When Joy came to us as a six month old puppy she had already received her sheep herding training. She is the flank. She is the protector. She is the mother of 33 puppies who found new loving homes in places as far away as Montana, Virginia, and Texas. All except Star left with a promise that they could be returned here if ever they were too much a burden. None have returned except to visit.
Joy had her first litter under the house. We had built a magnificent three bedroom puppy home under the old carport. But Joy had other plans. I found out that she had already delivered her puppies upon my return home one evening. She stood in the dirt lane waiting for me, her face swollen from the bite of the rattlesnake that had tried to take her babies. I scooped her up and rushed her to the vet who confirmed their delivery. I laid Joy on the stainless steel table in the arms of the vet, hugged her and promised I would bring her babies to her. I prayed that she would be alive live when I returned.
I rushed home and slammed shells into my 16 gauge shotgun, grabbed a blanket, a work light and a long extension cord. I ran to the back of the house. It was dark as I crawled under. The light danced frantically off the brick piers, pipes, wires and spider webs. There was no clear way and I crawled over the obstacles, gun pointed ahead and dragging the cord which I hoped would not unplug itself. Mosquitoes buzzed and bit me without mercy as I lay quiet, straining to hear the puppies. I elbowed across the white sand. My knees sank into its softness. I waited for the strike of the rattlesnake. I knew damn well I would kill it. Suddenly I heard the gentle whimpering of puppies. My knee had caved in the entrance to their den. I dropped the light and gun and cried out attacking sweeping the sand from the opening. I could hear them loudly now. Was the snake in the hole? I did not know. I jammed my hand in to feel and grab the first fuzzy squirming puppy. I pulled her out and lay her on the blanket. Again and again I reached under the pier, pulling leaves and straw and all manner of nest that Joy had built. Now the last scoop. I had would not leave until I had felt the entire perimeter of the nest. Trembling, I stuck my whole arm in and touched every nook pulling every scrap out to bare sand. I no longer heard or felt the mosquitoes. I scrambled with the precious load lifting them over pipe and brick, and through the webs, on the mission to Joy.
The small hospital had long since closed its doors leaving a young man caretaker who told me I could not come in. With a calm voice which warned him by its conviction, I told him my Joy lay near death that I had promised her I would bring her puppies to her and that I would now keep my promise. I walked through the darkened rooms to see Joy laying in the half coma between life and death, tubes running to and from her. I kissed her and gently laid each of her puppies at her teats. They nursed eagerly. I knew the poison could not pass through to them. I lay down on the concrete floor next to Joy and sang her the song we two made up on the way home from the airport when she first came to me. She first thanked me with her kind sweet eyes and then closed them until the morning when they told me she would live.