“Andy Beagle was out at dawn this morning doing a bit of rabbit work. He is 12 years old now, and stiff in the joints sometimes, but on a misty morning when scents cling to the grasses there is nothing like hunting rabbit after breakfast to keep an old guy in shape.”
— Sue Hubbell, “A Country Year: Living the Questions”
One of the single greatest things about having grown up on a farm is the number of dogs I have been blessed to know. Raising my children in the same way brought joy doubled many times over.
Our children were in high school when we moved to this farm, and we all agreed we wanted to get an English Shepherd puppy as soon as possible.
Together we enjoyed watching our young English Shepherd female winding around in the wide open alfalfa field, her tail straight up, her joy obvious.
The enchanting Miss Channing was, from the very start, a great dog, but there was always the memory of our late great Miss Murphy standing in her shadow. I miss her to this day.
Our move to this farm came after her death, and each of us, in turn, commented on how much Murphy would have loved it here. The waterways would have drawn her like a magnet, the open fields and pastures surely captivating her for hours on end. The crop of groundhogs would have been thinned in no time flat.
Murphy was not only part of our family, she was so present in our lives that she had become a part of each one of us. She had been my Mother’s Day gift when Caroline was a baby, and Murphy knew instinctively that both Cort and Caroline were her sacred projects. She herded them well, and she took great pride in doing so.
I still remember how Murphy would sleep upstairs in the hallway, central to any one of us who might need her during the night. She did this every single night, except for the stretches of time when Doug was traveling on business. On those nights, she refused to come upstairs, but would lie at the bottom of the open stairway, leaning against the bottom step, on guard.
Channing, on the other hand, never enjoyed being in the house. She would whimper and whine and when the door opened, she would run to the barn, happy doing what she saw as her job in our world. A smaller, more lithe version of Murphy, Channing would run and hunt with wild abandon until chore time, always on hand for barn duty.
She followed along without being a nuisance, watching every chore as though she might be called upon to complete it tomorrow. She understood that hay must be thrown down from the upper barn loft to the main floor below, and devised her own shortcut in order to be on hand in both places in no time flat, always without getting in the way.
Her big brown eyes took it all in, and her ears perked as if to say, “What can I do to help?” Smart as a whip, Channing could recall the order of a chore after watching it completed just a time or two.
When the chores were done and field hunting lost its thrill, when all the chipmunks had been chased to high limbs in the trees near the house, Channing would turn to the barn cats for her entertainment.
Everyone who has ever had a friendly dog knows that part of the thrill is in the chase when it comes to cats. All of our barn cats figured this out, too, and most would simply lie down when Channing raced toward them.
So, she invented her own game, pouncing on the cats, trying to get them to wrestle and play, moving them about with her paws, then carefully and lightly sitting on top of them. This crazy maneuvering prompted more than one visitor to our farm to say, “Oh, my gosh! I’ve never seen such a thing!”
Channing lived out her days with joy, growing gray in the muzzle and stiff in her movements, succumbing to old age with a quiet grace a few years ago. I still think of her often.
Each dog I’ve had the pleasure to know will forever hold a special place in my heart, and on any given day, a memory evoked has the power to move me to tears, no matter how many years separate us.
If heaven is as I hope it to be, these beloved dogs are running, jumping and clamoring for the day those they have loved and watched over arrive for a grand, joyous reunion.
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