Saturday, December 11, 2010

Springing a Laugh

My English Springer Spaniel, Sierra, always brings a smile to my face.

On a wintry, cold and snowy Saturday morning, Sierra looked up at me with an eager and excitable expression, "are you ready yet," even as I continued to pull on layer after layer of socks, coats and hats.

As soon as the door opened, she shot out into a maze of blowing snow, and as I tried to look out of my fogged glasses, she was tugging at her leash, pulling me into the heavy drifts outside my door, causing me to one knee as she jumped into the snow.

After wiping away a little of the fogginess, both from my glasses and the early morning tiredness, I watched as she stuck her head into a snowdrift and popped up with the white stuff covering her face and her sweet smile, suggesting,"now you do it." Only for you Sierra.

With the wind blowing 20-30 mph, she takes over, again pulling the leash cord to its full length as I avoid falling a second time. Into the snow she goes again, hopping in and out of the snow.

Leave no doubt, she is another dog that really enjoy these wintry conditions. She can't get enough of the snow. As she spots another dog, around the corner, I nearly tumble into the snow but as I recapture my compass, she takes off again.

Then she hits another drift, hopping and plopping, landing in the center of that bank with a white nose and flakes covered all her body. I start yelling at her to slow down and she looks at me quizzingly, like "what you talking 'bout?" As we approach the townhouse, I tell her it is time to go in, "aren't you cold?" And, she looks up and heads toward the door, seemingly aware that I needed to warm up my frozen toes, nose and fingertips. A good friend indeed.

I know a lot of dogs love the outdoors and the extremes, particularly the fluffy snow. They are truly animals with Christmas flavor and spirit.

Every time I look at Sierra, with her inviting smile and calm yet restless demeanor, it shows me how we humans should be - not passing judgment or acting like crusty characters out of the Grinch movie. They are a model example of what a real friend is.

I am always smiling or laughing while I am with her, except when it is so cold as to freeze my smile into submission. Sierra has a blast where it is snow or just a normal midwestern day where the air howls and roars. You see my springer loves when the leaves start flying across the road - she dives and bites at them. Then she is after the next leaf whipping across the street. And, then the next and the next.

Dogs are amazingly refreshing to the human spirit with their unlimited energy and boundless enthusiasm and their willingness to befriend everyone no matter who they are.

On another day as we were walking a field near our house, Sierra saw a gaggle of geese and as they honked away hundreds of yards into the air, she took off in full sprint, barking away, as if she was saying, "get your butt down here." She does the same thing with jackrabbits. As one of those rabbits pops up, Sierra takes off in a mad chase that again includes barking and chasing and then returning.

As we are approached by a couple of kids on bikes, Sierra's tail goes non stop, and after I tell her to sit, she is panting heavily and her body shakes like an overheated boiler. "Can we pet her, what is her name," say the youngsters. When the younger boy puts her hand on Sierra's head, she licks it and the youngster pulls back. The reaction causes Sierra to wag a little faster and she mutters a few soft hellos (barks) and the youngster lays her hand on her head and she loves it. She is as happy as a kid on Christmas.

She loves to go running with her friend and fellow springer, Jenna. They are the same age and both are liver and white, although the color combinations are a bit different. Sierra has more white spread around her body while Jenna has a stronger liver or brown coloring.

Everytime we walk past Jenna's house, Sierra wants to go over and see if she is there. Everytime, I release her in the field across the street, Sierra takes off on a full sprint for Jenna's house. There she sits at the front door, wagging her tail, waiting for Jenna to come out. I wonder if someday she will start ringing the doorbell or taking one of her paws and knocking let Jenna's parents know she is waiting for her friend.

When Jenna comes out, Sierra's face lights up like the moon on a clear night and they are off to the field, sprinting full speed, barking at each other and wrestling about. One runs after the other and they tackle each other, pop up and start anew. I am not sure if I have ever seen two dogs truly like each other as these two do. Never a growl, never a problem, always fun loving and full of life.

From my experience I find that springers, who are labeled as gun dogs, seem to act more like bird dogs. Walking up the street Sierra spots a bird and she stops on a dime and then slowly take soft, small steps toward the flying machine. Then another quiet step as she tries a sneak attack. As she gets within a few yards of the bird, Sierra takes off, lunging and just missing her. A few feathers fly and Sierra barks and jumps up and down.

Springers, which descend from the Norfolk or Shropshire Spaniels of the 19th century, are a special breed. There are so many examples of what makes her special. But to me, the best thing is how she loves me unconditionally. At nights, she will pop up on the bed and nestle up to me, finding her way under the covers but in a way that she is close.

Every morning and night as I sit down in my living room chair, she comes over and lays near my feet. As I go to the kitchen she follows and as I go to the car, she begs to go along. When I have to leave her in the morning, she casts those sullen, sad eyes at me, suggesting why am I going and leaving her.

Then when I return, whether it be five minutes or 15 hours, Sierra is happy to see me. It is why, I suppose, that I have read that dogs are a great stress reliever. They take your mind away from your problems or the tiredness you may feel from a long workday.

I don't know about why others love their dog, but for me, it is because her love is truly real and unconditional. I know I have a friend that will always be at my side. And, that makes me smile.

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