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Paradise Will Have To Include A Dog

Twice a year we head out of town for the weekend, going east a couple of hours to a sweet little organic farm that rents cabins on its private pond. Our spring and fall simply wouldn’t be the same without a couple days spent there, canoeing and fishing and hiking and feeding baby pigs and collecting eggs with the farmer and stargazing and roasting s’mores and . . . and. . . and.

This weekend was our “fall” weekend, and the weather was simply perfect. The girls know the spot well enough by now to have worked themselves into a tizzy of excitement for the days leading up to Friday, and by the time we were driving there Friday evening they were straining forward in their car seats, practically willing the car to move faster.

We arrived late, in the dark, and as we pulled up the drive to the main house both girls were squealing excitedly. “Look! There’s the farm house!” “Do you think we’ll be in the same cabin again?” “I can’t wait to help feed the baby animals!”

We fell out of the car and stumbled up the low, wide porch, knocking on the screen door of a house that had been built in 1850. And from deep inside, we heard a decided, “Woof!”

Now, in the past the girls had a fine time playing with the two farm dogs – one a friendly mix with only three legs, and the other a sweet, shaggy Great Pyrenees. But when we’d returned this past spring we’d learned that one dog had died over Christmas, and the other had died soon after of loneliness. So when the girls heard that “woof”, well, it was all over. And when the biggest, sweetest, shaggiest Irish Setter came rushing to the screen door, I knew the girls were goners.

Bailey – for such is his name – had a fantastic time with the girls while we got ourselves checked in and chatted with the farmer and his wife, catching up on affairs of the past six months. The sweet dog – not the kind who jumps all over you, but the kind who follows you faithfully and sits on your feet and lets small children lie on him – was clearly enjoying the girls’ snuggles, and I commented, “Looks like we’ll have to walk over here tomorrow and spend some time playing with Bailey, if you don’t mind.”

Mrs. Farmer perked up. “Actually, I’ve got a cooking class to teach at 11, and he’ll be underfoot too much for me to get stuff done. Would you guys mind coming over in the morning and taking him back to your cabin for the day?”

Um, is the grass green?

The girls were ecstatic over the idea of babysitting Bailey, and when we arrived the next morning he seemed just as happy to see them. He walked the short mile with us back to our cabin, then spent all morning trying patiently to listen to two little girls at the same time.

“Bailey, come here!” “Bailey, sit!” “Bailey, shake!” “Bailey, lie down!”

Maddie and Cora loved “training” him, and were completely enamoured with their own life-size snuggle animal. He came down to the pond with the girls and obligingly fetched sticks out of the pond (much to the chagrin of Daddy, who was actually trying to fish at the time); he happily herded some of the free-ranging goats on the property; and he joyfully ran in circles with the girls. Over. And over. And over.

By lunch time Bailey was decidedly done in, and he collapsed in a heap on our cabin porch while we ate. After lunch he lay in the yard and dozed as much as he could get away with it while the girls played tether ball and soccer and rode bikes and snuggled the cat.

Did I not mention the cat?

The farmers own several barn cats, and one – we named her Calico – decided to follow us back to our cabin. She spent the whole day with us as well, snoozing shamelessly on the front porch and purring incessantly on any lap she could find. Throughout the day, if you looked outside, might see the dog lounging on the grass, Maddie leaning against him reading a book, and Cora rocking in a porch swing the cat sprawled across her.

We returned the sweet dog to his owners right around afternoon feeding time – 4:30 or so – and as much as Bailey enjoyed himself with us, I detected a faint whiff of relief in the way he greeted his mistress. He made a beeline for the front hallway and collapsed happily, with the air of a deserving servant finally putting his feet up to rest. As for Calico, she followed us part of the way home then sat down and refused to move when she realized was up, so Brian had to pick her up and carry her the rest of the way home.

For their part, the girls moped and mourned the whole walk back to the cabin until they realized tomorrow was a new day and they could come visit Bailey and Calico for the morning.

We don’t have a dog ourselves – I’ve told the girls we will get one as soon as they agree to be on poop patrol – but we all enjoy them, and this weekend was a little slice of heaven for all of us, getting to have some good ole Man’s Best Friend time without having to deal with cleaning off muddy paws and dirty furniture.

I know we’ll be heading back again in the spring, and as much as the girls enjoy everything else about the place, first and foremost in their minds will be finding their four-legged friends again. Sunday morning we walked over for one last visit with Bailey and Calico and said what we thought were our goodbyes; but after we’d finished lunch we headed out of the cabin to pack up the car and found Calico – with another cat she’d brought along. Both cats snuggled us and watched us as we drove off, and Cora said, “They’re going to watch for us until we come back.”

I’m not sure about that, but I know those little friends made the weekend that much better.


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