Friday, July 25, 2014

My Mom, Dogs and Shep

My mother. She was an amazing woman and as I was looking at my two puppies sleeping on my bed.....I couldn't help but think of her. She would so have hated this. "Dogs do not belong on the bed," I heard her say at least a million times. She really wasn't a fan of them being in the house either. Yes, I know....I have dog lovers and PETA twitching as they read this. Don't get me wrong though, my mom loved dogs and more importantly, I never saw a dog that didn't love my mother, but dogs and my mother always seemed to have an understanding of where they stood with each other. I never in all my years growing up ever saw my mom cuddle with a dog or get more intimate with a dog than a pat on the head. I did however hear my mom talk to our dogs. She talked to them just like they were human. She was kind, compassionate and when she just suspicioned that one of our dogs had gotten into rat poison by mistake, she dropped everything and rushed him into the vet. This was no small feat for her because at the time money was scarce. Luckily....there was no rat poison involved. However, there was still a bill.

I think Mom's attitude towards dogs came from her farm upbringing. Growing up, her home was never without a dog and dogs were considered integral parts of life, more as workers than as family. My grandfather respected his dogs and in turn they respected him. Many were strays that wandered on the property and showed my grandfather their worth. Others though, who came on the land and were trouble makers, stock killers or aggressive to humans were shown a different kind of respect....a quick and timely death. It was the way of the world post Depression. If you lived on the farm and were given food, you had to earn your keep.

While Mom told stories of several dogs she had growing up, the dog that stood out as her constant companion from the time she was four years old on, was a dog named Shep. If my memory serves, I think another one of the family dogs came home after a daily field run with Shep at his side. While I am sure there are other details that go to this story, the important detail is that Shep loved my mother from the beginning, and she loved him. Even the family seemed to see their amazing attachment. Sheps devotion to my mother was so strong that soon he was recognized by all as her protector. Where Mom was.....Shep was always right there with her. has been awhile since I heard a Shep story and I don't think I have ever seen a picture of him, but I believe he was a shepherd/collie mix. The shepherd in him made him extremely loyal and very much a one person dog.

Like my mother, my grandfather had a way with dogs and Shep seemed to understand and obey every word my grandfather spoke, but other than him, my mothers words were the only words Shep acknowledged. In her early years, Shep was her babysitter when the other kids were either busy in the house or the field. My grandparents could tell Shep to "Stay with Mary Jane," and he would watch her with the loving eye of a protector. Mom spoke of numerous times where Sheps instincts were far better than her own and he would get between her and a dangerous situation. Knowing my mother, I have no doubt that he probably saved her life on more than one occasion.

If Sheps devotion to Mom was remarkable, his dislike of others was just as remarkable. He tolerated the rest of the world and nothing more. During Mom's school years, she rode the school bus to and from school. Daily, regardless of weather, Shep would walk Mom to the bus and watch her get on and then head back home to wait for her afternoon arrival. Just like clockwork, as time approached for the school bus to return, Shep was there waiting for Mom. As the story goes, there was always one kid who was my mother's age who tried to get off the bus first everyday.....and everyday Shep would back him right back up the bus steps and make him wait until Mom got off the bus first. Apparently this was a 12 year ritual in which none of the players ever changed their parts. According to my grandfather, long after Mom left home (Shep lived until Mom was in her mid twenties), he would still meet the bus everyday waiting for Mom's return.

Shep was an odd dog. A tail wag and a slow progression towards a person, place or thing spelled disaster for that person, place or thing. A non reaction meant you were okay. Mom's siblings (especially her two brothers just older than her) were often the recipient of Sheps loyalty towards my mother. One day Mom and Shep were out playing with her brothers and they started to be ornery big brothers. Mom having enough of it decided to be ornery herself and told Shep to go get them. Mom said Shep almost had a smile on his face as he chased both boys up a tree. After a bit, she became bored watching her treed brothers and she took off for the house. Now Mom says she forgot that Shep was still on guard at the base of that tree, but knowing my my mother, I am sure that she knew full well that Shep would stay there until she said otherwise. Once home, Mom was distracted and it wasn't until supper time when someone asked where the boys were that she suddenly remembered where Shep was and what he was doing. Sure enough, Shep had never left his spot and those boys had never left their tree. I believe there was a spanking resulting from that one.

Another time, Mom wanted to pick cotton with the older kids and the migrant cotton pickers. After much begging and pleading, my grandmother who was too busy to listen to such foolishness finally gave in and let Mom long as she took Shep. It was the last time Mom and Shep were allowed in the cotton fields. Once they arrived, Shep seemed to not trust the migrant workers and rounded every one of them up and chased them into their trucks. He was so leery of these people that even Mom could not call him off. Not until my grandfather came on the scene and sent both Mom and her sidekick home, were the workers safe to come out of the trucks. Shep quite honestly probably had good instincts about someone who was working that day and he did his job well. Mom was once again safe. 

The bond between Mom and her dog was great love and great mutual respect, but it was not a touchy feely relationship. Mom rarely petted Shep. She talked to him though, as he was her best friend and constant companion. Shep slept in the yard and Mom slept in the house but during her non-school waking hours, they were inseparable and with no one else did either have that kind of relationship. Sadly, one of the last times my mother was home before Shep died, he did not recognize her. He treated her, just as he treated others now. His loyalty now, due to age and a bit of senility, was to the property and to my grandfather. It took another dog who had become Sheps friend to stand between Mom and Shep and escort her safely inside on her visit home. It broke Mom's heart.

For my mothers standoffish devotion to her dogs, she got complete devotion in return. The two dogs of my childhood were her constant companions and much like Shep, they never left her side. They didn't care whether she petted them or whether they were allowed past whatever boundary Mom had set up. All they seemed to care about was being with her, at her side and listening to her talk to them. For her loyalty both took on poisonous snakes for her and I have no question that both would have laid down their lives for her.

So yes, as I look at my spoiled pooches, I think of Mom. I miss her horribly but I know that she and Shep are together again. I have no doubt that Shep waited many years to hear her voice and to once again...guard and protect his girl.  

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