It was a cold clear Christmas Eve and we were living at a house we called BonnieBrae. We had not been living there too long, only a few months. We believed we had sold our wonderful farm, Heathfield. It was supposed to go through on January 1 of that year Was it 2000? Or 2001? So we bought another house and moved into it before the actual settlement of the sale of Heathfield.
A word to the wise: Don’t ever do that.
We began to fix up the house which we assumed would be our permanent home. It was lovely. It was smaller than Heathfield but it had a wonderful big drawing room which was super for entertaining. It had a grand fireplace on the wall facing the garden and swimming pool. But it also had a LOT of French doors going outside on two sides of that room. We had it furnished with back-to-back sofas and a large refectory table against one wall. Our dining room table from Jamaica was along one side of the room with its chairs which were carved with thistles on their backs. It was a wonderful room painted a sort of putty beige with white trim. It was striking in its size and opulence. It was three steps lower than the rest of the house and so the ceiling was much higher in that room.
I wish we could have stayed in that house. But fate had other plans.
On Christmas Eve our grown-up children were all with us and wanted to celebrate. They told me they had a present for me which they wanted me to open that night. No one wanted to wait until Christmas to give it to me.
OK. I like presents. I agreed to open my present.
They brought me a bundle wrapped in a baby blanket and a shawl and carried it with giggles and laughter to be put in my lap. When I peeled away the blanket and shawl there was a puppy just about 6 weeks old. I have had black and tan dachshunds ever since I was 10 years old. That is what I imagined this was. It was NOT the first puppy I had seen. It was not even the first one given to me as a gift. There is nothing like a puppy. The tiny little ball of fur, the puppy breath which is so sweet. The small wiggly body radiating warmth and wanting to be held and loved brings waves of endorphins to the forefront. As I looked at the sweet face with its black and tan markings I melted. As I smoothed my hands over its silky fur I learned several things. First, it seemed this dog was not going to be smooth-haired. Even as a puppy the hair seemed wiry. Second, this was not a female puppy, but a male. And third, as I got to the end of the puppy’s little derriere I cried” What happened to his tail?” There was clearly only a stub of a tail. NOT typical for a dachshund which is what I assumed he was.“Mom!” They all exclaimed, “He is not a dachshund. He is a Jack Russell!”
“But I hate Jack Russells!” I said with surprise and shock.
However, I loved him, instantly. I LOVED that dog from the first minute when I mistook him for another breed. I loved him for many, many years and grieved when he died in my arms the day before Thanksgiving 16 years later. Lord Byron was his name and he was a character.
He was calm for a Jack Russell. He did not bounce around unnecessarily but conserved his energy for when he really needed it. We had moved back to Heathfield because it did not sell to the original buyers. We could not afford both houses. We sold BonnieBrae and moved into a renovated Heathfield with our dogs. One day when I was gazing out at the fields towards the south I saw motion. Then I realized it was Lord Byron running after what seemed to be a fox cub. Byron was only about 6 months old himself, still a puppy. As I watched the fox turned on Byron and began to run toward him. Byron ran in the direction of the house with the little fox cub chasing him. I have never seen anything like this before or since. As I watched I was feeling scared that maybe the fox was rabid since it was chasing the dog. But just then Lord Byron turned around and began chasing the fox again. They were PLAYING! I kept calling Byron and finally, he came into the house. But this was not an isolated incident.
They played that way all summer. When winter came I didn’t see the fox anymore. But the next spring they played a little until I moved out of that house to another several miles away. I wonder if they would have become hunter and prey if they had lived in the same area as they grew older. But I never found out because we moved. Lord Byron got into so much mischief, so many scary scrapes, and was so much my own dog and no one else’s …He was special. He was smart. He understood so much of what I said to him, it was amazing. He made little snuffing noises when he was ruminating about things. He was faithful and loyal and friendly to all. After separating from my husband he was “my guy” and made me feel loved, and never lonely.
Once he got run over by a car in the driveway of the house I was renting. It was not going very fast. The car didn’t run over any body parts. He ran in front of it and it knocked him over on the ground as it passed over him with wheels on each side. Seeing his body emerge from under that car was one of those moments one hopes will never happen. His little form was curled into a ball that tumbled and somersaulted out from under the back of the car. Terrifying me as I watched, but he lived. He got up and ran over to me with a limp of a front paw, but otherwise unhurt. He had a fractured front leg which had to be splinted for a while but he healed quickly. He had grit.
When he was 14 he got lost on the Cliff walk up in Newport R I. I was staying with my mother at her summer cottage there. I noticed Byron was missing and just as I was looking for him outside, someone called me on my cell phone which I left in the house. By the time I got in touch with that man, he had called the police. So I contacted them and said I would come to pick him up. “No need.” They said, “An officer will bring him to you. Just give us your address.” Ultimately a policeman brought Lord Byron home in a police car. He was riding in the front seat. The policeman told me he was navigating for him. He was such a sweet boy, the officer let me take a photo of us all together.
Today I went to see a new puppy that one of my daughters has just brought home. Just like always, everyone who sees this dachshund puppy loves her. She is a typical, cuddly, calm, warm puppy. They are some very precious doggies. It warms my heart to see that my children are all dog people, too. We must have done something right as parents.
One of my sons said to me “Why didn’t you tell me to get a dog sooner?” He has fallen in love with his dog. It is charming to witness the bond between them. He enjoys owning him because he is a pleasure to be around. If you have a dog you cannot be lonely. If you have a dog you have a purpose in life. If you have a dog you can expect unconditional love which is healing and inspiring. Yes, there is responsibility. You have to feed and water your animal. You must provide shelter and make sure he or she can go outside when needed. But the rewards are awesome. In fact, words are inadequate to describe the all-encompassing feeling of loving and being loved by a dog.
I guess that is why they are called Man’s Best Friend.
Copyright©. 2023 Bonnie B. Matheson