Do you snore when you sleep?
Do you dream and move your legs like you are running?
Do you bark or sleep in your sleep?
This is a story about love, devotion, persistence, and the only dog to arrive at Rainbow Bridge via train. It was almost 100 years ago in rural Montana where Shep lived with his father. They did everything together: An unbreakable pair.
One day Shep's dad took ill. With no way to get to a doctor, Shep's dad hoped to ride it out. Unfortunately, the disease proved to be fatal. When neighbors realized they had not seen the old man for a few days, they found him passed away in bed with Shep resting on the dead man's chest.
Shep's dad had lived back east when he was younger and requested that he be buried in the family plot in New Jersey. Shep followed the men carrying his father in a coffin to the train station. When Shep was not allowed on the train, he began to cry. After the train sped away, people tried to corral Shep, but he ran away.
The next day when the train whistle sounded, Shep ran back to the station and waited for his dad to disembark. When he didn't, a dejected Shep disappeared into the woods behind the train station until the whistle blew again. When it did, he hurried back and sat on the platform looking for his dad, who was never going to return. Shep continued his daily trek to the station for years.
Shep's dad tried to help the pup. He visited his best boy in the dog's dreams to explain that he would not be getting off the train. But Shep could not comprehend that his father would no longer be physically with him. That meant no long walks, quiet afternoon fishing, or hours spent playing ball together.
Shep became an unofficial mascot for the train line. Stories of his devotion spread through the country, and people came to the sleepy Montana town to watch Shep wait patiently in vain for his dad to arrive. People in the station began to feed Shep and put a seldom-used blanket out for him. They tried to bring him inside during the worst weather, but Shep had vowed never to step inside again without his dad.
Shep grew older and developed vision and hearing problems. This is not good for a dog who spends time at a train station—more than once, people had to pull him from the tracks before the train hit him.
Finally, one day the train pulled into the station, and his father was on it. He called for Shep and told him that they could be together now. Shep's tail wagged furiously, and he ran onto the train. To the bystanders, they saw something different: Shep slip and fall underneath an oncoming train. The dog was mourned like he was one of Montana's great citizens.
Later that day, a train appeared on the other side of the river. It turned, squeezed over Rainbow Bridge, and chugged up the steep grade to the spot where he was sworn in. Shep did not stay at the Bridge for long. He only had his dad, and his dad only had him. There was no one else for them to wait for, so together, they went to the land of Happily Ever After.
The word is that Shep and his dad still visit Rainbow Bridge from time to time, and you can see them walking on trails along the mountainside. In some parts of Montana, folks swear that when the moon is holding water and the planets are aligned that Shep and his dad can be seen riding the train into the station.Shep is a symbol of devotion for all of us dogs. We try to live up to his example. Shep didn't invent devotion, but he did perfect it.
Somehow, despite living with two hard-edged dogs like River and me, Pocket is still a sweet pup, sometimes to her detriment.
Last week Pocket was outside doing a quick bit of business to make sure her bladder was empty, or at least as empty as a leaky Yorkie can be, when she came across a lone turkey in our back garden.
Having turkeys in our yard is nothing new. A flock of them usually comes by in the morning. They walk single file behind their leader; something dogs could learn from, and keep pecking the ground until they find sufficient provisions.
The smallest turkey must have taken longer than his siblings to peck. He became lost in concentration. The pack returned to their nest in nearby words leaving the little bird homeless alone.
When my sisters went outside, the bird was sitting by the rose bush’s skeletal remains, shivering. River did as I would have. She attacked. Pocket stopped her sister, flashing her few teeth at her. "We should let him stay in the crawl space until his family returns," Pocket suggested
"Are you daft?" River asked. " Do you think Mommy is going to let you keep a turkey under the house?"
"She doesn't have to know."
"Of course she will know," River responded, "she knows everything. And this fowl smells quite foul. Mommy has the nose of a basset hound on the hunt."
“It will only be for a night. Mommy may smell something, but after dark, she's not looking under the house. When the turkeys come by in the morning, this fella can just fall in behind and march home.”
River was about to disagree when she grinned and told Pocket she thought it was a capital idea. She even helped Pocket slip the slat under the house to the side to allow the turkey, who informed them his name was Aristophanes, to gain access under the house. Ugly Joan, the feral cat who likes to sleep below the steps, was absent. She only returned to her lair every two or three days, and since the weather was calm, they hoped she would not return for the night. Pocket showed him some insulation that could be used for a nest and suggested he stay by the heater to keep warm. When they left, Aristophanes was contentedly building his nest.
After an hour of Aristophanes inhabiting the crawl space, my parents began craving roasted turkey. There were no other signs that a turkey was in the crawl until just before bedtime when Ugly Joan returned, and there was a great deal of pecking and clawing until Aristophanes prevailed because peck beats claw as set forth as a rule in the game pack claw bite. Claw beats bite; bite beats peck; peck beats claw.
In the middle of the night Pocket, noticed River was not in bed. She went into the living room and saw the grate that led to the crawl space was open. She crawled down until she was under the house and found River and ugly Joan, usually the bitterest of enemies plucking and basting Aristophanes. Pocket barked at both of them to leave the turkey alone. “It's not our fault,” River complained. “It smells like a freaking Boston Market here. It’s too tempting.”
When Pocket checked in the morning, Aristophanes had rejoined his flock. All that was left was a bright shiny egg. “I don't think Aristophanes was his butch as he thought,” Pocket told River.
They returned to the crawl space, having decided between eggs benedict and a poached egg, but the egg was gone. They saw Ugly Joan sitting uncomfortably. She was the mother of numerous litters and had adopted the egg, and she planned to sit on it until it was hatched.
That baby turkey was due for a heck of a surprise.
Today we prepared for the arrival of a famous dog. Pups who had belonged to fire departments on the mortal side lined the path from Rainbow Bridge to Hobo’s Landing because Freckles from Engine 103 in Chicago would be arriving at his forever home soon.
Freckles was a local celebrity. He took daily walks around the city’s western loop and spent hours on a Yoga mat outside the firehouse, where he greeted visitors. He was the inspiration for the dog on Chicago Fire.
When Freckles grew bored of sitting in front of the station, he would sniff around the neighborhood, walking into shops, and being greeted like he was a beloved human. Freckles was featured on a popular Facebook page, and his admirers flocked from around the country to greet him.
When he wasn’t working, Freckles spent his time living with his caretaker Michelle. She was so devoted to the Dalmation-pit bull mix that he was the “best being” in her wedding. He dressed in a bow tie and posed for dozens of pictures.
Freckles adored people, and they loved him back. Even if they didn’t know that Freckles was famous, people were drawn to him.
He first started working at Engine 103 in August of 2004 after the house lost their dog. A neighbor donated him. After a trial run, Freckles was unanimously voted in as a squad member and subsequently became a neighborhood draw.
Freckles knew how to play to a crowd. Both tour groups, and students on field trips, would come to the station to meet the dog. When he saw a bus stop near the firehouse, he ran with a wagging tail to greet the visitors and provide delight.
Over several shifts, Freckles provided emotional support for the firefighters. When they returned, tired, hunger, and emotional, Freckles was there to calm the firefighters and help them sleep.
Freckles shift ended after 17 long years of firehouse duty. The entire community remembered him fondly. They had thought of him as mayor of their neighborhood. The western loop would never be the same.
And neither would Rainbow Bridge. Freckles was a well-admired hero and inspiration for dogs everywhere. When he crossed the Bridge, the fire dogs began cheering him and did so until he was sworn in as a new angel.
Being driven by a dalmatian, a fire truck drove on to the landing, and the spotted dog blew on the horn and waved for Freckles to get on board. When he did, he was given a captain’s jacket, one of the highest ranks in the Doggyspace fire department, and was driven to his new station, which he will rule over for eternity.
We are all sleeping better at Doggspace Village because we know that the best dog fire captain who ever lived is on duty. There are never fires here, but there are still emergencies, mostly centered around silly cats who climb trees and can’t get back down and need to be saved by a dalmatian in a bucket.
Regardless of our threat level is low, our comfort level is high because sweet, smart, brave, and loving Captain Freckles is on duty now and forever.