The world may be in turmoil, but today I’ve been bouncing up and down in glee (when not reading the news): Pop Otter and Mama Chipmunk are getting a Sheltie puppy next week. Even though I’m a thousand miles away, I’m thrilled about my new little “brother.”
This 13-week-old male puppy will need a name, and I am hereby opening The Ottery for suggestions. Preference given to Lord of the Rings or saints’ names, but I think we’re especially inclined towards names that have something to do with Easter. To understand why, you need to know the story of how we got our previous Shelties. I’ve enlisted Pop Otter to tell the story from his perspective, since he’s become quite accustomed to telling it from the pulpit.
So, without further ado, here’s Pop Otter:
A Shetland Sheepdog does not just wag its tail, but its whole body. It is the best picture of joy that I know. Mama Chipmunk and I are about to acquire our fifth wagger, every one a gift from God.
Our first was Rowsby Woof, who came to us in 1978 and on whom we practiced our parenting skills before the arrival of the Otter. Rowsby was beautiful, although not so stunningly so as the male Shelties in our lives. She was cute, but not so overwhelmingly so as the other female we have owned. What she had above the others was a clever quirkiness and inventiveness that filled our days with funny stories. I will spare you for now. Be careful that you have some time when you ask.
Pippin was our next Sheltie, a beautiful, beloved, high-spirited puppy, a constant delight and a constant challenge. He welcomed each day with zest and joy, and he was determined not to let things sink into the humdrum.
On a December morning, I was in the back yard playing with Pippin, when I heard a distressed call from the front of the house. Mama Chipmunk and Otter had just discovered that a vandal had thrown rocks through our car window during the night. I came through the yard gate, and Pippin came bolting right behind me, ran straight to the street, and attacked the first moving vehicle he saw head on. He died at the vet’s office. He wasn’t yet one year old.
We were crushed. A church friend gave us some money toward our next dog, but we were not ready.
During Holy Week that following spring, Otter, age 8 in human years, came to me and said, “I have been praying that Pippin would be raised from the dead.”
Gulping a bit, I asked, “And what do you think will happen in answer to your prayer?”
She replied, “It says in the Bible if you have faith that you will get what you ask for.”
“Yes, it does,” I replied, “and I believe what the Bible says, but sometimes the answer comes in a different time or a different form from what we expect.”
“Oh, I know that. I think that it will come in the form of puppies.”
I noticed that she used the plural and wondered about it. It was a busy week, and I didn’t get around to telling Mama Chipmunk about the conversation, but the Sunday after Easter, Mama Chipmunk came home with a nice cash gift from a church member who had said, “This is not a gift for the church, or for a ministry, or for anything you need. This is a gift for your family for something useless that you would all enjoy together.”
Mama Chipmunk said, “I can’t think of anything that fits better than to start a puppy fund.”
She started to put the money in a covered bowl on a shelf. When she opened the bowl, she found the money we had put there as an emergency fund for the house sitter when we went on vacation the summer before. It exactly doubled the fund. I reminded her of the previous gift. We were close to having enough money to buy a Sheltie puppy. Tuesday evening, we were on the way out of the house to go to a school program and the phone rang. It was the breeders from Cabot, AR, who had sold us Pippin. “We heard what happened to your dog, and we would like to help. We have two puppies that we can’t sell to our usual customers. One is oversize and the other is undersize. We would like to give you your choice. Could you come look at them?”
We made arrangements to go to their house after the school program. There I watched Mama Chipmunk falling in love with the feisty little female and Otter falling in love with the affectionate big male. I said, “Could you give us a few weeks to complete payment for the one you don’t give us, but not tell us which one you give us and which one we buy?” They agreed. Then I thought, “Puppies! Just what Otter prayed for, and they could only have come from God.”
The puppies, very quickly named after favorite Lord of the Rings characters Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, chose to spend their first night by the pantry, and Otter chose to spend the night on the floor with the answers to her prayer.
Otter’s editorial note: I remember thinking that maybe they would miss their littermates, and so I tried to make them less lonely. My thought process was undoubtedly influenced by having been called “the bald puppy” when I was a baby, and having heard the dogs referred to as “the fuzzy children” all my life.
A further “coincidence”: when we got Tom’s and Goldberry’s paperwork, we discovered that they were born on Mama Chipmunk’s birthday.
Tom and Goldberry never had as much pizzazz as Pippin, but they were our most affectionate Shelties. They loved people and would drag us across the street to greet anyone they knew and trusted, including small children! Adding to affection, Goldberry mastered “cute,” while Tom worked on “regal.” But, throughout their lives, they were for us signs that Jesus knew where we lived. And they have reminded us that life in Christ is a constant adventure in which we may and must trust our living Lord through cross and loss, through resurrection and victory.
Christmas 1989 was quite different from Christmas 1988. Our canine tokens of God’s grace outshone all the packages.
Puppies may seem a small subject to gain the attention of the Lord of the universe, but it is through small subjects that Jesus builds the faith that changes the world.
Time has passed, and the scenes have changed. Goldberry died of a heart condition in 1999, and Tom followed in 2003. Since then, Mama Chipmunk and I have been waiting for the right time for a new puppy. It’s been our longest Sheltie-less period since 1978, and we’ve sorely missed our canine companions.
This Monday, our day off, I decided to call a well-known Sheltie breeder who lives less than two hours from us, intending merely to establish a relationship and look ahead to a future puppy, one that did not meet their show standards and would be available at family pet prices. When the owner said that they happened to have an over-sized male puppy available, my heart was flooded with memories of that earlier oversized male Tom. Then the owner said that the puppy’s father, when not using his formal name, was called “Thomas.” We made arrangements to visit that very day. Mama Chipmunk had been more inclined toward a smaller female. But three things happened: (1) The puppy was at the vet’s when we arrived, and so we had to play with the older dogs which included the puppy’s currently high-flying sire and another male, a recently retired Westminster Best of Breed. The dogs turned out to be delightful and well adjusted pets as well as famous dog royalty. (2) The puppy arrived and proceeded to work the famous Sheltie puppy heart-melting routine. (3) One of the owners mentioned that the puppy was born on Easter Sunday.
Sold! We plan to pick the puppy up next Monday.
By the way, the Westminster winner that we just met has the odd habit of wagging up and down rather than side to side. Our whimsical Creator does something unique each time around. As we drove home from the breeder’s, my eyes several times filled with tears of joy, and those who know me well know that this is not a frequent occurrence. Dogs may seem a frivolous luxury characteristic of a spoiled, prosperous culture, but they have been far more than that for me. I have learned much about God and life through our dogs.
1 comment July 18th, 2006