Life’s journey is lovelier with dogs

“I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me they are the role model for being alive.” — Gilda Radner

By JUDITH SUTHERLAND

Farm and Dairy columnist

Each day on this farm is a new gift, the best of which is enjoying my cast of characters — my dogs. My pair of English Shepherds do a great job of keeping an eye on things outside.

Channing might be resting on the porch, but the minute I pull up the long driveway, she bolts toward the pastures, then the barns, as if to let me know she is not really ever off-duty in her patrol of the place. She makes her circle, then makes her way to my side to greet me.

Billy, the ever-growing, impressive young dog is never far behind. Once such a gangly thing, Billy has grown into his features and is now a beautifully built black and tan young dog with a blaze of white on his chest. He is incredibly sensible for such a young pup and loves helping with chores in the barn.

When Doug draws water at the hydrant, Billy suddenly shows up right beside him, asking to be petted. The minute the faucet turns off, Billy goes about his business to complete his idea of chores, herding everything from young kittens out exploring to goats he wishes to move closer together. This is repeated several times over the course of morning and evening chores.

Worry

My biggest joy and greatest concern of late has been good old Spanky, our aging Pekingese. Spanky turned 13 in November, and he is showing his age. There are days he can still act like a puppy, this snow-white Peke with the happy temperament, but he seems easily confused. He will ask to be let out the back kitchen door, immediately want back in, then walk across my open kitchen to the north door, scratching with his paw to let me know he wants to go outside. Again.

Some days I see him stand in the lawn, his expression saying “now what did I come out here to do?” Spanky has been one of those gem-of-a-lifetime dogs. He grew up with our English Shepherd Miss Murphy, and the two of them were constants in my childrens’ lives.

Protector

Early photographs of my kids with chickenpox show a concerned Murphy, her head leaning on the couch. A very ill Caroline, then later Cort, always show Spanky curled up beside each of them.

Their friends learned to love Spanky, and I wish I had a recording of all the kids’ voices who said, “Man, I want to take that dog home with me!” I would often let Spanky ride along when it was time to pick my children up at school, and he would let me know it was time to head there, prancing at the door.

He could stand on his back haunches for the longest time, looking over the crowd of kids for his own two. He would run full out, a beautiful movement of white fur, when he spotted each one, rolling in to them with such glee, hopping back up to lead them to my vehicle. His pure joy in finding his kids was repeated each day and always made us smile.

Slowing down

Now, he sleeps in his comfy bed most of the day. We come home and he doesn’t notice our arrival for a long while. His hearing is gone, but his sweetness is still a constant. When he has pain in his bones, I sense it, and give him supplements to help him through it. He is such a dear dog, and the thought of not having him here is hard to contemplate.

I have sweet little Yorkies and Westies, and Spanky puts up with them, sometimes with a grimace and a benign grumble, but I assure him he is still the king of the house. He looks at me with adoring black eyes, lets out a sigh and goes back to sleep.

“Dogs’ lives are too short,” wrote Angles Turnbull, “their only fault, really.” Ah, so true.

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

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