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The Last of the First Ones

Michael Hillman

I still vividly remember the first time I saw Emma. It was the day before moving to our new farm in Emmitsburg. As Audrey climbed out of the car, this little grayish fuzzball bounced out behind.

Audrey’s "Emma, come" had no effect on her at all as she was too focused on exploring her new surroundings. "Emma, Steps" had even less impact. The steps stopped Emma cold. As I watched, Audrey gently reached down to pick her up. The expression on Audrey’s face as she ascended with the wiggling package said it all. While officially Emma was to be ‘‘Our’’ dog, in reality, Emma already was "Audrey’s" dog.

Audrey had no sooner put Emma down on the floor, then she took off after Tony, one of Audrey’s cats. While her intentions were clearly to play, Tony, still recovering from the shock of having to share his home with PJ, was in no mood to play with a bouncing puppy, quickly making this fact clear to Emma in a way only an experienced barn cat can. Willy on the other hand, simply hid, and PJ shifted his allegiance to my brother Bill.

To a puppy, the world is both an exciting as well as scary place, the latter more so when it is alone at night for the first time. Being un-house broken, that evening we placed Emma in the kitchen surrounded by a ‘‘wall’’ of packed boxes. We had no sooner turned off the lights then she began to emit a low, mournful howl. The howl soon became a bark, and while we did our best to ignore it, it soon became apparent that something would have to be done, least we wake the whole neighborhood.

In hopes of soothing her plight, we roused PJ from deep sleep and placed him by her side. If ever there was a look that could kill, PJ gave it to me that night. It was bad enough that Audrey had taken his place next to me on the bed, but to have to spend the night with a whining puppy was asking too much. Unfortunately, PJ wanting nothing of the new dog, made short work of the cage, and, before either of us knew it, they both escaped. Eventually, Emma quieted, and in spite of PJ unwillingness, the two bonded and were soon inseparable.

While the Huskey part of Emma made house training a tad bit difficult, it was teething that tried everyone to the very limits of civility. Shoes of every sort and size fell victim to her appetite to chew all in sight. Returning home late one night she greeted us with delight, proud to show us her night’s work. Having managed to grab a piece of the entrance hall’s linoleum flooring, she had pulled and pulled till the flooring lay all about. Having long hated the floor, we didn’t make much of it, and the next day, finished removing what she had left.

After pain staking replacing the tile with a pattern of our choice, we headed out to dinner to celebrate our success. On our return home that evening, Emma greeted us sitting among the remains of the new floor. We were not amused. Emma received her first sentence to the boiler room, a.k.a. ‘‘the bad dog box’’, a spot she came to know only too well.

When old enough to understand commands, Audrey enrolled her in dog obedience. As a result of those classes, a bond was soon created that wherever Audrey would go, Emma was sure to follow. With each passing class, the adoration for each other grew and grew. By the time they mastered agility, they had grown so close together that it was hard to imagine Audrey having ever been without her.

A German Shepard/Husky cross, Emma had the looks of a Shepard, but had the mannerism of a husky. A watchful dog, Emma was always on patrol for any incursions into her territory by man or beast. Her appearance and her bark always put strangers at bay.

But for those that she knew, the greeting was sure, capped off by a happy circle or two. At night, she was always attuned to any sound outside, and was quick to alert us of any irregularities. While the occasional false alarms gave me a few gray hairs, we always slept soundly, knowing she was on guard.

While happy on the farm, Emma lived to ride in the truck. No matter where on the farm she might be, "Emma, Truck!" was sure to bring her running. She would bound into the truck and sit tall in the seat, as if to insure not to miss anything. As it moved down the road, her ears were always up, and her eyes on patrol.

The cry ‘‘Emma! Momma Dog!’’ was the highlight of every trip. ‘‘Momma Dog’’ was a mangy old mutt that would chase our truck as we drove by her house. The thought of ‘‘Momma Dog’’ running alongside the truck always brought about a barking fit that would continue ‘‘til long after Momma dog had disappeared in the rear view mirror. Arriving back home, Emma would bound out of the truck and lay about lazily until the next time "Emma! Truck!" was shouted out.

Emma always joined Audrey for her quick trips into town, and the sight of Emma sitting upright in the seat next to her soon became Audrey’s trademark. One day, while cashing a check, I was surprised not to be asked for any identification. When I inquired why, the teller laughed, and said "I don’t know you, but I do recognize Emma, and that’s good enough for me."

Every dog has its special time, and for Emma, it was the filling of the horse’s water buckets. The first drops of water would no sooner leave the hose then Emma would bound out of nowhere and race to your side. Standing on her rear legs, she stared unforgivingly at you with her expressive brown eyes for the belly scratches she knew would come. No one could refuse her, no matter how hard they tried.

One always started with her belly and worked slowly up her side. The end of each bucket was signaled with a thump to her side and with it she move quickly to the next stall, to resume where we had left off. Try as they might, she always defended her right, and never allowed PJ and Charlie to share in her special delight.

Emma above all, was a curious dog. Her eyes and her eyebrows spoke a language all their own, serving as windows to her soul. When something of interest caught her attention, she would watch it for hours, as if studying its intentions. When puzzled, her head tilted, just ever so slightly. When happy she grinned and showed all a broad smile.

Whether because of her obedience training, or for some other reason, every command or call to Emma was always proceeded by an ‘‘Emma!" It wasn’t ‘‘Truck!’’, but ‘‘Emma! Truck!’’ It wasn’t ‘‘Jump!’’, but ‘‘Emma! Jump!’’ She relished in having her name called, and produced a smile even years after her death, I can still recall.

Being a longhaired dog, winter was Emma’s love. A thick undercoat of down assured her warmth in even the coldest of spells. The deeper the snow, the harder she played. Like a Husky, she would bound through the deepest snow. She though nothing of rolling over and over in it, nor burying her nose deep into it. When fatigue overtook her, she would curl into a bowl with her tail over her nose and sleep till awakened for more play or adventure.

As you might expect, summer had the opposite effect. From late morning to early afternoon, she would seek out the protection of shade on the side of the barn, and nap the heat of the day away.

Like Charmer before her, Emma left us too quickly. Having sought out the coolness of the ground beneath the trailer one hot summer day, she was unable to escape from beneath it as it was pulled suddenly forward. Realizing something was wrong, I jumped out of the truck and caught Emma slinking off into the barn. The expression on her face told me something was dreadfully wrong.

She was rushed to the hospital where she was quickly examined. The severity of her injuries caused her to be moved to an intensive care vet hospital. At first things look good, and she looked like she would pull through, but in spite of their best efforts, as the hours ticked by, the injury took its toll, and soon the call we feared most came from the vet. "Emma's Crashed, we have to go now!" is all that Audrey would, and could say. Her eyes were swollen with tears.

We could not reach her in time, and she passed away before we arrived at the hospital, tearing a whole in our souls. She was only 7, and in the prime of her young life.

That evening as all the animals gathered about, we laid her to rest in the spot she had always chosen to rest.

Like Charmer before her, the closing of Emma’s chapter in our lives opened a chapter for another, and that someone was Kess. Had the two know each other, they would have been friends. 

When our twilight years finally do come, we will remember that both loved to run and play, and both sought and give affection without end. But most important of all, both adored Audrey to no end, and she adored them.

"Farewell, Master, Yet not farewell
Where I go, ye too shall dwell
I am gone, before your face,
A moment's time, a little space.
When ye come where I have stepped
Ye will wonder why ye wept."

Part 1: Charmer's Story
Part 3: Willie's Story
Part 4: Tony's Story
Part 5: PJ's Story

Read other stories by Michael Hillman