This is a "factional story." There are elements of fact and fiction in it. This story shows the love I had for my first guide dog, Thunder, who died at age 9 of lymphosarcoma.
"Songs of Woo" appeared in Storyteller Magazine and in my book I'll PUsh You Steer
Tears stream down my face as I remember all that we shared before that horrible disease took her from me. I hurry across the hot sand to the gently lapping waves. Beneath the blazing sun, the water is warmer than I thought possible.
This is where we met eleven years ago. I come here every year on the anniversary of her death to honor the one who opened my heart.
Curse that nasty disease that took her away too soon! We should have had at least four or five more years. Three years ago today, July 23, I learned what it means to lose the one who makes you glad to get up each morning and greet a new day.
For at least a month after she died I felt like my heart had stopped beating when hers did. I could not concentrate, could not think, could not love -- could not live. I cried enough to fill this vast ocean, or so it seemed to me. As much as I honor her for the love she gave me and for the many lives she made better by her presence, I still mourn her loss.
Over time, the terrible sorrow subsides. Now -- most of the time -- I can smile, not weep, when something reminds me of her. But on these anniversaries, the ache is raw again for a while. I let myself feel without filtering.
I take my pennywhistle out of its woven sheath and begin to play. She always loved for me to sing or play my instruments, but I cannot sing yet. Sorrow surges anew and it is hard to play "Siul-a-Riun". The music sounds thin and unsupported. I cannot breathe fully enough for good support yet.
While playing "The Butterfly," I think of the time we went to a Celtic music concert. When the group performed that lively song, my wonderful Thunder wagged her thick silver-tipped tail and put her front feet on my hips, and we danced. Several people said our dance was the highlight of the evening. "Your guide dog is a great dancer," one man commented with a smile in his voice. "She must bring you a lot of joy."
Even now, weeping salty tears into the salty sea, I feel grateful for the richness she brought to my life. Although I will never run my hands through her thick, luxurious fur again, she still gives me joy. I think of the times she comforted someone we didn't even know. She introduced us with a wag or a surreptitious slurp of her tongue.
When I finish the song, I laugh. We could go into a roomful of cranky people, and in a few minutes moods softened and frowns inverted. It was all because of Thunder. I always called her a "joy dog".
I play "Ode to Joy" in her honor. Now my notes are strong and well supported.
Sweat pours down my face to mingle with the tears of sorrow and joy as I think of the time we went to visit Nana in the nursing home. One of the residents there was apparently watching us walk down the hall. A pull on the harness and the breeze of her wagging tail told me Thunder had spotted someone she wanted to see. We visited the man. His daughter told me, "Dad hasn't smiled like that in ages! You have a very special dog."
"Yes, I do."
She made her own unique music. I hear Thunder's silly noises in my mind as if she were right there with me. She developed quite a vocabulary over the years. I credit some of the amusing sounds to her best canine friend Breezy, who belonged to one of my best friends. They made the funniest noises when they played. Snorts and woofs and hoofs and yips. Hearing them play was more entertaining than television. "And now - it's time for everybody's favorite show - Stupid Dog Noises!" I would say. The memory makes me laugh.
I think of her songs. Long, gusty sighs when she was tired of going shopping. I couldn't believe it - a girl who hated to shop! Drawn-out songs of woe when I left her home while I went somewhere that would be hard on her. Songs of excitement when the bus pulled up and we were off on another adventure. Songs of "woo-woo-woo-WOO!" with her head tipped back when we went somewhere she loved to go.
She didn't sing when we met here by the sea. She was nine weeks old and needed a home. I wanted a puppy to train as my guide dog. Like any self-respecting collie, she tried to herd me. Sweet-natured and intelligent, she made it through the rigors of training and turned out to be a wonderful guide.
I decide to put away my pennywhistle and set it aside on the shore, away from the water. My tears have stopped flowing, and I want to submerge in the warm sea water. As I walk back toward the waves, I step on something hard. It does not feel like a seashell. I kneel and dig it out of the sand. A bottle - one with a wide mouth and distinctive raised marks on the outside. Could it be? No. It couldn't be. But ...
I open the bottle and shake the contents into my trembling hand. When I came here the day Thunder died to celebrate our life together, I put a snapshot, her tag, a snip of her fur, and a typed note into the bottle. I speak aloud what I wrote then: "May whoever finds this bottle find a joy-dog like Thunder."
Now I have Molly. I never imagined I could have another dog as wonderful as Thunder, but I do. I tip my head back, spread out my arms and sing, "Woo-woo-woo-WOO!"