Happy birthday, Tilly!

Meadow 1

Ten years ago we made a decision to bring a dog into our family. Our daughter had suffered a string of losses and we hoped that the companionship of a bouncy young dog might aid in her recovery; and my husband had always been mad about dogs and pined for one of his own. I was the hold-out in the family. It wasn't that I disliked dogs, but I didn't really know much about them. I'd lived with a cat for twenty years -- a big striped tom-cat, feisty and independent -- and dogs by comparison, well, seemed like an awful lot of work.

Tilly sketch by David WyattWe dithered about it for a couple of months until an exasperated young friend declared: "Get a dog, or don't get a dog, but don't just keep talking about it!" Learning that a farmer in the north of Devon had a litter of pups ready to leave their mama, we jumped in the car "just to take a look" ... and came back home with a tiny black bundle snoozing calmly on our daughter's lap.

Tilly is often mistaken for a small Labrador Retriever, but she's actually a cross known as a Springador: her mother was a liver-and-white Springer Spaniel, and her father was (supposedly) a yellow Lab from a nearby farm. (There was also a big black mutt slinking around, looking mighty pleased with himself.) The entire litter of eight was black but for one male pup with a blaze of white. Tilly looked identical to the others. There was nothing special to distinguish her, and anyway, Howard wanted a boy ... but this tiny scrap of being had her own ideas. We didn't choose our dog, our dog chose us -- quietly, clearly, and with great determination. It was less than an hour's drive back to Dartmoor, but by the time she entered the house in Howard's arms she'd already turned me from a Dog Agnostic to a passionate member of the Dog-loving Tribe.

Tilly at 8 weeks old

Meadow 2

When Tilly was young, the two of us liked to start our mornings in the garden watching birds: me sitting in a low deck chair, my morning coffee close to hand, with the pup tucked into the folds of my skirt where it stretched between my knees.

Tilly as a pup

Meadow 3

Ten years later, we still often start the day outdoors -- in a field, or the woods, or up on the hill.  If the weather is good, I pick a spot to read or write while Tilly sits close by: watching the birds, sniffing the breeze, following the movements of sheep and wild ponies through the fields below.

Meadow 7

I can't gather her up in my skirts anymore -- but I love the big, warm bulk of her, and her greying muzzle, and the jowls below her chin. We've both grown older and slower through the years, but the signs of age that discomfort me in myself seem entirely lovely on her.

Meadow 8

"We love dogs," writes Erica Jong, "because they show us how to live with with utmost simplicity: Rejoice and kick up your heels after a good shit. Love the one who feeds you. Curl up with the one who strokes your belly. Cherish a good master and lick him into enduring servitude. Celebrate life. Praise God. Find your way home no matter how long it takes. Watch out for the coyotes in the woods. Sniff every corner of the room before you decide to stay there. Turn around three times and create a magic circle before you settle down to dreaming. Decide to trust someone totally before you die.

''Birthday Jig for Howard'' by David Wyatt"These are some of the things I've leaned from the dogs in my life. Cats teach us other lessons -- lessons about keeping your own counsel, cherishing your independence, and giving love without surrendering one's self. Dogs seem more slobbery and slavish. But it is we who become their slaves. As a species, humans are slow to trust. Perhaps that's because we have disregarded our noses for so many millenia. The nose is the only organ that tells it true. By living with dogs, we reclaim the feral in ourselves. We may seek to civilize them, but in truth they help us reclaim the wildness in ourselves. They remind us that in the ancient days we have had much wisdom that we have since sadly abandoned: the wisdom of touch, the wisdom of smell, the wisdom of the senses."

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"It's not that I was unhappy in what I now think of as 'the dogless years,' " Ann Patchett recalls about the days before her Rose entered her life, "but I suspected things could be better. What I could Sketchs of Tilly by Kathleen Jenningsnever have imagined was how much better they would be. I had entered into my first relationship of mutual, unconditional love....

"I watch the other dog owners in the park, married people and single people and people with children. The relationship each one has with his or her dog is very personal and distinct. But what I see again and again is that people are proud of their pets, proud of the way they run, proud of how they nose around with the other dogs, proud that they are brave enough to go into the water or smart enough to stay out of it. People seem able to love their dogs with an unabashed acceptance that they rarely demonstrate with family or friends. The dogs do not disappoint them, or if they do, the owners manage to forget about it quickly. I want to learn to love like this, the way we love our dogs, with pride and enthusiasm and complete amnesia for faults. In short, to love others the way our dogs love us."

Amen.

Meadow 6

Meadow 8

Words: The passages quoted above are from "A Woman's Best Friend" by Erica Jong and "This Dog's Life" by Ann Patchett, published in Dog is My Co-Pilate (Tree Rivers Press, 2003). The poem in the picture captions is from Poetry magazine (August issue, 1999). All rights reserved by the authors.

Pictures: The first drawing of Tilly as a young pup is from preliminary sketches for In the Word Wood by David Wyatt. The second Tilly sketch, also by David, is called "The Birthday Jig." The little colour drawings of Tilly are from Kathleen Jenning's sketchbook. Photographs: Tilly at eight weeks old, ten weeks old, and ten years old.


Happy Birthday to our Tilly

Tilly as a pup

"People seem able to love their dogs with an unabashed acceptance that they rarely demonstrate with family or friends. The dogs do not disappoint them, or if they do, the owners manage to forget about it quickly. I want to learn to love like this, the way we love our dogs, with pride and enthusiasm and a complete amnesia for faults. In short, to love others the way our dogs love us." 

-  Ann Patchett (''This Dog's Life'')

Tilly's birthday is tomorrow, but we'll be away so I'm posting this today. She's eight years old, and continues to be the four-footed heart of our household.

Terri & Tilly Windling

Tilly  2017


Happy Birthday Tilly!

Reading with Tilly  2009

It's hard to believe that the little scrap of fur we brought home from a farm in Tiverton is six years old today, and utterly impossible to imagine our household without her intelligent, joyous, and goofy presence.

In honor of the occasion, here are links to some of my favorite poems about dogs...and I'd love to know yours.

Tilly at 10 weeks old"What the Dog Perhaps Hears" by Lisel Mueller

"Over and Over Tune" by Ionna Carlson

"Dog Music" by Paul Zimmer

"Dog Dreaming" by W.S. Merwin

"Dharma" by Billy Collins

"A Dog on His Master" by Billy Collins

"Walking the Dog" by Harold Nemerov

"The Dogs at Live Oak Beach, Santa Cruz" by Alice Ostriker

"If Feeling Isn't In It" by John Brehm

"Mongrel Heart" by David Baker

...and selections from Mary Oliver's "Dog Songs."

Howard and Tilly  2009

Howard and Tilly 2015


She's five years old today....

Tilly

Birthday Portrait 2

"Dogs are minor angels, and I don't mean that facetiously. They love unconditionally, forgive immediately, are the truest of friends, willing to do anything that makes us happy, etcetera. If we attributed some of those qualities to a person we would say they are special. If they had all of them, we would call them angelic. But because it's 'only' a dog, we dismiss them as sweet or funny but little more. However when you think about it, what are the things that we most like in another human being? Many times those qualities are seen in our dogs every single day -- we're just so used to them that we pay no attention."   - Jonathan Carroll

Happy birthday to our minor angel.


Happy Birthday Tilly!

Tilly in 2009

Our pup is two years old today. In dog years, she is a teenager now: wavering between moments of solemn maturity and goofy bursts of pure puppyishness. She's reached her full growth -- which is smaller than full-blood labs (since she's half spaniel too, on her mother's side). Her dominant personality trait is an endless capacity for joy. And may that never change.

''No matter how close we are to another person, few human relationships are as free from strife, disagreement, and frustration as is the relationship you have with a good dog. Few human beings give of themselves to another as a dog gives of itself. I also suspect that we cherish dogs because their unblemished souls make us wish - consciously or unconsciously - that we were as innocent as they are, and make us yearn for a place where innocence is universal and where the meanness, the betrayals, and the cruelties of this world are unknown.''

- Dean Koontz (A Big Little Life)

Happy Birthday  dear girl!


Happy Birthday Tilly!

Tilly in Sept 2009

Today is Tilly's first birthday. She was born exactly a year ago on a farm in Tiverton, and came to live with us at Bumblehill just eight weeks later. I'm away from home at the moment, but I'm setting up this post in advance so that it will appear on the proper day -- to celebrate our lovely, goofy girl, who brings us so much joy and laughter.

So happy, happy birthday, Tilly! And thank you, dear Howard and Victoria, for talking me into the idea of adding a dog to the family. I remember just how reluctant I was...and I admit it, I was wrong and you were right....

Summer 2010