Ode to a Springtime Dog

While it’s traditional for dogs to “belong” to their human owners, I’ve always felt like I actually belonged to our four-legged family members. I used to belong to a dog that had an unerring knack for finding box turtles. That seemed to be particularly true in the spring when nosing among the unfurling skunk cabbage she would suddenly reappear with the box turtle proudly and gingerly held in her jaw. We would rescue said turtle and send it on its merry way... being a black lab you would expect that there would be other things she would retrieve but this really was her one and only specialty.

Her name was Bessie (pictured above running with Sarah) and she had a rather large but ungainly body but wide webs between her pads making her a most powerful swimmer. However, while she would swim after sticks, she would not bring them back. She was singular. I always remember Bessie in the spring. Maybe because it is the season of box turtles and skunk cabbage or the thrilling scents of new things in the air and the ring of spring peepers.

Bessie was born in Virginia but followed us to Montana where sadly there was nary a box turtle for her to retrieve on her springtime flings. Since Bessie died her ashes have sat on the shelf, traveling from Montana back. I have promised myself each spring that THIS is the year I will walk the trails behinds a friend’s house when her lawn is carpeted in daffodils and sprinkle Bessie along the oak-leaf laden paths she loved.

Spring is always a little mixed for me – so many people see it as a time of new beginning but for me there’s always a bit of a bitter sweet flavor to the season. It is a season of hope or maybe better yet it is a season of yet unrealized potential. Anything is possible… even hearing the snuffling of a ghost dog finding box turtles in the emerging flowers.


* As a reminder, James Madison’s Montpelier welcomes dogs. Please join us on Sunday, June 10 and Sunday, September 2 at 2pm for “The Dogs of Montpelier Landscape Walk.” This 1.5 mile tour gives visitors--with or without their beloved dogs--the chance to learn about the history of pets on the Montpelier property. Along the way, learn about the dogs that called Montpelier home, and their people. The cost is $5.00 per human. Register (required) by calling 540-672-2728, x141.

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