Walking the Master: Part II




In Walking the Master:  Part I I talked about how Laddie became my master on our daily walks, teaching me mindfulness, joy, living in the moment.   

Laddie died in January 2008 at the age of 12 and his passing left a huge void in the family.  But at the same time, we knew it would be a while before we could own another dog.

When the conversation started, and I saw the wheels turning in the heads of my now-grown children, I carefully planted seeds:  “Labs are such great dogs.” “If I were to get another dog I’d go to a shelter and get an adult dog.  They are less likely to get adopted, and they’re already housebroken.”  “I can only hope that my next dog as as chilled out and gentle as Laddie was.”  

When the kids sprung the “surprise” on us this Christmas, it was clear something had definitely gotten lost in the translation.  In fact, it seemed that they took it in their heads to get us the exact opposite of what I had talked about, because our little Christmas bundle of joy was a half terrier/half border collie rambunctious 6-week old pup.  At least she was from a shelter–that part they got right.  The kids talked about how they “met” her mom at the shelter, too, and how laid back and cool she was.  I wondered why they hadn’t brought me the mom.   

Because, by my Scottish husband’s decree, no one is allowed anything but a Scottish name in our family, we decided that the perfect name for her would be Nessie–which is also the nickname for the Loch Ness Monster.  Very appropriate.   

The border collie half of her breeding seems to be the dominant half, because she is highly energetic with a strong herding instinct.  I found this out the first time she grabbed my pant leg as I left my bedroom and entered the hall, nearly hurtling me and my coffee down the flight of stairs .   She also herds brooms, leaves, and anything else that blows across the yard.   I snap on her leash, which she then takes in her mouth, leading ME out the door.  When I walk her in the morning, I have to avoid the main road out of the subdivision because she goes into a frenzy.  “OMG!!”  She seems to say to herself.  “Mutiny among the Brunswick Acres herd!!”   As much as she seems to realize that corraling all these tin sheep is futile, she tries with all her 25 pounds of might to get them back in their places by barking and straining at every rebellious fugitive fleeing the neighborhood taking its owner to work.

My husband and I are now at the stage where we thought our lives could revolve only around what we wanted.  Now in our 50s, we’re not at anyone’s beck and call–or at least we weren’t until we got Nessie.   In defense mode, we signed her up for training classes.  The famous dog whisperer Cesar Millan‘s book “Be the Pack Leader” is my bedside bible.   We are also investigating agility classes and electronic fences to divert her high-level energy.    As if I just found out that I was pregnant, we ask ourselves every day, “Are we really ready for this?”   But as Nessie works her way into our hearts, we know the answer.

Plus, the truth is, someday, she’ll out-age us.  When we first got her, I said to my son, “Do you realize I’ll be over 70 when she dies?”  And then it occurred to me that there will come a point where she will be even older than we will be.  She will usher us out of mid-life and into our senior years, and then, like Moses at the edge of the Promised Land, her journey will end, as ours continues forth.

When Laddie died, on top of the grief we had over losing such a cherished companion, there was grief over the end of an era.  The life of a dog is roughly half a generation.  Laddie entered our lives when our kids were ages 10 through 17.  By the time he died the kids had entered high school and graduated, entered college and graduated, gotten first jobs, been on 12 family vacations in Vermont, and had moved out of the family home.  So I grieved the fact that this treasured time of our lives was being buried with him.  Laddie had walked the master through that phase of our lives.  Now, Nessie is herding us into the next.    

But for today, Nessie and I will hang out together.  We’ve been on our morning walk back by the creek where we checked in on the new family of ducklings the mallards have just given birth to.   Later on, we’ll play snoutball in the back yard–a version of soccer that Nessie invented–using her snout and a basketball.  She’ll do her wilding for sure in the evening when we’re winding down, spinning around on the furniture like a whirling dervish.    And I’ll enjoy it–because a dozen years just goes by too darn fast–and it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking people years or dog years.   It’s a short walk, after all.



  1. Great essay! I SWEAR they told us half-lab… And we thought she was a couple years old, you know? She looked old for her age, can you blame her? :o) love, your giving daughter

  2. Cameron says:

    A very nice perspective on a new chapter in our family. There is no doubt that Laddie was an amazing dog and offered so much to all of us. There is also no doubt that Nessie will offer us something else other than high blood pressure. But so far it’s been VERY different but I agree and like the metaphor “herding us into the next”. While you and Dad are bearing the brunt and burden of raising a puppy, we can only hope that in the end she is giving you more joy than stress. Also, we can only hope she begins to “relieve herself” outside of the house! I really enjoyed reading this one. Well done Mom!

  3. Marianne says:

    Dearest Ian’s Mom:

    I work with your lovely son in Vermont. He shared this blog since I am a huge lover of dogs, or should I say a lover of huge dogs. In January, my sweet ancient Bella, a 12 year old St Bernard went to doggie heaven. She was loving, never chewed anything excepts treats and was loyal as the day is long. Two days after her passing I had to leave for a work trip. This trip took me away for 10 days, out of country. I specifically said to my family “I do NOT want to return home to a new dog.” We have another Saint and two cats – a full house. Ten days later I returned home to a rambunctious 80 pound 10 month old Newfoundland “puppy.” He was born in a shelter and needed a home. How could my family say “no?” Sometimes these little (or huge) gifts come from mysterious places.

    Hope you are still enjoying the new addition to your family.

    • Catherine says:

      Marianne, thanks so much for sharing your story! As my Mom used to say, “Man plans and God laughs.” Our best-laid plans may go awry, but maybe God, and our families, know best! Enjoy your pup! I’ll be thinking of you!

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