Monday, March 1, 2010

Lone White Wolf of the Great English Prairie

Happy Birthday, old girl.

Today you are 8 in calendar years, 56 in dog. 56. That’s almost as old as the dirt you cherish digging with those long nails, the ones intended to pull rats from deep pockets. Rat dog, some people chide you.

I remember the May afternoon that I drove to rural Berks County, searching for the country house that advertised petite Jack Russells for $250. Once I arrived, the owner unleashed you and your siblings in the living room as your mom and aunt roamed free. It was difficult to choose from the litter of four. Your sisters had those all-white faces with brown ears. You were the only one who wore a mask, but it was brindle, a black-brown blend of mottled hair. Not acceptable for show quality, they said, but I didn’t care. I grew up with hunting dogs—working hounds who roamed the fields.

So I brought you home in a small box, and you cried the entire drive. So much sound for a three-pound pup who took weeks to crawl up one step. We had to keep an eye on you in the backyard, for the red-tailed hawks from the woods of South Mountain often encircled, eyeing you as a potential take-out dinner.

Over the years you grew into a solid addition to our family, proving yourself to be a fiercely loyal companion, a dog who never needs a fence, who obeys the property line, rarely leaves it. You have worn many hats: security guard, lap warmer, pedicurist, vacuum cleaner, wanna-be hunter, running partner. But the best role, by far, has been teacher, and you’ll never realize how grateful we are for that.

For the girl you have mentored relied on you to grow, to communicate, to beat the odds that were once placed before her. And you had no idea.

It’s with Grace that you have proved yourself the most. When her disability stripped her of the freedom to communicate, it was with you that she could speak without words, the pressing of her small face against yours, the sharing of silent conversations. Only locked gazes, smiles, a sweep of your tongue across her cheek, tight neck embraces that you continue to endure.


One of her first words, one of the words she did not lose the year that this impairment snuck up and robbed her of practically all other vocabulary. And with her you have stayed, constant bed companion, constant collaborator. You were--and remain--her savior, the spark that comforts her in most frustrating times.

So today I honor you, our little dog, our Emma: Lone White Wolf of the Great English Prairie who prances through the fields of Bear Swamp. If you only knew how thankful we are to have picked the brindle pup that didn’t need to qualify for Best in Show. You see, our reward is worth much more than any title could bestow.

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