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A dog’s life

But a farm without a dog is a lonely place.

A dog’s life

Rocky and his feline fan club enjoying the winter weather.

Eleven years ago I brought home a little bundle of sable-coloured fluff. He had the signature Collie nose, expressive brown eyes and enormous ears. We named him Rocky.
Six months prior to his arrival we had lost a handsome young tri-colour Collie to the busy highway we live beside. Heartbroken, I questioned the wisdom of owning a dog on this farm, considering the potential for another animal getting hit by a car. But a farm without a dog is a lonely place. After half a year I was ready to take on another puppy. Scottish Collies are my favourite.

Before long Rocky’s puppy fur morphed into a heavy, three-layered coat. He grew rapidly in height and weight and eventually his head size caught up to his big ears. His awkward puppy gait developed into the graceful prancing that I love about the breed. We had a fine looking, fun loving pet. We invested in an Invisible Fence to keep him safely on the yard and away from the road.

Most dogs enjoy fetching tennis balls. Rocky somehow latched onto the soccer ball instead. He could barely open his jaw wide enough to get a grip on it, but that just added to the fun. He didn’t simply drop it at your feet. He wanted you to play tug-of-war for it. If you lost interest and walked away, he would ram his face, soccer ball and all, between your knees until you took the hint.

Every spring, when the soccer ball emerged from the snow bank, Rocky celebrated. He would prance over to it tail wagging, yank it out of the snow, then dance victoriously around the yard with it jammed in his mouth.

Old friend
Rocky loved children and small furry animals. Over the years our resident cats frequently snuggled themselves against his side and often slept literally on top of him. Three times in his life he was sprayed by skunks, learning the hard way that they weren’t actually black and white kitties.

A creature of habit, Rocky knew when he heard me clearing dishes after supper that it was time for our evening walk around the farm, or in the winter, time for him to come in and flake out in the living room. When I was outside he was with me or waiting patiently by the barn door. He always looked sad when we took off on the motorbikes and never failed to greet us when we came home. He loved Stephanie for the vigorous rubdowns she gave him whenever she came. He adored Jack’s parents who took care of him whenever we went on holidays, knowing he could count on lots of attention and homemade cookies. Once a month he fiercely defended our dumpster against the Waste Management truck that came to empty it. Over the years he slowed down, but the happy-go-lucky personality remained.

The bitter and prolonged cold of last winter took its toll on Rocky. Arthritis made his every move painful. He had trouble lying down, sitting up and walking.

Last spring, when he spotted the soccer ball, he ambled over to it and pulled it out of the snow. Then he looked back at me, dropped it and walked away stiffly. I patted his head. “I know, buddy. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, eh?”

We could no longer walk around the whole farm, so I strolled through the yard with him most evenings, coaxing him to keep moving as best he could. Jack and I both knew he wouldn’t survive another Ontario winter.

When the November winds blew Jack’s face grew serious from time to time. “We have to do something for Rocky,” he would say.

“I know,” I’d reply, “But not today.”

Finally, during the cold spell we had a week before Christmas, I called the vet and asked him to come out to the farm.

I hugged Rocky’s neck and whispered gently to him. Jack held his paw in place while the vet gave him the needle. It was over in a minute. We had done the best we could for our old friend.

I’m thankful his suffering has ended. But I still look for him whenever I pull into the yard. And it was awfully quiet when the garbage truck came the other day.

Apparently Pope John Paul once comforted a grieving five-year-old by assuring him he would see his dog in heaven someday. Not exactly a Papal edict, but I’d be happy if it were true. Hopefully it applies to Protestant pooches as well. At any rate I can thank the Lord for the pleasure of having Rocky for all those years. We have no plans to get another dog right now. But who knows? After all, a farm without a dog is a lonely place.

About the Author
A dog’s life

Heidi VanderSlikke, Columnist

Heidi grew up in the Niagara Peninsula with dreams of becoming a writer. But she took a paying job instead. Working as a bookkeeper led to studies in accounting and credit management, all of which proved to be very practical when she married Jack—her Prince Farming—in 1978. They have lived happily ever after (most of the time) on their farm in Mapleton Township, Ontario. They have three grown children and (so far) one incredibly cute grandson. For the last 10 years Heidi has been a columnist for Christian Courier, as well as having written short stories, devotionals and articles for other publications. She is a professional member of The Word Guild. She enjoys the outdoors, animals, photography, reading and motorcycles. She and Jack have ridden to Canada’s east coast and through various parts of the US, including the Florida Everglades. They hope to one day take their bikes across Canada to British Columbia. In the meantime, she continues to write about what she loves best—faith, family and farm life.