One Christmas many years ago, our children surprised me with an unexpected gift. They told me they had a present for me but I had to wait in the living room, while they went to get it. They were giggling and acting very pleased with themselves. With much whispering and fanfare, they brought a rather unwieldy-looking tan-colored cardboard box adorned with a red ribbon on top. When I opened the large badly shaped box I was shocked. There, inside, was a little black puppy looking up at me. A PUPPY!!! It never occurred to me that my children who were still “children” in my eyes, would do such a thing. Sometimes it takes something like this to wake us up to the fact that our children are individuals who have wonderful qualities we did not suspect.

Me with my new puppy in my lap

My children, it turns out, like to buy me animals as a surprise. This was the first time, but NOT the last time they presented me with a puppy I did not know I wanted. I have always had dogs, so it was not as if I was lonely for one. But at that time I did not have a dog of my own in spite of the large number of them who lived in my house. They were ostensibly the property of our various children. They were right. It was time for me to have a dog I could love and give attention to. My 3 older children were at boarding school, and the 2 younger ones were getting to an easy stage, of about 6 and 7. I had much more time available than in the past and I was ready to love a new dog as my own. My oldest son drove up to Pennsylvania where my daughters had learned there was a puppy for sale. He brought her home secretly, and I never guessed they were hiding a puppy.

The soft little baby dachshund had so much extra skin it seemed to fall in roles around her little neck. I picked her up in a total daze. She was only 8 weeks old. A black and tan, short hair, standard size female. She won my heart in the first five minutes I knew her. She was so soft and warm. She seemed to melt into my hands. When I brought her up close to my face to kiss she was calm. She then cuddled in the hollow of my neck. She appeared to be completely at peace with her new life.

A few months old “Serena”

She had the most extra skin as a little puppy that I have never seen. Such a wrinkled pup, with too much skin for her body. When my friend Carolyn saw her, she said, “Well, Bonnie, it seems to me that if your children bought you a present the least they could have done was iron it first.” This brought about raucous laughter from all who heard her. But I knew she would grow into her skin eventually.

She was so serene and “chill” that we named her Serenity of Heathfield. And to make it easier to say, I called her Serena. She was the dog of all my dogs that I will never forget. She loved me unconditionally, and she loved Charley just as much. Her affection was so all-encompassing, it was like a cloud surrounding her and us. She was mildly obedient, though hating to go outside in the rain. She might occasionally make a mistake in the house, but she would do it in the bathroom. Her personality was strong and loving though she had one fault. She would bark at a visitor, and bark, and bark, and finally I might have to remove her from the room. She simply would not believe me when I said “Serena, it is OK. Stop barking.” I can see her now, in my imagination. Standing with her 4 feet planted firmly on the brick floor of my living room, she would peer around the blue leather armchair and bark continuously at some innocent guest. It was annoying. But it was the only thing she did wrong.

As a tiny puppy, she spent her first night with us in our bed. She did not pee in the bed and she slept through the night. She slept with us from then on. She was a burrowing dachshund who loved to get under the covers. She also wanted to be touching skin, mine or my husband’s or preferably both. And in the winter this was wonderful as she was so warm it was as if we had a heating pad in the bed. She was a great bed-dog! Our bed had bed hangings which we could draw when it was especially cold. Our house was drafty for many years until we finally insulated it. She was so warm at all times it was like having an extra heat source. On those nights when we drew the curtains, we ended up warm as toast partly due to her.

Wisteria at Heathfield

In the summer it could get really hot. So she would sleep on the outside of the sheets but still kept some part of her body touching some part of my body just for reassurance. She loved it when it was bedtime.

She was registered and had a lovely pedigree. We never tried to show her, but we made sure she was bred only to another purebred dachshund. Mostly she was bred to our male dachshund, Merlin. He was also pedigreed but we did not know that at first. So we never bred him until he was almost 8 years old. We were afraid he was too old to learn. We were wrong. After some initial shyness, he took to it and fathered many puppies. We bred Serena to Merlin and she had several litters. Her descendants were given out to many members of the family. My parents-in-law had a brother and sister from one of her litters. My daughter Lilla and her husband had a pair too. One of her pups went to a future Senator and led a very elegant life. They were all wonderful dogs with great dispositions, wonderful confirmation, and nice markings.

Serena’s life was not without mishaps. More than once she had near misses that gave us all a fright.

One hot summer day she jumped into the car unbeknownst to my husband when he drove to the post office to pick up the mail. Since he did not realize she was in the car he did not make sure she got out when he got home. And so she sat in the car as it heated up, in the sun. I just happened to walk outside to the driveway, maybe I was looking for Serena because she was not around. Suddenly I noticed a movement in Charley’s car. She was in the back of the Subaru station wagon, standing at the window wanting to get out!!!! I rushed over to the car and got her into my arms. She had been there for at least 20 minutes maybe more. She was HOT. So overheated, warm, and limp I could not believe she had the energy to jump up at the window so I could see her. It was a miracle that I found her. NO one even knew she was gone. No one was looking for her and if she had not been standing up by the back window no one could have seen her in the car. I called the vet who said to just watch her and make sure she was hydrated and keep her near in case she had some sort of seizure. But she was fine.

Dachshunds hunting

We all learned a lesson from that near-death experience. We always look in our cars when we get out, to make sure no dog is in there.

Because we owned a lot of land we did not worry about our dogs running loose and getting in our neighbor’s way. Most of the time this worked out well. Our dachshunds were hunters and were used to chasing small animals all over the property. They knew their way around and rarely scared us by disappearing. Though we did have one dog who wandered and got lost numerous times. He was named Soda and was our daughter Helen’s dog. But this story is not about Soda. Sometimes these dachshunds would be seen going down groundhog holes. Once, one of our dogs, Ceasar, I believe, was missing overnight. We were terrified that he was lost forever. But the next day our trusted farmer Tom Symons found him stuck down a groundhog hole. He was in the burrow so deeply that he needed to be dug out with a shovel. Such are the adventures encountered when you have dogs in the country.

When Serena was a mature dog of maybe 5 years old she went missing. She had been a mother several times over, and she was a bit more chunky than in her youth. She was still beautiful though. She loved us so much and was so happy at bedtime that we knew something was very wrong when she did not come home one evening. We looked and looked for her. Thinking she might be locked in the tack room, or Charley’s office or some shed somewhere on the property. But, no. She was nowhere to be found. Thinking she might be stuck in a hole in a nearby field we finally went to bed with the idea of searching thoroughly in the morning. The next morning we looked everywhere. Charley and I both went out on horses so we could cover more ground. We looked at groundhog holes, and we looked at the edges of roads in case she might have been hit by a car. We called the vets and the local radio station and animal control and anyone we could think of.

By that evening when she was still missing, the second night without her, I was desperate. Scared and imagining the worst, and helpless to do anything to find her. The next day I went around to all my neighbors begging them to look for her and to let me know if they found her. It was so sad. My darling dog was missing and my heart felt constricted with grief without any closure. No idea what had happened and no warning that anything had been about to go wrong, makes one crazy. It is still fresh in my mind if I allow myself to think about how I felt as the days stretched out. It was spring and warm enough even at night, so I was not worried about her freezing to death. But it rained a lot. It seemed to be every other day we had a real downpour. That made it harder to go looking for her. By the time a week had passed I knew she must be dead. She was the dearest dog I had ever had. She made me happy just to look at her. And when I looked at her, if she was awake, she would gaze back at me with such love in her eyes, that it melted my heart. Oh, I missed her so much. It was so painful to not know what happened, and both Charley and I were lonely for her company. But when your dog is gone for a week, a week and one day, a week and two days, a week and three days, you have to accept that she is probably not going to come back.

But that is NOT the end of the story. You must wait until my next post to find out what happened.

Copyright©. 2022 Bonnie B. Matheson

4 thoughts on “Serena

  1. Great story……actually Lilla and I drove to Pennsylvania on Christmas Eve to get that dog. I was 16 she was barely 15. We were gone for over 8 hours. No google maps, no cell phone. But like the dogs in the story we were back by dinner so no one thought to worry about where we were.

    1. Well, you and Charley will have to talk to each other about that trip. I believe you are right. It was you and Lilla who got the puppy from where ever she was born in Pennsylvania. But perhaps Charley picked up a different dog at another time. We have had a tradition of buying surprise animals for each other over the years. Maybe I should write a post about the various times you have surprised me! And thank you very much, by the way! Serena was the best dog I have ever had! Tomorrow, Tuesday, I will put up the rest of the story about her 10-day disappearance.

  2. Oh Serena!! This makes my heart hurt thinking about her being missing! I cannot wait to read on.

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