The other day, for the first time, I noticed grey hair around Winnie’s eyes. It’s not that I never imagined her old, on the contrary in many ways she has always seemed old. But Winnie has seemed more youthful and has played more in the last year with Baby P and Monkey than she probably has her whole life. Our vet, who has known her since she was eight weeks old, recently told me she was the absolute picture of health and fitness, and at a perfect weight. So while the years are starting to stack up (she’ll turn eight this summer), it’s not that I’m worried about her. I guess I just never really expected the age of her body to ever catch up to that of her soul.
I asked her what she wanted to do this evening for her birthday.
She thought for a second and asked, “Anything? Whatever I want?”
“Of course,” I said. “You only turn seven once.”
Then she told me quietly, what she wanted to do more than anything else, was to wade up to her chest in the river, and stand there until the sun went down.
Who am I to judge? On my seventh birthday I asked for meatloaf.
“Let’s go,” I said. And we did.
I brought a toy to throw in case she got bored, but she didn’t.
After a while she turned to me and said, “In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time.”
“Wow,” I said. “Did you just come up with that?”
“I’m a dog, you idiot,” She said. “da Vinci. Read a book.”
We laughed and laughed.
Then we both turned back to the river, and watched until the sky and the water were the same color. And then we went home.
We drove hundreds of miles through the torrential rains of Hurricane Ike to an otherwise quiet corner of Western Illinois. Our destination: Seraphim Kennels, and an eight week old female Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla with a yellow ribbon around her neck. On our return trip we joined the storm for a few more stops on its Ransack the Midwest Tour, dodging flooded highways and searching for hotels in towns with no electricity before we were finally able to put Ike in our rear view mirror somewhere in southern Ohio. Seraphim My Ride’s Here, or “Winnie,” was calm and quiet throughout the fairly tense ordeal of getting home. She didn’t want to pee in the rain — a preference she retains to this day. So I carried her to a grassy spot and held the umbrella over her until she did. Sandy snapped this photo of us returning from a flooded patch of lawn behind a gas station, and it remains one of my favorite photos of her.
Like a lot of photos, it has special meaning not just because of the image, but because it makes me remember how I felt at the time. I was nervous and excited, trying to process the huge responsibility I was undertaking while not entirely convinced I could even safely get back to Virginia through the storm. But as I held her close under an umbrella battered with rain that seemed to come down in streams rather than drops, I could feel her warmth and it calmed my nerves. She had just been taken away from the only people and dogs she ever knew, and was already far away with strange people in a strange car traveling through violent conditions, yet I sensed her trust in me. I don’t know if you have ever had anything trust you more than you trust yourself, but let me tell you, it’s a motivator.
Sixteen hundred nerve wracking miles later, we were home with our new addition. And every day since I have tried to earn the trust she gave me when she had no reason to. She was a good puppy and took to obedience training extremely well. Why, in a matter of just a couple weeks we took her to her first of our town’s Octoberfest celebrations. She might not remember them all, but she hasn’t missed one yet!
She spent some time in the field and has pointed, fetched and returned birds for me. But she does this because I ask her to, not because she likes it. She hates the gun, actually, so she is not a bird dog.
She earned her UKC championship at six months of age, but she only did it because I asked her to. She didn’t like being around a lot of other dogs, so she doesn’t have to do that anymore either.
No, from a very early age, and without a conscious decision, it just came to be that there was a separate set of rules for Winnie. Somehow, seemingly at birth, she had already earned the special treatment that is usually reserved for either that older dog who has proven himself in the field, or a dog who once saved your life. If all the dogs are sent outside on a hot summer day, Winnie stays in the air conditioning.
She hates the cold but loves the snow. She loves beer, lying on her side in cool grass, and toys with ropes attached.
She loves being around water but isn’t crazy about swimming. This makes her a wonderful kayaking companion, as she is quite content getting paddled around while she watches fish and birds and leaves floating in the river.
She’s content being alone. She’s always been an observer of things, and I’ve caught her doing it for long spans of time. I used to think she was just staring at nothing. But then I realized she’s doing what I do, she’s not looking at nothing. She’s looking at everything.
Which is one of many reasons she is my once in a lifetime dog. Neither of us minds being alone, but we genuinely enjoy each other’s company. And she’s easy to be around. She seems to sense when I need to sit in still silence, or to lean on her a bit, and she’s always there for playful, happy times too. If these things sound familiar, well, you’ve probably described your best friend too.
Happy 6th Birthday to Winnie. Whatever it is that made me deserve this dog, I haven’t done yet. But I’ll keep trying.
The moment the camera shutter closed on this image from the banks of the Rose River might just be when it all started.
My friend Douglas casts for trout as the sun sinks low in the November sky. A warm day. A cold beer. An azure blue sky reflected in water interrupted only by a series of circles reaching out to Douglas from its source: A dog.
It was there, and it was then, that I first observed my friend and his dog Enzo, a lanky young Spinone Italiano. I watched Enzo explore that farm, chasing birds and sniffing trails and running and running and running. I saw the freedom given him by Douglas to roam, and the discipline given him to faithfully return with a simple command. “Here.”
Faithful. This, I thought, is what I want.
Although my wife and I had moved to a rural area, we still lived in a house on a main road with a yard. We were surrounded by country, but not yet immersed in it. So it was just a fantasy, to have a dog that roamed the property, never too far to hear my call. But my next dog, while not a Spinone, did have a beard and bird hunting in her veins like Enzo. Over time, Winnie’s beard grew, but the bird hunting in her veins faded, and that’s alright. We did get that place in the country where dogs can run free, though.
Enzo went on to be a fixture at the farm, and in the life of my friend. They hunted together, fished together and traveled together. I was privileged to take a few long road trips with Douglas and Enzo, to hunt grouse and woodcock in the dense woods of Michigan and Maine. Enzo earned the sleep he soaked in on those return trips.
But the farm is where Enzo was truly at home. When Winnie was a puppy, Enzo showed her how to run off leash for the first time. When I added Finn a couple years later, Enzo showed him how to find a chukar at a nearby preserve. Finn and Enzo were two peas in a pod. Tall, dorky, sweet as molasses and just smelly enough one could convincingly blame the other. They napped in front of that big, hot, stone fireplace after a day of running like there’s no tomorrow.
And once in every life, there really is no tomorrow. And sometimes you never see it coming. It’s almost impossible to believe that Enzo is gone. That he has pointed his last bird, lapped up his last cool drink from the gin clear Rose. And it feels like I owe him something. And it feels like I owe my friend something too. The two of them showed me what that relationship between man and dog could be. My pair roams the property now, never too far they can’t be called in. They explore scent trails, kick up birds, point rabbits and roll in God knows what. And when I’m out mowing or trimming or repairing a fence or walking in the woods or fishing in my home river, they are by my side. And when I say “Here,” there they are. Faithful. Having dogs that have earned the freedom to roam off leash has been, well, I simply can’t overstate the peace and enjoyment it has brought me.
My heart aches for my friend. To me, Enzo has always been a part of Douglas, a part of Rose River Farm. And in a way he always will be. But he will also be a part of me and the life I have built with my dogs. I can’t ever repay a gift like that.
Rest in peace, Enzo. I hope where you are there are countless wild birds, endless cool mornings and open fields that stretch forever. And at the end, a warm fire by which to rest. Hunt hard, sleep deeply. There are no more commands, you’re already here.
After a brief test run a week ago to make sure Finn was open to the idea, we went out for his maiden point-to-point voyage Sunday afternoon. I’ve had Winnie in the kayak with me before, but she’s 50 lbs. and Finn is 70 and a lot taller when he sits up. But as long as he didn’t make any sudden moves, the whole arrangement proved pretty comfortable.
But, no question about it, the best possible position for him to be in is lying down. He got pretty comfortable, although I forgot to bring the plugs to put in the scupper holes. So between my fat ass and his, we were a little back heavy and he had to deal with some water back there. He doesn’t mind this, he loves to lie down in the water in fact. But next time I’ll bring those scupper plugs and keep the back seat a bit drier for him.
So we left the safe confines of the boat launch area on the C&O Canal at Brunswick, MD, and ventured out into the main stem of the Potomac. The first thing we see are geese. I wouldn’t say this was unexpected, I see thousands of geese on the Potomac. But I kind of forgot that Finn would be encountering new things on the water in addition to just the flowing river. He moaned about these geese, some of whom crossed right in front of the boat (I did not have the camera for that because, truthfully, I was preparing for a Finn-induced capsizing). But an easy, “staaaaayyyyyy,” and he kept calm.
Once we encountered a few obstacles, ran through a couple areas of riffles, and got a few miles under our belt, it was time to find a lazy stretch of river, hang my feet over the side and share a cold beer with my boy. I am so proud of him!
After the beer break, a storm started building behind us. We were in sight of the takeout ramp but still had some paddling to do. Finn doesn’t like thunderstorms one bit, so maybe he was keeping an eye on the storm here. But facing the back of the boat proved to be I think the most comfortable orientation for him, and he just rested his chin on the back there.
We beat the storm back to the ramp and of course Finn made fast friends. I’ve certainly never had a dog that makes friends so easily, but everybody loves this boy. And, as I noticed at the festival down in Richmond, people kind of just want to put their hand on him.
The gentleman on the left was talking to me about fishing and asked if I had fished my way downstream. I told him no, this being Finn’s first trip I didn’t want any extra distractions. We were watching his friend fish off the side of the ramp as he caught a little smallmouth. He brought it over to us while he was taking the hook out and Finn just FREAKED OUT! He wanted that fish! I was holding Finn’s collar and the fisherman walked back to the water’s edge and tossed the bass back in, about fifteen feet away. We continued talking for a few minutes and, with Finn in a sit, I didn’t think twice about letting go of his collar. The instant I did he took off at full speed into the river right to where the fish was thrown in! I called him back and he did his upright, front legs splashing, barely making forward progress swim back to the ramp. One of the men said, “He’s not a very good swimmer.”
No, no he isn’t. Although he’s pretty good at dog paddling. He just prefers the kind with a boat.
I met former Miss Virginia Tara Wheeler through her involvement in Project Healing Waters. Tara, a proud supporter of our servicemen and women, has generously donated her time at the last few 2-Fly Tournaments serving as emcee. So when she got engaged to her fiance Jared, who she met while fishing, she thought the perfect place for an engagement photo shoot would be the beautiful Rose River Farm, Home Waters to Project Healing Waters and site of the annual 2-Fly.
When Tara asked me if I would shoot the photos, I was at once honored and terrified. “We really love your photography,” she said. To which I replied, “Um…have you noticed there are no people in my photographs?” I was well outside my comfort zone with this project, to say the least. But I agreed, and scouted some fun spots around the farm to shoot. On the day of the shoot, they brought with them a lot of love, energy and fun ideas.
I have the utmost respect for all those who do this for a living, and I do not purport to be a professional portrait photographer. But here are my favorite images from the day. Thank you Tara and Jared for trusting me with this important project, and congratulations on your engagement!
Jeanna Jones approached her house holding the saddest thing you can ever bring from a visit to the vet: an empty collar. Before the front door even opened she could hear the wails of the one-day-old litter inside. Eleven healthy Vizsla pups cried for their mother, Mabel, whose collar Jeanna still clutched in her hand. Jeanna cried too, but knew there was little time for grieving. There were mouths to feed. Lots of mouths.
The previous day was a long one, with puppies coming steadily at first, then with more time in between until, at last, there were eleven. Mabel was exhausted, of course, and so was Jeanna for that matter. But nothing about the day gave any indication how drastically, how tragically, events were to unfold in less than 24 hours.
All eleven Elves – as Jeanna now called them – made it through the first night, and Jeanna spent some time in the morning on facebook, catching friends, family and fans up on the puppies’ progress. But later that day something went horribly wrong, and Mabel was rushed to the vet, stricken with sudden, severe gastric torsion.
She was hurried into surgery, but was lost on the table. Jeanna, shocked and grieving, shared her burden with hundreds of friends on facebook, most of whom she had never met, many of whom were anxiously awaiting happy updates and puppy pictures.
Jeanna: It is with a broken heart that I have to say that Mabel left us at 7:30 this evening. Rest in Peace my darling girl – Ajandstar Tirpitz By Addaci 12/03/06-29/07/11.
On that lonely drive home, Jeanna’s heart ached and her mind raced. She would be immediately greeted with the daunting task of hand-feeding 11 puppies who have not eaten in hours. And as she reached home and approached that door, with that collar warm in her hand, she felt alone.
But already the supportive forces of friends unseen were at work. And before she even reached out, fellow breeders and friends near and far knew what she would need next.
Jeanna: Does anyone know of a lactating bitch who would accept a few pups to rear?
Minutes later she reported that all 11 had taken some milk from a bottle – a start. A very small start to a painstaking uphill journey, but a start nonetheless. For tonight, she thought, it would have to do.
As the Elves slept, comforted and warmed by Jeanna’s dog Tipli, sympathy poured onto Jeanna’s facebook wall from every time zone. Overwhelming, sad surprise mixed with frustration at the distance that could not be crossed. So many friends wishing they could help had to resort to those hollow words from an ocean away, “If there is anything I can do, anything at all…”
The next morning, Day 3, brought warm, clean, beautiful pups thanks to the overnight efforts of Tipli. She had no milk to give, but cleaned and looked after the Elves and let them suckle. Tipli went outside to quickly take care of business and then immediately returned to tend to her adopted brood.
The pups were weighed, and 6 of the 11 had either regained or slightly surpassed their birth weights. The 5 others had a ways to go, and one of those didn’t like sucking the bottle. But, Jeanna said, “he will suck all day on a dry nipple.”
In these early, immensely stressful days before she had even had time to fully grasp the loss of her beloved Mabel, Jeanna’s positive attitude sustained her and inspired those following her story.
Jeanna: Just had a fleeting thought that I am manically clutching at straws today but I don’t care. I am going to try everything in my power to make sure these pups get the best chance possible. Positive thinking will win every time!!!!
Many friends read Jeanna’s facebook plea, but Jim Cooper was in a unique position to help. His dog Bessy’s own litter of pups had recently been weaned, and she still had plenty of milk to offer. He called Jeanna and offered Bessy’s services as a surrogate. Bessy, however, was in Sussex, England, on the other side of the country.
So the call for help went out again, this time for transport.
Jeanna: I need to get a lactating bitch from East Sussex to Cardiff ASAP to help with the little ones. Is there anyone who could drive parts of the way to help get her here? Her own pups are just being weaned but she has loads of milk and loves anyone’s pups, not just her own.
“Network” is such an overused word in the digital age that it’s lost some of its meaning. But on the third night of the Elve’s saga, a network of supporters came together to collect a dog and transport her three hundred miles to her hungry charges. Susanne Pope, a woman Jeanna had never met, started Bessy’s westward odyssey. Then Rachel Edmonds volunteered for the next leg. Finally Ros and David Wakeling relayed her to Jeanna, arriving at 4:00 a.m. and not a moment too soon. It had been a rough night of slow feeding, taking Jeanna so long to feed them all, by the time she was done with the last it was time to start all over.
When Bessy arrived (and after the news was gently broken to Tipli that she would have to share her pups) they were divided into two groups, with the 4 most needy pups feeding first.
Day 4 brought newfound hope, excitement and energy, and the most optimistic update yet.
Jeanna: So all 11 pups, warm, dry, clean, content, sleeping and full! Looking good! Their two foster mums are working in tandem – Bessy feeding them with Tipli cleaning and stimulating.
Little did those foster mums know, people from across the globe shed tears of gratitude for them for doing what simply came naturally. One feeding blurred into another, more rotations, an occasional rest, another sunrise and another night is conquered. And so it continued, initially in fits and starts, then more smoothly as everyone settled into their odd new routine. And just like that, the first, critical week was behind them.
Jeanna: What an incredibly long week this has been! Happy One Week Birthday to all my 11 little Elves! To celebrate they have got proper collars and some little soft toys! Plus Bessy got a new soft bed so she is extra comfortable whilst she stays with us.
Every passing day saw the pups gaining weight and brought Jeanna more confidence. And on the tenth day, a major milestone was passed. The first of the pups – Mr. Yellow and Miss Lime, now identified by their new colored collars – doubled their birth weights. The next day, five more followed suit, with the remaining pups not far behind. Eyes began to squint open, wobbly legs found purchase beneath round, puppy bellies and they began to explore.
At the two week mark, it was hard to imagine they had come so far.
Jeanna: All now full, burped, pooped & flat out after having their nails trimmed too! Things are looking good, the future is bright, the future is lovely, chunky, ginger monkeys!
And the next day, the last of the Elves strained to open his eyes to that bright future.
Even as Bessy and Tipli and the Elves had uneventful days of eating and growing and learning and playing more each day, other hurdles were placed in the path. Jeanna struggled with health issues, and had to do some of her miracle work while on crutches between MRI’s and doctor’s appointments. And through it all, her positive outlook, bolstered by the challenges she had already tackled, gave her strength. And those who followed from afar watched with wonder and growing admiration.
It would be another week before Jeanna would celebrate their three week birthday by sleeping in her own bed for the first time since they were born.
When the day came for Bessy to pack up her new cozy bed and head east to Sussex, before she left she took her pups – Mabel’s pups, Tipli’s pups, Jeanna’s pups – outside for the very first time, and introduced them to the big wide world. And they did exactly what puppies do. They played and chased and wandered. They sniffed and ate and rolled in muck.
In a peaceful, empty house, Jeanna lovingly bathed each pup. They huddled together, warm and dry, and slept the sleep of puppies who have had a very big day. Meanwhile, Bessy arrived home safe and sound, bringing with her to Sussex a cozy new bed and the warm thanks of hundreds of people whose paths she will never cross, but whose lives she unknowingly changed, if just a little.
In the weeks that followed, one by one the Elves who touched the lives of so many strangers, joined their new families. They posed for pictures with grinning parents and laughing children. They went home to canine and feline brothers and sisters. And with them they each brought their Kennel Club registration, complete with names that befit their remarkable launch into the world: Addaci Answered Prayer, Addaci Ever the Optimist, Addaci Fighting Spirit, Addaci Gift of Love, Addaci Lasting Legacy, Addaci Positive Thinking, Addaci Amazing Grace, Addaci Grace of God, Addaci Hope Springs Eternal and Addaci Mountain of Miracles.
And if you only counted ten, you’re right. Miss Purple, the last to leave, is not leaving at all. She’ll grow up exploring the same earth she discovered with Bessy, hearing the same voice she heard the day she was born, and knowing the warm familiar comfort of Tipli by her side. In the yard where she plays, soon she will find and investigate two special new rose bushes Jeanna has ordered. One is named Elfin. The other, Mabel.
As for Miss Purple, around the house she is called Nyssa. In Danish, Nyssa means “Little Red Elf.” In Greek, just as fitting, the name means “Beginning.” But her registered Kennel Club name is as perfect a name as there ever was. She is and will forever be, Addaci Legacy of Love.