Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them

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English Shepherd, Billy
Judith Sutherland's English Shepherd, Billy.

All dogs go to heaven because, unlike people, dogs are naturally good and loyal and kind.”

— Anne-Marie

When my children were very young, my husband surprised me with a perfect Mother’s Day gift.

Doug had heard plenty about the English Shepherd of my childhood. My paternal grandfather, by this time, had stopped raising them. I feared I’d never find another.

We went for a ride on Mother’s Day of 1989, our son, Cort, 2 years old; daughter, Caroline, a newborn. Doug pulled into a farm I was not familiar with, and he told me there was a surprise waiting for me in the red barn.

Mitch and Shirley Oney came to greet us, and led us to a sweet black and tan English Shepherd and her puppies. I was overcome with emotion as I learned we were choosing one for our own.

We returned a couple weeks later to claim our incredible Miss Murphy. She grew to be a large, beautiful, intelligent dog who helped us keep our children safe. When they played outside, she was their shadow. When they were old enough to go to school, she waited impatiently for their safe return.

Murphy chose to sleep on the floor of one or the other’s bedroom, except when Doug had to travel for business. On those nights, she slept at the foot of the stairs leading to our bedrooms. When I came to realize this very clear pattern Murphy had adopted, my love and admiration for her grew deeply.

No one was happier that Murphy was part of our family than my dad. I would share things she did, and Dad would grin and say, “I could tell English Shepherd stories all day long and still never share them all.”

When he was young, one of the English Shepherds would serve as his make-believe horse. Finding rope to serve as reins, Dad said he was surely insufferable. “They put up with me, each one, and stayed by my side even though I didn’t really deserve their loyal treatment.

Dad recalled the dog “Major” exploring the farm and the creek with him, and helping bring the milk cows in from pasture. “If there was trouble to get into, we were going to get into it together,” Dad said with a chuckle.

It later became my job to bring in our cows for the evening milking. Our English Shepherd, Bill, and I completed this together. He often started the job without me once I was older. He knew it was time with no one instructing him, and would begin moving the Holsteins from the far pasture. I would praise him as soon as I arrived to finish the job of closing gates behind the herd. His wagging tail conveyed to me that simple praise was fine payment.

Dad loved seeing my children sharing their young adventures with Murphy. When I raised litters from Murphy and several of her daughters, Dad beamed with joy. My pups went into many states from the east to the west coast. I was repeating his mother’s accomplishments.

“When life grows cold, a dog will warm your soul,” writes Angie Weiland-Crosby.

Dad, just a boy of 12, told of retreating to the barn with his dog in the sorrowful days after his beloved mother died so unexpectedly in March 1946, during a tonsillectomy. She was only 36.

The summer I was 36, we laid my father to rest. He was 63; the loss was crushing. I later realized retreating to the woods for quiet walks with Murphy nearly every day as summer turned to autumn, then winter, had been the balm that helped me get through it.

This Memorial Day, my dad would be celebrating his 92nd birthday. I like to think he is celebrating with all the people and dogs he loved, exploring the Milky Way in the great beyond.

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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, and three grandchildren.

1 COMMENT

  1. Your article is about a very special breed of dog,the English Shepherd.I have found that some special cats
    can help us through difficult times,as well.My cat and I go for walks each day.It is the highlight of his day,and mine,as you have shared in your article about losing your dad,and comfort from your beloved canine.
    Loved your article,and Billy is one good looking boy.Thank you for sharing
    and bringing a smile to my face.

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