A loyal pup who never forgot Mom

A loyal pup who never forgot Mom

Jun 01, 2007

Memories: (L-R) Farmer Dave and the dependable German shepherd Hilda; Hilda in her doghouse where she kept watch on the farm; and the author, then Melody Olinger, as a girl riding with her dad, Farmer Dave.
Farmer Dave lived on an Angus farm in rural Virginia with his wife and five children. He raised cattle, horses, and goats. Barn cats were also plentiful, and stray and abandoned dogs showed up regularly. Over the years, Farmer Dave owned and cherished many German shepherds, but Hilda stood out. A large, friendly black-and-sable German shepherd, Hilda was the farmer's faithful shadow for many years. Whether he was on foot, horse, or tractor, she was close by.

Most mornings Hilda was up long before sunrise, waiting eagerly by the door for Farmer Dave to join her so they could begin their work on the farm. Together they worked tirelessly in the sweltering summer heat, the pouring rain, and the bitter cold of winter.

When her master was inaccessible, Hilda played with the children. Her dilapidated old doghouse was near the front door of the farmhouse. Hilda was a loyal companion, a formidable guard dog, and a dependable playmate for kids. Simply put, she was man's best friend.

One rainy spring morning, in the warmth of the old farmhouse, Hilda whelped a large litter. Under his wife's admonition that "we don't need another mouth to feed," Farmer Dave agreed to sell the puppies. One puppy, though, stood out. She was friendly, outgoing, and almost entirely black. The family named her Ebony.

While her littermates napped and romped around the yard, Ebony followed Farmer Dave and Hilda on their daily routine. Often Ebony tagged along attached to Farmer Dave's ankle, her baby teeth clamped onto his coveralls cuff. When the little pup grew tired, Farmer Dave tucked her under his arm and continued his duties.

Not coincidentally, Ebony was the last puppy to be sold, at 5 months of age. She went to a family who lived 16 miles from the farm. Her new owners agreed to keep her given name, and the entire family watched sadly as Ebony was driven away down the long dirt driveway. Farmer Dave and Hilda resumed their work on the farm without their little tagalong.

Years passed, and Hilda's valiant face grayed. Her bark softened and her step slowed. She developed inoperable intestinal cancer.

Hilda struggled bravely to perform her farm chores but often lagged behind. Farmer Dave slowed his pace and altered his daily routine to accommodate her illness. At lunchtime, Hilda was content to lie on the sidelines and watch the children play. She continued to keep watch over the house at night.

One brisk fall morning, Hilda followed her master down the hill to the riverside, but she was too weak to return to the house. Farmer Dave gently lifted her into his arms and carried her to a quiet place beneath a willow tree. He brought her a blanket and some food and water. He sat beside her and stroked her a long time before returning to his work, alone for the first time in years.

A few hours later Farmer Dave was in a pasture gathering soil samples. He paused for a moment to admire the majestic autumn view. Suddenly he felt a warm, familiar body brushing against his leg. Thinking Hilda had regained her strength and joined him, he looked down. His eyes met those of a sleek black German shepherd.

Farmer Dave scanned the field for its owner but saw no one. As he cautiously extended his hand toward the dog, his memory traveled back over the years to the little puppy that used to tag along on his pants leg.

"Ebony?" he asked.

The dog's alert ears lowered. Her tail tapped gently in recognition.

"You traveled a long way by yourself, didn't you, girl? I'm worried about Hilda too. Come on, let's go check on your mother," he urged.

Farmer Dave and Ebony hiked across the rolling hills and down to the riverside. It was too late. Hilda lay motionless beneath the willow tree.