One Last Spring

April 28, 2009 by Ellen Stimson in Baby Lambs, Eloise, Springtime

I think I have always used animals as a reliably cheerful distraction from whatever was ailing me. There has never been anything much wrong with me that a few hours in the company of one good dog couldn’t fix. I have turned to them also in celebration and so the joy I have shared with them has been a constant in my life. Charlie and Santi are proof that we have done it again.

Eloise is dying. I have never felt closer to a dog than I have to Eloise my spectacularly beautiful and incredibly smart Bernese Mountain Dog. “Beauty and brains”, a vet once said about her. And he was right. She is my soul dog. She has taught me many gentle lessons about quiet pleasure and calm steady watchfulness. She is an old soul and I could use another lifetime with her to get the lessons.

Her illness brought enormous sadness and pain. And so before long we found ourselves fostering some little lambs. Watching them run and jump has been entertaining for Eloise too, especially now that they are out of her kitchen. The gate that barred them in kept her out, and had to be moved completely so she could walk gingerly in. But now, in this northeastern heat wave, she lounges in the grass and watches their silly antics. We have nicknamed them her Hospice lambs. We never meant to become shepherds. I have never even had a passing fantasy about owning sheep. A cow, yes. I loved imagining milking in the mornings and then scraping the cream off the top for our coffee. As a child who missed out on a particular brand of mothering I have long had recurring dreams and fantasies about sleeping with a cow. But sheep, never.

And yet it was sheep who dropped into our lives. Sheep whose lambs my husband took us to see to welcome spring. Lambs who Hannah and Eli held and bottle fed, and whom we agreed to foster for one quick spring because we have always aimed to be yes parents and to live our own lives filled with the answer yes. And now sheep who love us and who are bonded to us think we are their family. Small sheep, but sheep just the same, who run to meet us when the car pulls up, and baaa at the window when they want a scratch. Sheep whom we watch and laugh with, coo and aww over like kids with a basket full of kittens. Sheep who are spending the day at the vet getting shots, and wormed, and neutered and in general made fit for a family smallholding. These little sheep won’t go to market. Instead they will live lives in only a flock of two unless you count us, their adopted relatives. But live they will surrounded by people and dogs, chickens and cat. The have a little lamb cottage with fresh hay and sweet grain to munch and chew. They have humans with bottle instead of mamas with milk. They get snuggles and when they nuzzle us the maaa sounds they make are a sheep’s version of a purr.

Sometimes the universe gives us exactly what we need. This little distraction has reminded us that life moves inexorably on. Eloise intends that we remember to get on with it in love and joy and gratitude for this life in these high old green hills among the people and animals we love so much. Eloise sees cancer as a reason for cheese. All of her pills come wrapped inside her favorite cheese and so as she thumps and wags her tail, smiling up at us these last times, she reminds us that even in cancer she finds reason to celebrate. It is no picnic. Her leg is atrophying and when she is annoyed at Pippi she has to bark now instead of chase. But so long as she takes pleasure in us and in the cheese, wagging her tail and getting big belly rubs we will tend her and love her and feel lucky for these days. Our closest friends have been coming round to say goodbye. The vet says we might have two months left at the outside with the rate we are ramping up the meds to keep her comfortable. Two months. By then Charlie and Santi will be jumping fences and driving us some new kind of crazy. There are lessons here. And once again Eloise is my teacher….


  • Abigail Mae Hudson

    You have made me cry over Eloise and Bernard, my old Shepherd. I lost him six years ago and I miss him still. I am too old for a puppy. But I am considering now another dog.
    Because of this, because of you and Eloise.
    You are also a teacher, my dear, wiser than your years.
    Yes people. I like that. I think we are of the same tribe.
    I live in Maine and I am going to email you my address. I think it is time we plan a visit.

  • library lady

    Give Eloise some good chunks of cheese for me. It never failed to charm me when she’d butt her head against me and sit on my foot when she wanted attention and scratching. When a dog her size sits on your foot, it gets your attention, but it’s so flattering to know that she thinks you’re worthy of being sat on! Bless her huge loving heart.

  • laurwilk

    On the farm, we always see the balance between life and death. Often times during the spring, we will lose a horse/cow/chicken or all too often, one of the dogs. And at the same time, we see wobbly legged colts walking all over the place.

    Lincoln, one of my favorite dogs, got sick three years ago. He got sick quickly. The kids all got to make him his last supper. Linc had never seen so much gravy in his life! While it was hard to see him go, it was wonderful watching him scarf down his dream meal.

    Enjoy the time you have and keep buying the cheese!

  • starrlife

    She’s a beautiful girl and I’m glad you got to have her.

  • jamie

    After reading this post I wanted nothing more than to snuggle with your dear eloise(and I’m not a dog person). She is lucky to have you, as you, her. What a sweet personality. So glad the lambs have come in to help her. I think this is a great new adventure.

    And, again, thanks for the help today!!


  • GutsyWriter

    So sorry to hear about Eloise. What kind of cancer? I remember when I was a kid, we had a Great Dane and he died of cancer at age nine. He was my Mother’s dog and saved her life when we lived in Nigeria. It sounds like you’re really enjoying your life on the farm. I’m very happy for you.

  • Trannyhead

    It’s so incredibly hard to watch a beloved family member fade away. My thoughts are with you.

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