When I was five years old, I went to bed nightly, praying I'd wake to find I'd magically become Timmy Martin, the little boy that lived on a small family farm somewhere in TV land. I never worried about the life I'd be leaving behind, or the fact that I was a girl, and Timmy a boy. I just knew that Timmy owned Lassie, and Lassie loved Timmy, and I'd do just about anything for the love of a dog.
Needless to say, I never woke to find the four-legged love of my life, sleeping at my feet, but I continued to survive the six days in between Lassie episodes, to walk vicariously in Timmy's shoes, if only for thirty minutes a week. It would be another five years before our beloved Scottie, Duncan would join the family, and by that time, after ten years of watching Lassie save the day, I supposed I knew all I'd ever know about canine loyalty and devotion. I'd find out years later, that I was wrong.
As much as I loved Duncan, he was clearly my mother's dog, for she was the one that he spent the most time with, home alone together, while we were at school and play. Mom was the one that took care of his needs, and it was to her he ran when he tired of our rough-housing, or when Dad raised his voice in anger.
Duncan left us, after a long and happy life, the year my second daughter was born, and he remains my mother's one and only. She's always claimed that he was irreplaceable, and I suppose he was.
With a family of our own, Rick and I agreed to raise our girls with canine companions, which we did. Scotties continued to be a favorite, but we also opened our door and our hearts to a prissy little Maltese and a yappy Yorkie as well. Our girls and their families continue to share their lives today, with an assortment of lop-eared, tail-waggers.
Liberty and Chloe (with ball)
In 1998, we returned from Europe with my new best friend, Chloe, a chesty, snow-white, yellow lab. The perfect, soft-mouthed bird-dog and hunting companion, she carried a stuffed doll in lieu of a bird in her velvety-soft muzzle. In Chloe's honor, we christened our ranch, White Dog Farm. A year later, Chloe and her mate, Liberty, our bleach-blond, California surfer-dude, surprised us with a litter of ten healthy puppies. Born in a whelping box where the kitchen table once stood, our house became their nursery and playground.
Unable to choose just one puppy from the litter, our white dog population was expanded to include Summer and Guinness. One lucky little female, made a cross country trip by air to Pittsburgh, where she resided happily for several years with my aunt and uncle. Her name is Shannon.
Shannon at Christmas with Lynn
Shannon was thoroughly devoted to her mistress, my aunt Lynn, who though married, had no children of her own. Her dogs were her kids, and Shannon was her all-time favorite, and constant companion. When Lynn was diagnosed with cancer and fell ill, Shannon never left her side. I can still see her, curled up on the floor a few feet from the sofa where Lynn laid. She was careful not to be a menace or obstacle over which her mistress might fall, but was within an easy arms reach if needed for comfort.
We all worried for Shannon when Lynn died, realizing she'd be spending her days with little if any human companionship. But, she obediently adjusted to spending ten or more hours alone in a dark basement with her young canine companion Maggie. My uncle died less than two years after his wife, leaving Shannon and Maggie, orphaned. Fulfilling a promise I'd made to my aunt years before, we adopted the pair who joined us in California. Shannon is the last known-living member of her family, the last of our beloved white dogs.
We reside together today, once again living in Pennsylvania. Shannon is an old lady now, but no less devoted to me, than she was to her first mistress. Though hobbled with arthritis, she insists upon joining me on my walks around the cottage grounds, never leaving my side to return home ahead. Ever the vigilant guardian, she is loving and patient with the grandkids and has been known to nap regularly at the foot of the baby stroller or cradle.
I know that my days with Shannon are numbered and I will miss her when she passes away, but I am comforted at the knowledge that her gentle soul will be greeted on the other side by her first lovingly devoted mistress, who I know is waiting.
Shannon, napping in the warm grass at the cottage. I've often wondered, if she dreams of Lynn and the life they shared.