I don’t why we subject ourselves to the pain of losing loved ones…furry four-legged loved ones. You know there is going to be a time when they are going to break your heart by dying. Bogart, Bubba, Brody, Jackson, Santana, Little Miss Minny Muffin, Nannie, Sha-na-na, NaeNae, Nugene, Nicholette, Neut, Claude, Claudette and Boomer. Dogs, cats, goats, even a one legged rooster. All found a way to worm their way into our hearts and steal more than just a little piece.

Eleven years ago our most loved Sassy Marie, a part Border Collie part…who knows, deserted us. She had turned up one day out of the clear blue and disappeared twelve or thirteen years later the same way. I have no idea how old she was but Sassy was smart, knew her time was near, and decided to leave us on her own terms. By doing so, Sassy allows us to pretend she is still out there somewhere, alive and well, chasing the rabbits she never chased during the thirteen years she had us.

I told Linda Gail we needed to get over Sassy Marie before we invested our hearts in another pet. Several days later she told me her very good friend Debbie had family with six-week old Blue Heeler puppies. “Linda it is too soon to get another puppy,” said I. “I just want to go look at them. There are fourteen can you believe it?” said Linda. The next day at school I told a friend we were going to look at puppies that afternoon. “You going to get another pet?” asked he. “The question is not if. It’s how many.” Said I. Linda does tell a little different story.

The Blue Heeler is an Australian Cattle Dog, not to be confused with the Australian Shepard which is, despite its name, not Australian. The Australian Cattle Dog, which comes in two forms regardless of being the same breed–the Blue and the Red Heeler. They are the product of breeding a historically long lost “upland” spaniel from England, a Dalmatian and the native Australian wild dog, the Dingo. From this union came a tough, muscular, medium size dog Australian cattlemen used to drive their cattle through the “Outback.” Pretty sure if I had known this we probably would not have owned one, much less two. Sometimes it’s good to go into something uninformed with your eyes shut. This is how Matilda Sue and Madeline Roo came to adopt us.

The owners of Mattie and Tilly raised Blue Heelers to sell but this was no puppy mill. Just one sire named Rebel and two dames named Mia and Gypsy. They were beautiful. Dark “blue merle” undercoat showed through their white topcoat. A bit of “Dingo red” on their forelegs and lower jaw. There was a mask across their eyes called a “Bentley Mark.” Compact muscles rippled under their coat. It was easy to fall in love…easier when we saw fourteen puppies clumped together in their little corral.

One of those puppies crawled out of the tangle of fur, legs and snouts and made her way over to Linda and in “Dog-ese” yapped a greeting which I am sure translated to “Hi, I’m your new puppy and don’t even try to ignore me.” For ten years we haven’t been able to. Another had a crooked tail, which we thought had been broken but was actually a genetic flaw, and a Bentley mark only over one eye. My heart melted. Two was the answer to the question “It’s how many?”

That was almost eleven years ago. They grew into powerful, beautiful companions…and infuriating. Mattie will not be ignored for any reason. Tilly became the ultimate hunter. I am looking at them now as they go through some type of puppy play only they understand, a “mock fight” they have acted out daily. Now they have settled down to sleep…with their ears still at the alert.
They are or were high energy herders and hunters. Even when very young they tried to herd birds, cats, squirrels and lizards. They herded so well I found them missing one evening from their fenced in workshop “puppy house.” I can remember my fear they would be lost forever…or my fear of what Linda was going to do. We found them. Less than three months old they had traversed a small mountain forest and ended up over a half mile away. This is also how they became house dogs.

As hunters, Maddie specializes in snakes and Tilly in possums. With a persimmon tree in our back yard there have been ample opportunities for Tilly and with the tangle of Linda’s “companion gardening” there have been many opportunities for Maddie. I cannot remember how many mornings I have let Maddie and Tilly out, taken my shower, and come back to find a possum “present” laying just inside the door. Luckily possums play possum and I am sure Tilly has brought the same one in dozens of times. Maddie does the same thing but thankfully snakes don’t play dead…although I am sure finding them has scared me out of several lifetimes.

I want to chuckle as I watch both of them sound asleep on their backs, their favorite form of activity. Everyone said, “They will be hand full if you don’t keep them active, they are too smart for their own good.” “You don’t want two from the same litter.” A few times that might have been true but the best thing we ever did was get two. They play, run, keep each other company and if we can’t seem to find Tilly just tell Maddie, “Go find Sissy” and off she goes.

I know they will leave us sooner than we would want but they have been wonderful companions and worth all of the pain we will feel when they do leave us. There is something about unrequited love and ours has been returned ten thousand times. A little food, a scratch behind the ears, a warm couch to curl up on and a lot of love. Isn’t that all we ever need?

My stories of home in PATHWAYS by Don Miller


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