Today is National Dog Day. What are you doing to celebrate? If you’re here on Dogster, I’ll bet your best friend is already one lucky dog who doesn’t want for pampering and play time. But if you’re stumped for a worthy way to celebrate the unconditional love that is the dog’s specialty, go here for some ideas. I know what I’m doing to celebrate: I’m stopping to appreciate my dog Sheba.
I adopted this gorgeous creature 12 years ago at an upstate New York animal shelter. There was no room at the inn that day, so she was tied outside to enjoy the country air. Standing there in the sun, her glorious sable coat gleamed so brightly it could have starred in its own shampoo commercial. She didn’t complain about being tied out; she just stood there wagging her tail, smiling, and offering everyone gentle, affectionate licks. Someone at the shelter had hung the name Sheba on her; it stuck.
Sheba came home with me that day, joined by another dog, my Chow-Rottweiler mix Tiki. Because of the two dogs’ similarly bushy tails and plush double coats, I assumed they were both Chow mixes. It was a reasonable guess, and it was validated when we arrived at the country vet for spaying, neutering, and general checkups. Filling out the preliminary paperwork, the tech inquired as to Sheba’s breed: “Chow?” (To this day, people routinely ask if Sheba is all or part Chow.)
Riffing on the Chow theme, someone had the idea of re-naming these two fluffy dogs Mister and Tina – as in restaurateur Mr. (Michael) Chow and his late wife, the beautiful Tina Chow. The new handles didn’t materialize, however, because both Sheba and Tiki already knew their names, and I didn’t have the heart to change them. But something else did change: my understanding of just what Sheba was made of.
I happen to be a huge fan of dog art, and one day while reading about the 19th-century artist George Horlor, I came across his 1875 painting “Sheepdogs Resting in Mountain Landscape.” It depicts Border Collies taking a watchful break while on duty, their woolly charges grazing in the far background. Commanding center stage in the composition is a sable sheepdog who’s a ringer for my Sheba.
A little more research revealed that Border Collies weren’t always strictly black and white; back then they came in an array of coat color combinations, because they were prized more for their skills than their looks. Once it was determined that Sheba was, in fact, a sable Border Collie, she got a new nickname. In honor of the farm animals Border Collies are put in charge of managing, I often call her Sheepa. Most tellingly, when she sets her sights on a chipmunk, say, she gives the object of her attention “the eye,” i.e. the look of fierce determination that Border Collies use to intimidate entire flocks of sheep.
Certainly Sheba has always exhibited the Border Collie trait of extreme intelligence, with a strong independent streak that would compel her to wander off our property in search of adventures, as if she were back in her ancestral Scotland exploring the high Tors. Several times my heart jumped out of my chest when she’d go missing out in the country; I’d call frantically for her, and she’d wait just long enough – until the moment I was ready to collapse in panicked tears – to return with a gleam in her eye, her ears bouncing up and down and her tail swishing merrily from side to side.
This dog is the gentlest creature on four legs, wonderful with children and elderly people, and extraordinarily respectful of cats. She carries the healing touch in her tongue, and is generous in applying it diligently wherever it’s needed: to the ears of her packmates or a tear-streaked human face. To me, she’ll always be the most beautiful dog in the world, K9 counterpart of the actress Jacqueline Bisset. Sheba’s red hair is so lovely and lustrous that, a few years back, I was inspired to color my own boring, brown hair to match; Sheba patiently accompanied me to a fancy Madison Avenue salon, where the colorist carefully matched the temporary tint to the fur on her forehead! The new look got me lots of compliments, but it looks best on my dog.
Arthritis has slowed down her gait and old age has colored her face white, but most mornings Sheba still scampers down our hallway, ready for any adventure the next outing may bring. I hope to always follow her example, and I hope today brings something wonderful her way.
Photo Credit: Anneli Adolfsson