In my life I've been owned by eight Shetland Sheepdogs. Each of them wonderful dogs, with the traits that drew me to the breed, but still eight individual characters that could never be replaced. I loved them all. But one has always stood out from the others. Her name was Tess.
Nothing about Tess was typical. For one, I'd never seen a sheltie with her coloring before. She was almost solid white, with two gray patches, and blue eyes. I learned her color was called double merle and was a genetic defect. Most puppies like Tess are put down at birth because they are usually deaf, blind, or both. But someone had given her a chance at life--and what a life she had.
We adopted Tess when she was about a year old. We knew from the start that she was completely deaf, yet we fell in love with her. It was an adjustment for us but she adapted to our home immediately. She made friends with our other dogs and soon fancied herself quite the watchdog, barking at "threats" like the mailman or kids walking to school. I took her to Obedience training and she learned to do basic commands on hand signals. She was so sweet-natured and well behaved that we could take her anywhere. People would notice the unusual looking dog and come over to see her. Everyone who met her seemed to fall under her spell.
Tess was too special to keep only to ourselves. She became a therapy dog and visited hospitals and nursing homes. We volunteered for the Humane Society and participated in their events. At one called the Bow Wow Beauty Pageant, she wowed the judges with her Obedience skills, winning Most Talented and Best of Show. I thought it was all just for fun until it was announced that she'd won a year's supply of dog food from Petsmart! When I got home, I exclaimed to my husband, "Tess won Best of Show!" "So," he said dryly, "what did she win, a year's supply of dog food?"
Tess was ours for a little over 10 years. She died of a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Her ashes are buried in a favorite napping spot in our backyard.
I've never known another dog like Tess and I expect I never will. She was the apple of my eye. It means so much to me that after many years, I still occasionally run into someone who says, "That little white dog of yours, the one that was deaf? She was the sweetest dog I ever met."
Carolyn Goodspeed is a writer living in Texas.