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My Dad and His Dogs

Every morning since Pixie had her litter of pups two weeks ago, they are the first thing I see when I come into the kitchen. They are flopped about in their box on the other side of the fridge seemingly drunk on her milk, and I’m compelled to stand and stare at them.

I can’t help but wish my dad were here to share in the sweetness they evoke. It’s been four years since he died, and some of my memories have faded but moments like these bring them back strongly. Dad loved dogs and always had at least one on the dairy farm. He regarded a good herding dog a necessity, but it wasn’t a very well-kept secret that he just liked having a dog around.

My dad's love for dogs started as a young child.

He appreciated their instinct to circle back and forth behind the cows each day as they moved them to and from their pasture down the country road we lived on. I remember him cautioning, sometimes gruffly, Lady, then Socks (Lady’s daughter), then Babe, then Kate and Allie when they got excited and ran the cows too fast, or when he wanted to draw their attention to a straying heifer.

While he expected a lot from his canine partners, he was generous with his praise and physical attention. After a long day baling hay, he would stretch out on the grass under a shade tree with the current collie or shepherd next to him. Before heading to the barn for the night milking,she’d relax as he’d absently scratched behind her ears or rub her belly.

And he was a sucker for puppies – like most of us are, but he was a sucker ten-fold! He’d smile like a little kid as he got down on the floor to let a puppy (or better yet, puppies) crawl on him, lick his nose, and chew on his fingers. He’d delight in their puppy-breath and the cute noises they made. He’d play until the worn-out pup gave up, cuddled next to him, and fell asleep.

His last farm dogs were sisters – Kate and Allie, named after the popular sitcom of the time. A few months after Babe passed away from old age, he went to Don and Connie Dolan’s farm in Clyde to look at their Australian Shepherd pups with the intention of bringing one home. Well, there were two little girls left, and he couldn’t decide between the two.

That isn’t quite true.

Actually, he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving one behind without the other, so he brought them both home! He figured he could make room on the farm for two dogs, and there was no question he had enough room in his heart.

Then there was Tess. When Dad and Mom moved off the farm, Mom, my sisters, and I surprised him on his birthday with a cute, lively, steel-gray miniature Schnauzer. Her sparkly eyes and soft fur put him under her spell from the moment he saw her. She was his constant companion.

He and Mom took her to puppy classes – something new for a farmer used to doing things his own way. He spent lots of time outside tending the many bushes and trees he had planted with Tess tagging along. He threw tennis balls for her, encouraged her to jump up on the couch next to him as he watched the news, and always – always - made sure to give her a small treat from his plate when he ate. Her world revolved around him, and his was enriched because of her. At times it even felt like I had another sister!

Dad struggled with his mental health during his last years because of his deteriorating physical health and other challenges he faced. Tess was both a comfort and a distraction, a best friend in every sense of the word. It tore him up to put her down when she became ill and her suffering was too much for either to bear anymore. In fact he died a month later and requested her ashes to be spread with his.

I’m not a believer of God and Heaven anymore but like to think that if I’m wrong, they are hanging together, free of the constrictions and stresses of this life.

I carry Tess’s red heart-shaped name tag in my purse as a reminder of their mutual love, and its importance to me. It was a gift they were lucky to share, and I am lucky to appreciate.

Maybe someday I won’t feel it necessary to keep it close, but for now, I do.

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