Author submitted tributes to good dogs

by Tracy Shipley

I brought him into our lives with no expectations other than for him to just be our dog.

What he brought to us was far greater. He brought an unwavering love and devotion never to be matched. He became the keeper of my deepest thoughts, fears, sadness, and happiness. He knew my mood as soon as I walked in the door and he would match it by bringing me his favorite toy to look at but not to touch, or he would sit at my feet and push his body into my legs and when I would sit down he would sit on my lap and melt his body into mine. Other times he would dance around on his toes in delight and sing to me in his loud beautiful hound voice. He would howl if I howled and bay at nothing and I swear most of the time it was just to make me smile.

No one truly understood what Sean and I saw in him that made him so special. He was always full of sass. He held a great dislike for strangers, white or curly-haired dogs, snakes, and children. He hated being touched while sleeping. On most days he had his own doggy agenda and was going to follow it no matter what we thought.

He was our protector. He would hear a noise outside and would puff his chest out and trot to the window while grumbling the whole way. His brother got shocked by an electric wire that was around the sweet corn and let out a yelp and Eli was there ready to woop whatever hurt his brother.

He delighted in hunting a ground hog that had made his home under the grain bin–he was determined and persistent until he accomplished that job. He hunted cats, rats, squirrels, snakes, and birds. He rolled in dead stinky things with a smile on his face. He helped me garden by digging holes and loved Sean Dewey and me to the bitter end.

It has been 365 days since we said our goodbyes, there has not been a day that I have not thought about him. I cried everyday for months and I still cry today. But Eli is not gone, he comes to me in my dreams I see him in the shadows and I feel him climb on the bed some nights to lay down. But when I reach out for him, I find that spot empty. Sean had the same dream a couple nights ago, so I know that he is here. He will never be gone as long as he runs in my heart.

He and Dewey are my empty nesters dogs, the dogs that became my babies when we lost the 2 pregnancies. Losing Eli was harder than I ever expected. He was family and was way more than “just a dog”.

Eli born on April 15, 2008. Gone too soon on February 16, 2019. 10 years and 9 months will never be long enough.

Author: Tracy Shipley 

Lola was not an easy dog. 

Pretty much the whole family was with my adult daughter Lauren when she selected Lola, a black mixed lab, at the humane society.  

“This is the one.” she said. 

Lola was just a puppy, but even puppies carry baggage, as we soon realized; she feared all men with the exception of my husband and son.

Lola had other “qualities.”  She could manage to reach any food item on the counter no matter how far back it was placed. She barked indiscriminatingly at all of our neighbors. One Thanksgiving in the country it took us an hour chasing her to get her back into the van to return home. Thunderstorms sent her under my bed. Still, she was loved. And I fondly recall watching the movie 101 Dalmatians with her in my bed.

Lola and Lauren drifted in and out of our home for holidays or periods between life transitions – Lauren’s graduate studies, new jobs, and wedding preparations. But Lola came to live with us permanently when Lauren realized her toddler Peter and second child was allergic to dogs. My husband Jimmy and I already had two dogs, Salt and Pepper, but Lola joined the pack. Lauren and the children drove from Abington, Pennsylvania, to Charlotte, North Carolina, to bring her to live with us.

When we moved to a smaller house, Lola went also, and we aged together like two old ladies.  Only Lola was not aging well.  She began having neurological issues that didn’t improve.

By now Lauren had three children, and they were staying with us for a few weeks one summer.  Despite all the years with us, Lola was still Lauren’s dog, and when Lola could no longer manage to walk outside without assistance, Lauren made the call.  I could not bring myself to put her through the agony of a trip to our veterinarian’s office, so we arranged for a doctor to come to our home.

Lauren had previously scheduled her children to attend vacation Bible school at a local church that morning. However, before they left, she instructed Geneva, Peter, and Luke to say their goodbyes to Lola. We situated Lola on blankets on the den floor, and each child bent down to hug her gently and whisper their farewell.

“Goodbye, Lola.”

“I love you, Lola.”

Then they left.

The veterinarian did her job quietly, efficiently, and respectfully.  The first shot relaxed Lola, and at that point the rest of the family gathered, a ritual for us. My children had admonished me on the occasion I singly took our cat to be put down. The second shot did the job.

Between that moment and the return of the children, my son David and husband Jimmy dug the hole in our back yard.  (Shhhh…don’t tell anyone.)  Actually, a plaque inscribed with “Our dear pet” partway down the hill indicated that Lola was not the first to be buried there. The yard sloped gently and was populated by numerous oak trees to provide a natural setting.  On that particular day the ground was hard and difficult to dig in due to stifling summer days and precious little rain. Nevertheless, we accomplished our task. 

We thought we had done it right, but when the children entered the house at lunchtime, they were confused.

“Where is Lola?”

Had we used some euphemism to explain what was happening to spare them?  Had we missed a teaching moment in our rush to bury her? Our comments seemed inadequate. Some say that children, as well as adults, need to grieve for pets as part of the lesson to understand our own mortality. Maybe that’s true. 

I remember someone asking if a book/movie about a dog existed in which the dog did not die in the end.  At the time I failed to think of one.

When David’s dogs visit, they madly race down that same hill after a squirrel or the occasional deer.  During the autumn months as the leaves heavily gather in the yard and the smell of wood fires permeates the air, I make sure that the worn plaque and stones lie uncovered, so I can find the exact spot where my Lola lies.

       

 

Author: Donna Morris

The following is a submission by Pamela Desloges, from North Carolina. Throughout the year we’ll feature different stories that have been selected to be part of our book. This is Josie’s story, You Never Know.

Sometimes you never get to see the far-reaching impact of your deeds. But then again, sometimes you do. 

When Josie and I picked each other out at the animal shelter, I whispered in her ear that we would have good times, and her eyes sparkled in reply. We hiked mountains, canoed lakes, sat on the village green during summer concerts, spent long weekends with friends in Maine, took walks in snowstorms while waiting for the plow to clear our driveway. She traveled with me from Maine to Alaska and down to Florida. She was seldom on a leash and was welcome everywhere. I always felt safer traveling with her, although she couldn’t drive a standard or read a map. 

Josie was a border collie/Lab mix who had a subtle but profound effect on people. When we had been together for two years, I decided it was time for her to get a job. She had earned her Canine Good Citizen Certificate at a local dog show after I signed her up on a whim; she would be perfect for therapy-dog work.

Near our house in the mountains of New Hampshire, there was a private nursing home called The Log Cabin. It actually had log siding and sat off the road in a forested area. It was small—with maybe twenty to twenty-five residents. I brought Josie to meet the director, who reviewed our credentials and was delighted at the idea of my bringing Josie to visit the residents every week. Soon we were spending our Wednesday mornings there. 

I initially consulted with the staff about which rooms to enter, and always asked each resident if they would like to see the dog. Some declined. Most, however, were glad to have us visit them. We spent about fifteen minutes in each room, with lots of laughter and chatting. We enjoyed our visits and getting to know the folks.

I remember Alice, who chirped with delight when she saw Josie. Every week, she rubbed Josie’s head and crooned, “What a sweet dog! What’s her name?”

“Josie.”

“How old is she?”

“She’s four.”

“I had dogs. I always had dogs. Big ones like this. What’s her name?”

“Josie.”

“How old is she?”

Alice was one of our favorites.

On the second floor, there were fewer rooms; the people there seemed more independent. I guessed that they might have been there because they had no other place to live. 

The first time we knocked on the open door of room 206, a woman answered that she did not care for a visit from a dog, but would love to chat with me for a few minutes anyway. Josie and I went in, and Dorothy offered me a chair next to her rocker. While we talked, Josie lay quietly on the floor beside me, pretty much unnoticed. Dorothy was physically fit, mentally alert, and interesting to talk with. I enjoyed our short conversations. Dorothy had a niece who lived nearby and came every week to take her out to lunch and make sure she had everything she needed.

One Wednesday, I looked into Dorothy’s room and she wasn’t there. I assumed she was out with her niece and proceeded down the hallway.

The next week when Josie and I got to her door, I was relieved to see her sitting in her rocking chair. As soon as she saw us, she called out for us to come in. “Bring the dog over here.” She reached out and ran her thin fingers over Josie’s smooth fur. During our visit, she never took her hands off Josie and gazed at her constantly. 

She explained that the previous week, she had experienced a “heart incident.” Emergency personnel were summoned and whisked her to the hospital. She said that the ambulance ride was overwhelming, and she was terrified that she was going to die. 

“But then I thought of your dog. I kept envisioning her and that comforted me. I pictured her while I was in the emergency room. She was with me all the time at the hospital.” Dorothy held Josie’s face in her hands and kissed her on the nose. “I don’t think I could have made it without her.” 

Josie and I spent fifteen years together until she died of old age. Now I, too, picture her. When I think of her, my skin hurts because I miss her so much. But, like Dorothy, I feel a great calm when I see her face. I, too, think of many times that I could not have made it without her. 

Sometimes you never know. But I always knew. Right from the moment I clipped a leash onto her collar at the animal shelter. When her soft golden eyes looked into mine and said, We’re good. 

We were. Together, we were the best.

Author: Pamela Desloges

The following is a submission by Callum Saunders, from Glossop, England. Throughout the year we’ll feature different stories that have been selected to be part of our book. This is Ruby.

There are many stories I could tell you about Ruby. And many different ways in which I could tell you those stories. But after several weeks of gestation, I kept circling back to one driving force: the only way to truly tell Ruby’s story is through the lens of an old photograph. How a visual image triggers a written story is less an irony and more a confluence of currents.

And as those currents started to become words flowing from my fingertips, it became clear that I wasn’t writing “a story” about Ruby, but more how her story continues to move through me today; how I see, navigate, and sense a world of memories all around me whenever I am back at the family home. Perception, space, and time dance with each other in mysterious ways. 

And the flow of Ruby’s energy continues to be felt today.

I found a box of photographs the other day. Real, physical photographs, glossy, tactile and wonderful. Even the most innocuous of memories feels somehow more meaningful when committed to physical print. One of these photographs was slightly bent in one corner, where it had clearly been squashed into the box. I picked it up and looked upon it, instantly transported back to a time and place as the beauty of what it captured drew me in.

The landscape was the Sussex Downs, right behind my mother’s house—up high on chalky downland that has curved and undulated for millennia. I am lying prone on the grass, giving a lower sense of perspective. The midpoint of the photo is the horizon, where the warm, pallid earth meets a pastel sky. My three siblings are there, walking up hilly tussocks toward an eternal July evening. I can feel their motion and hear their chatter right now.

In the foreground, plodding after them, is a black shadow with four legs. To say she is shapeless is not intended as factual, but a reflection of her age; the glossy contours of a Labrador’s prime long gone.

There is no specific symbolism behind this particular photograph, no occasion beyond the very scene it captures. It merely framed a moment in time, when four siblings had managed to come back home together at the same time. I remembered feeling as if we had the Sussex Downs to ourselves on an evening when heaven and earth seemed fused as one.

And it’s this singular image that evokes everything Ruby was to me. Her loyal following and slow gait, her subtle yet constant presence, her inquisitive and loving eyes. Her happiness just lying somewhere, being with her family, and taking in the world around her—as though she existed on a time continuum slower than our own. Even today I often see parts of my own personality in hers: the humanity of a dog is never to be underestimated.

The English poet Edward Thomas penned a poem titled “The Unknown.” Three lines have always struck me:

“The simple lack of her
Is more to me
Than other’s presence.”

I look upon the garden on warm summer days and gaze longingly at the same patch of grass where she lay in her final years. Silent, content, and immovable, she was a black rock: steadfast and true, in the humming, pulsing rhythm of an English garden in August. Her ashes are buried right behind it, and feed a rose we bought for the occasion—a variety named Ruby (what else)—but it’s that patch of warm, baked earth, rather than the blooms her ashes send forth every year, that sings to me and speaks to my soul. “The simple lack of her is more to me than others’ presence.”

At the family dinner table, I can almost feel her head upon my thigh—Labradors and the eternal optimism of a tidbit from the table. How strange it is that she has been gone all these years, and yet my soul still has the muscle memory to outline the shape of her head with my hands, to still know the very weight of that old head as it plodded down upon my leg.

As I move through the family home, there are tens of different spaces—worn patches, scratches, chewed baskets—that still tell her tale to those who knew her and can read the inscriptions. Her story is not reimagined and retold in our minds. It’s there in physical space, while time dances around it.

“The simple lack of her is more to me than others’ presence.”

As I look at this photograph now, I can feel her heat in dusty whispers.

My Ruby.

Author: Callum Saunders

When I rolled out of bed Tuesday morning, my wife Tina called me into the hallway where she was kneeling down next to our thirteen-year-old Australian Shepherd, Tucker. “It’s time,” she said.