by Willem Lange
“I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me…” Robert Louis Stevenson
EAST MONTPELIER – We passed Stevenson’s row house a couple of years ago in Edinburgh, prompting my mind to dig up “My Shadow,” which we learned as kids. (A bit farther on, we passed the shop where J.K. Rowling penned the Harry Potter fantasies – also a bit of a thrill for an old English major). A few minutes ago I went out across the yard to clean my car Helga’s windshield for a long drive starting in a couple of hours, and there was my own shadow, right behind me. She sniffed around the garage floor to ensure my safety from predators, then dashed upstairs to chase a pair of newly fledged phoebe chicks out through the missing window sash in the gable end.
We’ve been together, Kiki and I, for over six years now, which seem to me like two. Regretfully, they aren’t. She brought her name with her from Seguin, Texas. Though it wasn’t one I’d have given her, it wasn’t all that bad, and she was used to it, besides.
If I were to name her now, though, given what I know about her, it would be Shadow. For that’s what she is. If she ever sleeps, I’m not aware of it. She snoozes a lot; but one unusual creak from my desk chair or one conscious movement in bed, and she’s up on her feet, tail wagging, ready for whatever’s next.
I was going to say that she’s replacing our last dog, Tucker. But as Tom Ryan, author of the best-selling ‘Following Atticus’ once pointed out, “You can’t replace a dog. They’ve been too much a part of you. You get another, when you’re ready – and that varies with different people – and eventually they’ll become a part of you, too.” He’s right; and besides, there’s no way Kiki could replace Tucker, who was easily the smartest dog I’ve ever known.
A herder by instinct, she looked after Mother and me indefatigably and did stuff (like taking our deposits into the bank) that still excite comment from those who knew her. Kiki, to use an old Adirondack expression, couldn’t carry the matches to light Tucker’s cigars. But Tom is right: She has her own charms and talents. Where Tucker was often standoffish and uninterested in people we met along the trail, Kiki approaches almost everybody with obvious delight (the scent of treats in a pocket has a distinct effect upon that delight). But most important to me, an ancient widower living alone up a long driveway, she’s a snuggler.
It’s hard to exaggerate the effects of a snuggling pet. Your blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration all slow (I’ve verified that with my smart watch), and the cares of the day seem to drop away – for both of you, I expect. And eventually the two of you sort of grow together into mutual understanding and affection.
I’ve had to leave her at home when I go anywhere she’d need to be on a leash. Her enthusiasms (she’s a terrier, not a herder) have tripped me several times, and have now and then led to painful fractures. A photographer friend recently sent me photos of the two of us together in unfamiliar places. I notice that, for all her off-leash wandering and exploring, she checks every few seconds to make sure I haven’t moved or am seeming to be starting something new. Then again, rain or shine, I once again have a little shadow. “What’s up, Dad? Where we going?”