Dinah was the epitome of a family dog.
We worked together every day and she was a shadow within my shadow each step of the way.
The only time she left her place at my heels was to follow my daughter; she took the job as companion, playmate and guardian of what was most precious to me with the grave intensity that was her way.
At night, after a long hard day, she spent her evenings dozing with my husband in the recliner, with her head in his hand while he methodically scratched her ears.
Her relationship was unique to each of us, and of her own design, because Dinah was not a dog who took kindly to being told what to do.
She did things as she saw fit, lucky for us, she also had an unflagging loyalty and the deep rooted sense of duty that goes hand in hand with devotion. Dinah had lived with us for many years before I realized I never actually trained her to do anything. I could not take credit for my well behaved little dog. She would see a gap and fill it, meet a friend and keep them, and was polite to everyone else, while making it clear they weren't members of her inner circle. She came because she was interested in what I had to say, heeled because that was the spot she chose for travel, and accepted my guidance as long as it was practical.
I rarely had to find her, if she was gone, she was busy, and never felt a moment's remorse when I tracked her down. At best, she might run to me and then back to the hole she was working, inviting me to help dig the varmint out, normally, she would pull her head from the ground, her white muzzle and paws covered with dirt, and look at me with clear annoyance. Obedience wasn't in her vocabulary, she was a good dog because she chose to be.
Dinah made an art form of totally dissing those beneath her yet still left them desperately vying for her attention, a talent I always envied.
She was a Jack Russell Corgi mix, a small, stout dog. She carried twenty pounds of hard muscle on her sturdy frame. She looked like a tiny Corgi, with maybe an extra inch or so of leg, a rounder face, shorter back and larger eye. In her prime she could leap from a stand still and look you in the eye. "Every Corgi's fantasy," was how our vet described the springs in her legs.
She got me over, forever and a day, my unfounded prejudice against small dogs. The thought of a sixty pound Dinah was a terrifying one.
She developed her hunting skills on her own, mousing in the barn and basement, then moving on to ground squirrels, water rats and the occasional prairie dog. It wasn't uncommon to see Dinah and a few barn cats waiting patiently around a mouse hole.
It wasn't until we paired her with Charlie, out Rat Terrier, that she became a master. Between the two of them they became murdering machines. Dinah would wait by a burrow or hidey hole deep in the scrub oak, and Charlie would drive the hapless rabbit or squirrel into her waiting jaws.
She would lie quiet next to a pallet loaded with grain bags while Charlie dug and barked on the other side, so still, the panicked mice would bolt right across her paws to their doom.
She knew to lie upwind of a prairie dog colony while Charlie barked and played the fool for the chattering group. The sentinels would shriek the alarm and they would all pop up and down, cursing and taunting Charlie. On a good day she could take two or three before they ever knew she was behind them. Prairie dogs aren't the sharpest tool in the shed, my dog team could wipe out a small colony in a matter of days.
Pigeons were controlled during nesting season, they would haunt the barns as the peeps of the fledglings grew stronger. Dinah and Charlie rarely missed first flight day and the pigeon casualties were always high.
My dog were a valuable vermin control team, it made them welcome every where we worked.
Dinah traveled the show circuit with us. She slept curled next to Clare on the road and never grew tired of travel.
She never wandered and would wait patiently at the gate while we competed. She comforted the kidlette while she learned the art of sportsmanship and kept me company while I waited for my midnight go. She was content to sleep with us in the nest built into the nose of our trailer, but happiest when we smuggled her into a motel.
Nothing made Dinah happier than the words, "Let's go to the horse show!"
She was my child's closest friend. Raising your kid at the barn is a fantastic gift, but it can be lonely. The kidlette and Dinah made forts, climbed trees (I'm serious), played horses and a crazy version of Agility. Dinah would perform like a circus monkey for my daughter, because it was part of the game. They swam together at friends pools, rode crammed together in the saddle and spooned for naps in the sun.
When Dinah was 10-years-old, she suddenly, without warning, retired from being a barn dog. One morning, she simply didn't want to leave the house. She hung her head and half crouched instead of doing her happy dog dance at the door. I let her stay home and the performance was repeated the next day, and then the next.
A trip to the vet found nothing wrong. For whatever reason, Dinah had retired. Less than a year later, my own illness forced me to follow her.
As my writing career progressed, I spent more time on the computer. Dinah made a bed under my chair and became my official chair troll. She has been under my chair as I wrote for the last six years.
I write this today with the understanding that Dinah was with me through the best years of my life. Not the easiest, not the smoothest, in many ways, the most painful, but still the best.
I am so grateful to have shared these years with her. Although there is a bittersweet emptiness under my chair, I still can feel her steady trot at my heels, her shadow within my shadow. We had a great run, Dinah and I.