My Urban Farmscape Dog

31 Dec
Sidney as a pup

Sidney as a pup

This past year I lost my groove and I still haven’t found it.  I’m not calling Stella either.  I don’t think that I will ever find the same one since there has been so many changes in my life.  I am a Taurus, sure I’m slow to change, but I embrace change as I get bored with the same routine, but I am slower than others to do it.  My life and my routine started to change when my dog died in May, which is why I haven’t written much.  You see, my dog had me trained.  She wasn’t just a dog, and I have had many dogs throughout my life that have come and gone, but she was part of my family, she was a real farm dog before she became My Urban Farmscape dog, but most of all, she was my dog soul mate.

About ten or so years ago, I had a small organic farm.  I decided to get an Australian Shepherd because I wanted a dog that was smart and trainable.  I didn’t have sheep or goats, nothing for her to herd, but she did like to herd the horses that grazed in the pasture.  She always needed a job, even if it was just following me around.  She was always at my feet, ready for her next command.  I enrolled us in obedience training, and when I say “us” I guess that meant me, because she needed me to learn how to communicate with her, since it already seemed like she knew my every thought or move.  I could look into her eyes, and her into mine, as if we could see into each other’s souls and know what we needed to do.  My family and I would get a kick out of how she would follow me, even if it was from the chair in the living room to the couch.  Where ever I went, she would follow.  I would give her commands and she would obey.  Then I got lazy.

Sidney was her name, after the main character in the TV show Alias which my family watched every week.  Not because of Sydney Australia.  Australian Shepherds are also called North American Shepherds because this is where I believe they are originally from.  She was a “Black-Tri” which meant she was black, brown, and white.  She didn’t have perfect markings, which would have been a full white collar and a wide white stripe down her head to her nose, so she was a show dog reject.  I wasn’t looking for a show dog; I wanted a smart farm dog, so she was perfect.  Her coat was so thick, which was unusual for an Aussie.  I met her father when I was visiting the breeder when Sidney was a pup.  She called him Zoolander, beautiful dog with thick black hair, but dumb as a doornail.  My pup didn’t end up very dumb, but her hair was so long, thick and soft.  You couldn’t help but run your fingers throughout it, petting her non-stop.  This is when I started to get lazier.  My husband and I began to allow her to sleep on our bed after my 14 year old lab died.  I would pet her as I fell asleep, and she would move down and sleep across my legs.  Sometimes she would sleep between us stretched out looking like a hot dog in a bun, feet up in the air.  My kids always wanted Sidney to sleep with them, but she had to be with me.

Sidney at the farm

With all of the petting and touching of her, she started to lick us, maybe it was her way of petting us back.  Her tongue was soft and warm, I didn’t mind a bit. She would even use her tongue as a weapon, and when playing throw a few “lick punches” in at your face.  How she did this I will never know, and when she was playing or was excited to see me when I got home, I would get on the floor and allowing her to pin me down with her front paws and give me a few “lick punches” in the face.  The kids would tease her and tell her they were going to put her in her crate, and Sidney would run after them to give them a “lick punch”.   It was one of the funniest things.  She would poke the backs of my calves as I walked, herding me to wherever I was going.  Just the slightest cold wet nose on the left then the right, back to the left then right.    She never nipped at me or any kid.  I would work with her as we did in obedience class, but what I didn’t realize was that Sidney started to become the boss of the house and we all became lazier with bossing her around.  This became evident after my husband and I became empty nesters. My husband and I would take turns on the weekend getting up with the dogs to feed them and let them out.   Yes we had another dog, but Sidney was the boss of that dog in more ways than one, but that is another story in itself. Funny thing, the dogs would wake us up so early, and then go back to bed, while we were up and wide awake.  I am not a morning person, it was a bit difficult, but Sundays was my day to get up with the dogs.  I found these early mornings perfect for writing, so got into the groove of writing every Sunday.  So, Sidney had us trained to do what she wanted when she wanted at this point, and this is how our routine went.

Sidney’s most favorite thing in the world was swimming.  I think she would choose this over me.  At our farm there were two ponds, one of them she swam in at least twice a day.  It was one of her activities during the morning walk around the property, then during the evening walk around the property.  As she got older and we moved over the years to our Urban Farmscape, we would take her on trips to the lake or the river.  We could camp on our property in Northern Michigan, and the dogs would determine our activities.  When Sidney saw water she would go crazy with this shrieking bark and if on a leash would take over and pull me to the water so she could swim.  I was very annoyed with her lack of obeying me.  If her hair was long (I would typically shave her in the summer), it would float up to the top of the water and she looked like this giant hairy jelly fish.  She drank the water while she swam and swam.  Once while at Empire Beach, I had to make her leave the water and sit in the car with her where she couldn’t see the water because she seemed a bit hypothermic, shaking and shaking until she warmed up.  I couldn’t take her in the kayak because she would jump out.  She would swim away from me and not come back so I would have to keep her on a leash.  I think if allowed, she would have swam until she drowned, lapping up the water all the way across Lake Michigan, heading toward Wisconsin.  But this is not how she died.

Sidney loved to swim most of all

Sidney loved to swim most of all

As a horticulturist, spring gets very busy for me.  Sidney wasn’t feeling well, and I was traveling a lot, so my husband was taking her to the vet’s a lot.  I came home from one of my trips and there was no running or pinning me down to give me lick punches.   I opened the gate and she slowing made her way across the yard, putting her nose down and leaning her head into the side of my leg.  I knew then that it was more serious than I had thought.  Another vet visit later and lab results sent her to the MSU Veterinary Clinic. We hoped that she had the Lepto virus which would have been treatable.  Every day we would visit her in animal I.C.U. Each day I would take her outside and sit with her as she watched the people walking around the campus.  She was too weak to do anything. I reminisced about my days as a student attending classes across the street at the Plant & Soil Sciences Building and looking across the street at this building never imagining I would be here with a sick pet. One day we sat on the lawn under an umbrella for an hour while it rained.  Anything the get her outside and feel better.  She didn’t have Lepto, just failing organs, so I brought her home.  Family members visited her in the I.C.U. or at home to say their goodbyes.  Every morning, I would wake up early to take her fragile body outside.  I spent four days outside from sun up to sun down.  The weather was beautiful.  Our house was sold and we were moving, so I had to do some extra yard work.  I had plants in store containers laying around for weeks that I finally planted into larger patio containers.  I would take breaks and lay in the lawn with her, stroking her thick black hair, smelling the subtle earthy smell that only she had on the top of her head.  She couldn’t lick, but she would look at me, into my soul, but not to say goodbye, just look at me and smile.  I felt her love.

This container was planted with woody plants and perennials

This container was planted with woody plants and perennials

My husband and I were outside with her when she died.  Spring turned to summer and my work and gardening was in full swing.   I told myself that I wasn’t going to write another blog post until I wrote one in honor of Sidney.  This I started many, many times, and found it too painful or too hard, like I had to write some great literary piece, then I felt a dishonor to her if I went back on the promise I made to myself and didn’t write my next post about her, so I became frozen.  A few months later we moved.  After the first frost of autumn, I dismantled the planters that were planted with small woody plants, perennials and herbs, and planted them into the ground at my new Urban Farmscape.  I watched the snow fall creating little white mounds over the plants and raised beds I had built.  Just this week I got an e-mail from a friend who asked if I stopped writing my blog and told me how she missed it.  I told her my dog died.  Then I realized that writing my blog had anything to do with my dog.  I was disappointed in myself that I let so much time pass without writing.  Sidney didn’t make me write, but what she did was force me into a routine.  A ten year routine, a groove I might add.

I am grateful for this time of year to turn inward and reflect, to appreciate what Sidney gave me in my life; after all, she was my first farm dog and a huge part of my family.  Winter is a time for me to rest a bit, to rediscover myself and find my natural groove again so I can create my new routine in 2014. As for the weekends, they are for sleeping in.  I appreciate you for reading my blog, and I am excited to share with you future journeys at My “New” Urban Farmscape as I plant my whole front and side yard with vegetables, exploring ideas and sharing knowledge, including a closer look at the flowers that attract bees and beneficial insects while gardening organically and sustainably in small spaces.

I will forever feel and miss her, my dog soul mate, Sidney.

My Urban Farmscape dog, Sidney

My Urban Farmscape dog, Sidney

8 Responses to “My Urban Farmscape Dog”

  1. Sharon December 31, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Hello Patti,
    It saddens me so to read about the loss of your dog, Sydney. Aside from their beauty, her breed is known to be one of the smartest dogs, maybe the smartest. And it’s perfectly understandable why you’ve been in a state of limbo while mourning her loss.
    I have a dog as well, a little angel of a Pomeranian, my dog soul mate. He was nine weeks old when I got him and is eight now. They are known to have a long life span, fifteen years or so, but the odd time I think of losing him brings me great anxiety. All I can do is try to make his life the best I can and enjoy every moment I have with him.
    I guess the only consolation we have when they are lost to us (though not in our hearts) is an appreciation of the time we did have with them and they with us. I don’t doubt that thought is with you and will help in your healing process.
    Please take your time getting back into your grove. I enjoy your writing and your blog so much it’s definitely worth waiting for.
    Wishing you many blessings and a new year filled with peace.

  2. Andrea Hofmeister December 31, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    There has been much written about the pain of losing a pet. For some of us, it exceeds the death of an elderly friend or parent. I won’t try to justify the feeling, as irrational as it is to some people. There is clearly a difference between a dog and a human but the mourning period is very intense just the same. I suspect that it is that sense of total devotion and dependence that makes the pain hardly tolerable. I appreciate your prose on the issue. We have a 7 year-old dog, the best dog ever, and we will have that loss in time. Until then, we just cherish her presence.

  3. liz travioli January 1, 2014 at 9:47 pm #

    Only tears Patti, what a beautiful companion and best friend Sidney was. Joseph enjoyed playing with Sidney when we visited over the years. What an enormous blessing and fond memory. Joseph has asked me if dogs go to heaven. I do believe there are animals in heaven. Don’t really know why, just something I believe. I look forward to seeing Ladybella, my cocker spaniel of almost 15 years and Sidney. Mostly, I am grateful for the time we have with them and the love we receive from them. I heard a song a woman wrote about her D O G and how he reminded her of her G O D the way they love and watch you when you go away and wait for you to return. It is beautiful.. I will have to find it to share with you. LOVE to you, thanks for sharing. Liz

  4. Wendy Curtis January 26, 2014 at 11:14 am #

    Hi Patti,
    This is has been a busy month for me and I’ve spent the last 2 days going through emails. How grateful I am to find your blog post about Sidney; literally brought me to tears, here at work. I love that you called her your dog soul mate. I had one of those too. This is the only era of my life that I haven’t had a dog. I look forward to having one again. My dog soul mate was the same soul, in two different dogs. I adopted a standard dachshund while I was a junior in college. He didn’t care much for Marquette, Michigan, but he sure did love our home in Holly. He would rub his nose raw from sniffing around. I brought him with me into my marriage and move to Indiana, where he grew old and passed away. A year later, I picked out a basset hound puppy and named him Jethro. Jethro behaved so much like Twiggy, following me everywhere in the house (like your Sidney) and laying on my feet while i stood at the sink and hand washed dishes, or worked at the counter. They were the exact same dog. It was as if Twiggy wanted to be a basset hound next. I am convinced that they were the same dog soul that found me twice.

    So that is why I’m writing you, not only did I love your story, but I want to convince you to get another dog. Sidney’s soul is out there in another puppy, you just half to be patient for her to find you. You’ll know.

    Hopefully, I’ll be getting up to Fife Lake this summer. If you are in the area, please call me as I’d love to see you.

    Best wishes to you and your family.


    • Patti Marie Travioli January 30, 2014 at 11:38 am #

      Thank you so much for sharing your story Wendy. I do find myself looking into the eyes of pups and asking, “Is that you in there?” Kind of funny. I don’t think a puppy is in my near future, but dog walking and playing with other pups sure is.

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