear; fine, if not we will take her back.” Fat chance I thought.

“Mom, call her Shayna. She is so damn adorable.”

“Perfect,” I said.

Shayna at 1-year-old was my constant companion. On this particular evening, I needed to attend the Compassionate Friends meeting in Cotati. A short time into his 56th year, my eldest left us for what he called “The Big Sleep.” My son came home from the military with hepatitis C 30 years earlier that now had ravaged his liver. This meeting was a support group for parents.

At the time Shayna weighed about 9 pounds, the perfect armpit pooch. She sat quietly on my lap as the leader spoke giving us the background of the group and the ways and means of the meeting.

“Place the picture of your child on the turntable in the center of the room and begin to share. You have five to seven minutes.

The first to speak was a 20-something-year-old man whose child was stillborn. His wife was inconsolable trying to breathe through tears when without warning Shayna jumped off my lap and onto hers. Her salty tears were licked away as the puppy burrowed herself into the woman’s folded arms. All the room went quiet as we all saw a more peaceful demeanor come over the grieving mother.

There were 12 mourners in the room, and one by one as each spoke and cried, this small pup continued her mission until it was my turn to speak and she returned to my lap and licked away my tears.

Shayna is now 9 years old.

Compassionate Friends is a peer support group operating in 30 countries. It is a registered charity formed by and for parents whose children have died, irrespective of the child’s age at death.

Shayna, by the way, means beautiful. And she is.

B Hana-Austin lives in Calistoga and writes often about — the Brooklyn of yesterday. “Dietrich and Me,” one of Hana-Austin’s many short stories, has been included in One Hundred Voices, Volume II, which is available on Early in 2019, her Kosher Style Stories will be available as a free Podcast. Contact her


Main article photo by: Photos courtesy B Hana-Austin