Sunday, 10 June 2012

Missing the menace

Every now and then, depending on the winds I guess, Helsinki-Vantaa airplanes keep flying over our place. This was happening again for a couple of days recently and I’ve been thinking about Great Ghost, my daughter’s blue merle Shetland sheepdog who didn’t like any trespassers, not even those up in the air. He didn’t mind the planes slightly outside our lot but he used to bark at the ones flying directly above our property sometimes chasing them even to the neighbour’s yard.

Great Ghost was the first dog I ever dared to touch, at least as far as I can remember. When I was a child I never came into real contact with any dogs. I knew my father had hunted wildfowl and had had a Finnish Spitz, which was the most common breed around where I come from in those days, but he had had to give the hobby up for health reasons and the dog was given away before my time.

So I was always sort of afraid of dogs and my daughter and son, who were some 10+ years old at that time, had to do some serious persuading until I and their father finally agreed to have one. When the puppy arrived, I was a bit scared of him, I’m embarrassed to reveal. (Sorry, no puppy photos. That was much before the digital camera era and my print files are a mess.)

The Shetland sheepdog is typically a very shy breed and so was our Great Ghost. As dedicated as he was to his family, he was suspicious of any strangers but for some curious reason more so of strange males than females. Also, if he saw a group of young children approaching he tried to drag his walker to the other side of the street to avoid facing them. I suppose he understood the risk of attracting their interest and being touched if any children were allowed too close.

I must confess I sometimes regarded Great Ghost as a menace. My daughter was his master and the apple of his eye but it sometimes happened that another member of the family was in charge. If you spend more hours than you should at the office you tend to be tired at home and it was nasty to wake up on the sofa in front of the TV in the middle of the night only to realize you have to take the dog out whatever your mental state, whatever the weather.

Being a shepherd, Great Ghost was always protecting his herd from any potential harm. I lived in an apartment building for a couple of years and he sometimes stayed with me alone when my daughter was somewhere else. So he barked at the noise of the elevator unless it was my daughter who was in it. And I can assure you he knew up on the 6th floor exactly when she entered the building standing up and starting to shuffle by the door with his tail wagging in anticipation. The rest of us only got a few lazy wags but every time she opened the door he was jumping all over her like crazy no matter how short a time she had been away.

After I moved to the countryside ten years ago Great Ghost sometimes stayed in my care for longer periods. Of course, he continued shepherding his herd but now the territory was larger and he couldn’t hold his bark for a moment out-of-doors unless everyone supposed to be present, including his best pal Jack the cat, was visible. But we endured it, my husband sometimes only just, and were little by little rewarded by a place in his heart and quite a proper wag for a greeting.

Great Ghost stayed with us over the Midsummer of 2008 when he had just turned 12. He was happy as always when I took him to his usual walks. The above photo was taken during that visit, only one week before the end of his life. The tumour in his liver turned out to be so large it had already broken a few ribs but he didn’t show the pain. He was the world to my daughter and I can only imagine the pain piercing her 20 something heart and soul when she took him to the vet and stayed by his side when he was put to sleep. Fortunately, she already had the first of her Maine Coon cats to give her some faint consolation.

Great Ghost’s ashes are buried at the summer cottage of my children’s father by the lake a few steps from the striped rock in the photo below. It was 16 years from his birth yesterday. So loyal, willing, affectionate, lively, intelligent, undemanding and eager to please. Wouldn’t it be nice if we humans had more of these qualities and less of those of a domestic cat who – although my hero as to enjoying life – doesnt need anyone but a place to become attached to? I miss him. The sweetest menace I will ever see.

(Thank you ‘kids’ for yesterday! This one is for you.)


  1. Replies
    1. Indeed, but she was practically all he saw. And I did call him 'ours' once to reserve a little bit of him to the rest of us, too. :)