I have shared this story many times, with many people. Once I was part of a story-telling piece done by one of my students at school. She was recording various people as they recounted something important or memorable to them. She was going to transcribe the tapes and then retell each tale to see what – if anything – would change in the translation. When she asked me to share a story, I had to think, but not for long. I immediately dove into my memory bank and retrieved on of my favorite images and the story that surrounds it: my first sight of Gelbert. The story of how we met was also one of my favorites to tell to Gelbert when it was just the two of us, hanging out on a sunny day or getting ready to fall asleep. I think he liked it, too.
The first time I saw Gelbert, my beloved Aussie who was with me almost 16 years, he was just a pup, a small bundle of fuzzy cream and copper fur, tussling on the floor of an outdoor pen with his litter-mates and a few Jack Russell terriers. He was a dynamo: pure puppy energy, a yipping-yapping scrappy little soul who bounded around the dirt and bounced off the other dogs. I first noticed his coloring – his merle coat, his dappled fur – and then I saw his eyes: baby blue with bits of brown dispersed in the iris. Stunning. He had large, floppy ears that stood out from his head and preposterously big feet, something he never quite grew in to. I watched the litter tussle and play, my heart set on picking one to take home with me.
A lovely little blue merle, Gelbert’s sister, caught my eye at first. She was petite and perfectly marked, intelligence shining from her eyes. But as I spent time with the pack and watched their play, the fearless little white one, the one who was mismarked (as if there can be such a thing) constantly pulled my attention toward him. He was deemed a “white Aussie” and not suitable for show or breeding because of the large amounts of white that covered his face and chest. Aussies are supposed to have color markings that cover each eye and distinct patterns on the head, chest and body depending on whether they are a tri-, bi-or merle. I knew none of this at the time and couldn’t care less if this little boy was “unshowable.” While only 12 weeks old, he had a courageous personality and a zest for life. I sat on the ground and watched as he scrambled up two small bales of hay and dove off into the pack of pups below him. He cracked me up. A little crazy, a little cocky. I fell in love with this Aussie and committed my life to him that day. I could tell that he would be a true companion, always ready for adventure.
I took him home that afternoon, holding his small trembling body in my lap on the drive from Gettysburg to Baltimore. I felt both thrilled and sad. I loved the softness of his puppy coat, his pink and warm belly pushed up against my chest, his goofy large paws resting on my shoulders in a makeshift hug. I knew he was scared. The only life he’d ever know was on that farm, in that small pen living amidst his siblings, with his mother and friends…and then here comes a stranger who scoops him up and carries him away in a car. I tried to reassure him, to let him know he was going to a good place, a place where he’d always be loved and cared for…But some of this took time.
I think back to that summer day almost 16 years ago and it seems so fresh in my mind. The filtered sunlight, the pen full of happy, dirty dogs, the hay bales that allowed Gelbert to fly – briefly – through the air before bouncing and rolling on his friends. His bright blue eyes and soft pink nose. His puppy breath, his achingly white little teeth, and the way his whole body wriggled when he wagged his tail. I knew then how special he was and I am so lucky that our paths crossed on that day, that I was able to see his character and spirit and to trust that he’d grow in to one amazing friend. He did just that, developing into a smart, gentle and giving dog who kept me company for so long. Long walks in the woods, romps in the park, driving trips all over the country, long days spent in my office or the classroom…Gelbert was born to work and follow his inquisitive nose…To go where his big, feet and boundless heart would take him. I am so lucky I got to tag along with him for so many joyful years.