Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Spot and Rachel

In my last post, I told the tale of King, our country neighbor and Rachel, our bouncy, happy-go-lucky, somewhat fool-hardy Irish Setter.

Rachel was a beautiful, golden-red Irish Setter with the most fantastic tail you've ever seen.   She waved it like a banner that goes before an army.  She was our forward guard.  When we kids would get off the school bus, Rachel would be there to welcome us and show us the way home.  When our family arrived home from any outing, she would meet us at the end of our 1/2 mile driveway and guide our car up the winding road, looking back frequently, to make sure we didn't get lost.

Rachel was my brother and my constant companion.  She never allowed us to explore the woods, creeks or fields without her, just in case she had to defend us, or, of course, there might be a bird, rabbit or ground squirrel to chase.  A dog had to think of such things!  Rachel was sometimes tethered to a knotted piece of baling twine so that my brother could "train" her, and other times she was dressed up in skirts and blouses, so that she could pretend to be the sister I never had.  Rachel was our faithful friend.

When I was about 13, I was riding my horse, Skitter down our driveway.  Horseback riding was my favorite occupation.  I never wanted to do the dishes, sweep the floor or feed the animals, but bring out a horse, and my eyes lit up.  I spent hours on horseback daydreaming of being in the Olympics.  One day I was a Cross-Country champion and the next day is was Stadium Jumping.  As I made my way through the woods, I would cue my horse to side pass, all the while, in my mind, I was in a Dressage arena, flawlessly maneuvering before the judge.  Anyway, on this particular day, I had taken a quick ride down the driveway.  My favorite part was coming home.  I always squeezed my horse into a canter as I passed the creek and sped up a small hill, making sure to be in my best form as I rounded the bend and our homestead came into view.  As I was cantering up the hill, Rachel, having a momentary Irish Setter moment, ran underneath my horses legs.  Hearing a quick yelp but nothing more, I didn't give it another thought.  When I reined my  horse in to dismount, a horrible sight met my eyes.  Rachel's long, beautiful tail was gone.  The feathered hair had been stripped clean and all that remained was a ghostly, white bone.  Our poor, gregarious dog was laid low.  Rachel, who was always the first to greet us with jubilation, was now cowering behind my parents.  She was desperately trying to hide her wounded member from our eyes.  Her pride was gone.

Dad and Mom transported our poor, embarrassed creature to the vet, about an hours drive away. There was nothing to be done but to amputate Rachel's tail.  Rachel came back to us a changed dog.  No longer did she meet us at the end of the driveway.  Now, she timidly wagged her stub when we showered her with praise and love.  Our dear Rachel was ashamed.

Not too long before the tail incident, we had acquired another dog, in a rather round-about way.  One day, on the way to town, we found a hound dog walking down the middle of the road.  It was rare to see a stray dog on our country road, but even more rare was seeing a stray hound.  Hounds are hunting dogs.  People spend a lot of money on a good hound and even more time training them.  Hunting hounds are a commodity, not to be misplaced.  Since this was a hound, we stopped and picked him up, knowing that his owner must be frantic to find him.  We drove to pick up our mail (about two miles from our house, on a little dirt road) and lo and behold, happened to meet up with the hounds owner.  His owner was a logger, who had picked him up on a lonely logging road in Montana, with paws bloodied from walking.  He named him "Snuf" and gave him the seat of honor in his logging truck.  We kids reluctantly relinquished our hold on "Snuf" and headed home.  By the time we made the two mile trip home, Snuf was sitting on our porch, patiently waiting for us to arrive.  He had never been to our house - but he knew just where to find us!  One more trip into town, to deliver this wayward hound once again, and we thought we were done.  It wasn't to be.  Once more, this lonely hound found his way to our doorstep.  After calling his owner (who decided Snuf must not really like him), we were the proud owners of a genuine mutt hound dog.  He was black with huge white spots (or white, with huge black spots?!), so we affectionately name him "Spot".

Spot and Rachel became fast friends.  Where Rachel was hyper and full of energy, spot was laid back and quiet.  Rachel liked to spend time in the house with the family, but Spot preferred an independent outside existence.  Rachel was nothing more than a target for cows, but Spot ruled the cows with a commanding presence.  The cry of "Sic em" had Spot rounding up the range cattle and heading them down the driveway and off the property.  If you said "Sic em" to Rachel, she was likely to jump up on your chest and cover you in sloppy kisses.

Rachel and Spot were opposites, but they were a team.  Rachel was the forward guard, taking the offensive and Spot brought up the rear, keeping an eye on everything from behind.  They were a perfect match.

One sunny, summer day, my mom and dad found Rachel laying still in the front yard, with Spot standing over her, keeping guard.  Mom put her hand on Rachel's chest, but there was no movement.  She tried valiantly to revive our dear pet, but Rachel's time on earth was done.  She had served her people well and her Master had called her home.

We buried Rachel on the hill behind our house.  Spot tried to dig her up, but finally seemed to realize that Rachel was no longer there.  And then, an amazing transformation happened.  Spot took over Rachel's duties.  No longer did Spot wait for us at home, guarding the house, but he met us at the end of the driveway, just as Rachel always had.  Now, Spot spent of "off-time" in the house rather than outside.  When we were out tromping in the woods, Spot ran ahead, no longer content to bring up the rear.  In Rachel's absence, Spot shouldered her duties.  He wore his new position with pride.

Many years have passed since my childhood friends completed their tour of duty.  They are now but memories to be passed on to future generations.  Spot and Rachel embodied all that is good in family pets.  I only hope that you, too, have the joy of sharing your life with some furry friends.


  1. I remember when my parents dog, Dusty died. Shadow the other, eventually took on part of her spirit. I find that with each dog I get, a part of the previous dog materializes. Even when they have never met. God works in amazing ways.

  2. Great story! Thank you for telling us about the dog(s), the horse, and the amputation - quite a poignant reminiscence. I truly hope you save this for your children, for them to read to their own children some day. Thsse kinds of touching stories are the fabric of our lives (did I just plagiarize some advertising theme?).

    More please.

    NoCal Gal

  3. We had a beautiful red Chow and one very hot summer, we had her shaved to keep her cool. That precious dog knew somehow that her external beauty had been removed and she wouldn't come out of her doghouse for days. They know and understand more than we ever will.


  4. I loved the story! It makes me think about my dogs (who have both moved on this past year). They were a great team. I miss them both, so much. We have a new dog, since that's pretty much a necessity on the homestead, but it's pretty hard to imagine him being able to do all that our last dog, Boomer did. He was so protective and watchful of everything. He was instinctive and brave. He killed possoms, treed raccoons and has kept our free-range chickens and ducks safe. Oh, how I miss him. He was definitly one of the best. Everyone who knew him wanted a dog just like him.

  5. You evoke the personal memories of us all through your storytelling. As my dog now ages, I find I get more frustrated with her than I used to, and you reminded me that she is truly a regal dog (in her own cantankerous way).

  6. I wish my dogs were like that. My dogs are dumb as dirt.

  7. T,

    This is the most beautiful, and the most beautifully written story I have read in many, many years. Bless you.

    Bill Smith

  8. Hello Enola!
    What a great story about your beloved childhood faithful friends.

    I had a Samoyed dog as a child. But we only had him for 3 years before my folks divorced and he went to live on a farm. No more dogs for us after him.

    Our current beloved family dog you met in 2004 or 2005 when we came to visit. He was one of the smartest dogs I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. The day before Thanksgiving I had the unenviable tast of taking him to the vets to be put down. He was 16 years 9 months old at that point. But he had stopped eating and drinking and was just failing and miserable. It was such a hard thing to have to do.
    ~Mrs. R