Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Penny was a border collie.  She lived at a neighboring (although certainly not next-door-neighboring) farm.

We grew up in a menagerie.  Aside from the usual assortment of cats and dogs, we were also visited by an inordinate number of squirrels, skunks, rabbits and other mammals, not to mention the occasional wounded (or thrown-out-by-its-mother) bird.  Mother was convinced there were signs posted in the nearby woods, written in basic animalese, that informed animals that the Walkers were an easy touch.  And we were.

I don't know how Penny came to know us...perhaps she saw the sign and decided to try us out.  We lived on one side of a valley and Penny's farm was a mile or so to our north, with another farmer's field in between.  She herded her cows across the highway from their meadow to the barn and back again.  Sometimes in the evening, with the cows safely in the meadow, she'd come over to spend the night.

She announced her arrival with a woof and a scratch on the screen door...unless, of course, one of us saw her as she crossed the valley toward our place, in which case she'd be greeted by my sister and me, the welcoming committee.  Her domain, the pasture, was enclosed by an electric fence, I think.  Whatever it was, she got under it and crossed that valley.

As I say, I haven't a clue how this visitation started, but I was ecstatic when she came.  A border collie was my idea of a big dog, certainly larger than either of ours.  All three dogs got along well; ours seemed as happy as we kids were when Penny came to visit.  My parents got up early in the morning in time to let Penny out of the house so she could steer her cows to the barn for the morning milking.

Her visits seemed random, although my father later said he thought she came when a storm threatened.  I don't remember that.  I've always been fairly good at making associations, and I don't associate Penny's visits with storms.  Plus she'd visit any time of year.  The farmer for whom she herded cows knew that if Penny weren't at the farm at night, she was with us and she'd be back in time to herd the cows.  He'd tell us Penny stories when he bought feed at the mill.  I think he was concerned that Penny might be making a pest of herself.  We assured him nothing could be farther from the truth.

She seemed to enjoy us kids.  Lord knows we enjoyed her company.  The farmer had children, too, so it wasn't just to get her kid quotient that she came to see us.  She played the usual dog games...catch, chase the kid, that sort of thing.  Maybe she knew she'd get a good brushing when she spent the night; she was a farm dog, but I think she liked to get spruced up from time to time.

Who knows if an animal is aware it's going to die.  Penny died at our house, though.  She was old, she was arthritic, and until the night she died, she was happy to visit.  The farmer apologized profusely when he came to pick her up.  I, on the other hand, remain convinced that she chose to die at our place.

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