Fred, Herbie, Greta, Boji, Nisse. Five names. Five dogs that have written stories in the chapters of my life.

A story might be one of the greatest gifts one can be given. It doesn’t need to be handwritten, it can simply be experienced, heard, and felt. Dogs are wonderful authors. They are observant, empathetic, and reflective.

Today, as I sit on the floor of my foyer and the light streams in from the south facing windows, I am experiencing the writing desk of our dear dog, Nisse. This was her home base, her watch tower, her sleeping spot. The sunshine would warm her just as it is doing for me this first day of December. This first day that she isn’t here. The stories that my five dogs have written for me are spilling out. 

Fred is the first dog I remember from my childhood on the farm. He was a medium-sized mutt  (in the best sense of the word) with short brown hair and big brown eyes. He took his farm watchdog role seriously. If you are a reader of the “Hank the Cowdog” book series by John R. Erickson (which I highly recommend), he was our Hank. I’m not sure why we named him Fred but that name wrote one of my favorite stories. 

We were remodeling our farmhouse kitchen and decided to sell the old cabinets. A member of the local Methodist congregation came out to consider purchasing them for his church. My dad, not one to fawn over our dog, never hesitated to bark orders at him, especially if he was underfoot. The fine gentleman from the church was standing in the garage visiting with my dad and looking at the cabinets. Our dog must have gotten a little too curious and my dad yelled, “Get out of here, Fred!” —in that voice he used for herding ornery cattle. Well, the fine Methodist gentleman was mortified—turned out his name was Fred. Not sure how my dad back peddled out of that one. It was a small victory and an endearing story for our dog Fred.

Herbie followed Fred as head of farm security. He was a black and white mix of collie and sheep dog and liked to herd us around. My memory paints him in the background of bigger stories of my high school years, specifically my mom’s cancer journey. Not needing the limelight, he was readily available in the garage or front stoop for petting and conversation from a scared and confused teenage girl. My brother Paul recalls that Herbie would always follow cars and farm machinery down our long gravel lane. In his words, “He never learned to stay home and that was his demise, I suppose.” Herbie met his fate on the oil road following my dad and brother to a field a mile from our farm. The irony of tragically being hit by a Volkswagen Beetle is the stuff of Disney movies. He lived up to his name—Herbie, the Love Bug.

Greta, the golden retriever, was the first dog of my married life. She captured all the dreams of a young couple desiring to care for something that wasn’t as demanding as a baby. If you’ve had the delight of having a golden retriever as part of your family, you know that they are an empath with a capital E. I think she spent most of her life just moving from Dan to me and to our children Ian, Julia, and Elliot with that look in her eye that said, “how can I love you today?” Our world was blessed with Greta for 14 years. She didn’t write drama-filled books, she just sent daily thank you notes.

Boji was a different story. Our desire to have a dog that didn’t shed led us to a less common breed at the time, an Airedale Terrier. She was born on the shores of Lake Okoboji in Iowa. Her mother was a show dog with the lovely name of Iris. Boji would literally dig up any story she could—just ask my husband who had to fill the holes in our yard. There was that time she killed the neighbor’s chickens while the neighborhood children, gathered for an afternoon of fun, watched in horror. Boji was prone to wander and somehow broke through the security gate at the local power company three miles away on busy Rice Street. I think it was that episode that led us to implant a tracking chip in her arm. That didn’t prevent her from sneaking up to the ski slope at Terry Peak one Christmas break. As our kids waited in the chairlift line, they looked over and said, “Is that Boji tied up to the chairlift shed?” She always liked a big audience.

Her best story was written on stage at the local high school theater. She was cast as “Sandy” in the musical Annie. We let her hair grow out so she would be sufficiently fuzzy. Annie led her around the stage on a short rope, which probably wasn’t needed, or maybe it was. She pranced out with Annie for a final bow at the end of each show wearing a big red Christmas bow. It wasn’t too many months later that she died suddenly in this very foyer, likely from a stroke. Her timing was impeccable—it was 10:30 am on a Saturday morning and eight parents were scheduled to come and pick up their daughters from Julia’s sleepover. It was a split second decision as the first mom approached the front door. I decided to just let it appear that she was sleeping. No one will say anything, I thought. It worked for a few of the moms and then the fourth one said, “Oh, what a pretty dog.” I honestly responded, “Thank you, she’s dead.” Boji wrote her last comedy-drama that day.

That brings me to Nisse. Soft-coated Wheaten Terriers are not considered a working dog by the American Kennel Club, but she certainly had her work cut out for her as she joined this active family of six in 2006. She was a dog of contrasts as one minute she was bouncing outside of the door like a Jack-in-the-Box, the next minute she was lying on the tile in the foyer looking like a throw rug. From her home base in the foyer, she greeted each of us numerous times a day while we lived our revolving door life. She learned the sad sound of Dan and my roller bags as we headed out of the house to the airport. Somehow, when the whole family was getting packed up she knew that she might get to come along, too. Nisse was a snuggly road warrior and clocked numerous miles to the Black Hills to see Grandpa and Grandma. Rolling in the snow was a favorite past time and a nod to her Norwegian name that means “Santa.” 

The house has been quiet during the pandemic, yet more rhythmic. We could set the clock by Nisse heading to our bedroom at 9 pm to curl up on the floor on Dan’s side of the bed. In the morning she would hear us turn on the coffee maker and she’d show up for her coffee “treat.” 

Her racing around the yard gradually slowed to a stroll and then to a shuffle. One more road trip was in order this past weekend—over the river and through the woods to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. No rolling in the snow. Refreshing tastes of the cold, white flakes were preferred over any food or water. Her story led to other stories as Grandpa shared all of his dog stories at the Thanksgiving table . . .Skipper, Coco . . .good dogs, too.

Back home on Sunday night we took turns lying by her in the foyer. She was ready to write her last story. Monday morning, it seemed she chose a movie script as Josh Groban’s song, “Believe,” came blasting from the radio on our way to the vet’s office. This old, fluffy, white dog, beloved by children and named after Santa, seemed to write a final lesson for these two sad and bewildered humans:

Believe in what your heart is saying

Hear the melody that’s playing

There’s no time to waste

There’s so much to celebrate

Believe in what you feel inside

And give your dreams the wings to fly

You have everything you need

If you just believe  

Good dog, Nisse. Say hello to Fred, Herbie, Greta, Boji, Skipper and Coco.

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23 thoughts on “A Dog is a Story

  1. Absolutely loved these fine reminiscences of man’s (and woman’s) best friend. Having loved a variety of dogs all our married lives, there are treasured stories to tell. And you took the time to tell yours. For that we are grateful. Super job, Becky. I can picture each one.

  2. So loved reading your post, Becky. Tears flow in sympathy. Dogs are so important to families and their lessons are beautiful. Hugs

  3. Love this! It just reminded me of all the dogs on the farm (everyone named Sport) as a child and the dogs of my married life – Skippy, Brandy, and Cody 1 and Cody 2 ( is still with us-a golden retriever that is 15 years old)! Thanks for a walk down memory lane!

  4. Oh my goodness, my tears are flowing! I lost dogs in my childhood—Rueben, Dog Dog, Snoopy, P.J. Benji—but know that the day my Schnoodle Maggie joins them will be unbearable. Hugs to you!

  5. Wonderful rememberings…thank you for sharing because it has caused me to pause and remember my own furry story tellers: Faun (1-4), Fem and Maggie, Norwegian Elkhounds, all; BJ (Lab/Elkhound mix); Rhu and Torri (Gordon Setters) and our current, a setter/Gr. short-haired mix, Blewe.

  6. Beautifully written to capture the unique love a dog offers so freely and the cavernous hole they leave when they depart. My first dog, Gypsy, left a physical scar between my eyebrows as the two-year-old me wouldn’t stop pulling her ears. Seeing multiple stitches on his little girl’s face, my dad had to choose between me and Gypsy, and I’m still here. Then came the beloved black lab, Misty, who was the best childhood friend anyone could ask for. Our family farm is still named “Misty Farms” in her honor.

    During my peripatetic years, I became a cat person by choice and design, but immediately returned to my true dog spirit when I bought my first house. Mu, the mixed-breed, “Berkeley Terrier” stole my heart with his forever brown eyes, floppy ears and terrier beard. My fear of anything happening to Mu prompted the acquisition of the king of all dogs—an Airedale Terrier. Tara was beautiful, regal, fiercely loyal and by far the smarter of the two “siblings”.

    Life changed, I met my husband, Ken, and he came with a smaller version of Tara with an even grander self image—Elmo, a Welsh Terrier. When trying to blend our families, Tara tried to eat Elmo for lunch. My time to choose between my dog and my future husband. Ken won and fortunately, my ex happily made a home with Tara. Mu and Elmo coexisted for many years, never really happy the other was around. They both lived into old age (never old enough) and died two years apart—Elmo dying the same year Ken’s father passed and Mu two years later when my dad passed away. They took our hearts with them and they have yet to be replaced. Yes, dogs write the distinct chapters of our lives.

  7. Okay. Crying. Dogs are truly one of God’s finest creations. You wrote all your sweet hairy friends the best tribute. ❤️

  8. Luanne,
    Oh, I love these dog stories–especially that you also had an Airedale Terrier–trying to eat Elmo for lunch doesn’t surprise me. You beautifully describe the unconditional love of your dogs, “they took our hearts with them”–well said. Not sure we’ll replace Nisse. Hard to know.
    Thanks for reading my blog. You’re a great writer, hope you do it from time to time.

  9. I’m so sorry to hear of Nisse’s passing. She was such a sweet companion when we stayed with you. Sending warm thoughts to you, Dan, and your family.

  10. I was so sorry to hear of Nisse’s passing. He was such a great dog. I’ve been nicknamed by my family as the Rainbow Grandma as I have witnessed the passing of several of our family’s dogs. And while it is so hard to let them go, there is a peacefulness in being with them when they go. I grew up with a loyal German Shepherd named Jake who died at the age of 12. Our family adopted a mutt named Pooch that was beloved by the entire town. In our married lives we’ve had Boston Terriers-Tinker, Daisy, Bessie, Toby, and Matilda. labradors MAC 1 & 2, Liberty, Chopper and now Sadie-a white lab that sheds abundantly – Bob says enough to knit another dog daily. But she is a sweet companion that has warmed the hearts of us and the grandchildren. After Liberty we waited 5 years before getting another dog It just seemed too hard and then when my daughters lab had puppies, Sadie jumped into my arms and heart. I have a feeling another dog will be in your lives. Peace and happy memories to you and Dan.

    1. So good to hear from you, Nancy! Yes, Nisse was a great dog and really so easy. She lasted a long time and now we still look for her everytime we come home or wake up in the morning. She and Dan were good buddies. I think if I said “yes” he’d start researching puppies! You have a great dog history. There is something satisfying about listing them all and recalling their stories. Thanks so much for reading my blog. I think this one definitely struck a common thread with readers. Enjoy Sadie!!!

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