Our Old English Sheepdog(s)

by Kathy Coogan

We have an Old English Sheepdog named Lucy, the third of three rescues since 1987. We were moving that spring to a new house which sat amidst trees up a private lane.

Our daughter was twelve, too old for a baby-sitter (in her opinion) but a little bit creeped out by our new setting which seemed remote but actually sat in the middle of a busy suburban neighborhood.

At night the trees created a silent, dark barricade. The only exterior light came from the moon, which shone into our backyard like a flashlight held in a giant’s hand. Nearby houses disappeared, their porch lights and illuminated windows obliterated by the leafy woods.

Our independent only-child daughter hated to admit that she was too afraid to stay home alone when her dad and I had evening plans so she had lots of sleepovers with friends in the first weeks in the house. An intermittent solution at best.

My husband never liked dogs. He was a dry-cleaner’s son, making deliveries to the posh houses his father’s business served. Posh houses often have protective dogs whose barks and bites were equivalent if you got close enough.

The clatter of the paper garment-bags hanging over a delivery boy’s shoulder triggered the alarm for lots of Fidos, Fritzes and Spots. Lady, who wasn’t one, nipped his ankles a few times, too.

Thus we were surprised when Dad suggested the perfect solution – A Big Dog. Specifically an Old English Sheepdog. Perhaps he had done research or perhaps he was just intuitively drawn to the breed despite his canine fears. Or perhaps he had been a fan of Peter Pan and remembered Nana. We never discussed it, too happy with the decision.

Aggie was our first. She lived thirteen years, unknowingly protecting us in her passive, sweet way. It was enough that she appear at the front door in all her shaggy seventy pound glory to make the toughest-looking appliance repairman enter with caution.

She roamed our fenced backyard, never barking but keeping random uninvited doorbell-ringers at bay. She cuddled our daughter and made her feel brave when we left her alone on winter evenings. The moon stopped being a scary beacon when Aggie was nearby.

Aggie’s death, though anticipated for months, left us weeping and bereaved. Leaving the Vet’s office after, I sat in the back of our church sobbing silently as the Sodality Ladies said the rosary and peeked back at me, wondering I’m sure, about my tragedy. I was unable to say “Aggie” for weeks without gulping down grief.

We were now living in a different house and daughter-dear had graduated from college and was working in another state. What did we need with another dog? We weren’t Dog People. But…

Gracie arrived soon after, another rescued OES, channeling Aggie as if the old dear had never left. Is it the breed that determines demeanor and personality or does the dog pick up the family’s vibes? In any case, Gracie lived with us till she was fifteen, teaching us her pleasures and aging more gracefully than my husband and me.

She was my walking companion, up and down neighborhood streets, in good weather and bad, in good times and sad ones, until the last two years when she began to look mournfully back toward our house after doing her business one block from home. Ultimately she rarely left the backyard.

When she died in our kind Vet’s office, my husband and I decided that we definitely did not need another dog. Absolutely – no dog. That was in February, 2010.

On July 4, 2010, we adopted Lucy, who like her namesake Lucille Ball, was a little nuts! She was a skinny fifty-nine pound Old English Stick-dog, shaved down to the skin, blessedly de-matted by her rescuer.

She seemed to have been homeless and hungry for a long time; jumpy at the slightest sound; fearful of getting into or even out of our car. Her body language screamed abandonment. But eventually the pheromones or ESP or habits or whatever it is that turned our other two sheepdogs into OUR sheepdog, happened.

Just like Aggie and Gracie before her, Lucy follows us around the house, stopping where we stop, sitting or lying down where we sit or lie down. If my husband is lying on the couch, Lucy is there where his fingertips can graze her fur. She shuns her food until we eat, too. We keep a nightlight on so we don’t trip over her during our sleepy visits to the loo.

She’s about three years old now and I had to adjust to walking a young dog as opposed to an elderly one. She is friendly, which translates from dog-ese, “If you pet me once, you must never stop,” or “I see that dog over there and I want to play.” She is strong so my biceps and abs were my first line of control: hold that leash tight! Now I simply say “Sit, Luce.” And now, amazingly, after many dog-cookie rewards, she does. Good Dog.

Last week when we were taking our evening potty walk, Lucy started growling toward the pine trees. Lucy – growling – never happens. Suddenly frantic, she pulled me first toward, then away from the pines. As if making a decision, she pulled me up the driveway as aggressively as she had when she was new to us and nutty. I was impatient and angry with this silly dog. “No Lucy, No!” She ignored me, pulling forward on her leash.

As we scrambled into the garage, she spun me around as if to say, “Hurry.” Then I saw it. Standing in the driveway was a fat, black and white skunk. Lazy, in no hurry at all. I fumbled for the garage door button and in slow motion the door started to move down.

As it did, I held Lucy’s leash tight as she pulled, and I bent down to see the skunk turn back down the driveway. When the door closed we stood there flooded with adrenalin, each of us experiencing our species’ version of fight-or-flight.

Lucy got an extra cookie that night, as I was sure that she had averted a skunk attack! I am confident that Aggie and Amazing Gracie would have approved. Good Dog.

More dog stories. This one fiction.

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