One of life’s sweetest pleasures, I think, is making that routine trip to the mailbox only to discover a hand-written note or surprise package among the stack of bills, circulars and junk mail. Finding that card or parcel is like finding a hidden treasure, and the discovery somehow eases the pain of having to open the rest of the mail!
So when I recently found a small package addressed to me with a familiar postmark, I knew I was in for a pleasant surprise.
My friend Betty Wathne of Sharpsburg, Md., sent the package as a birthday gift. Inside I found a handwritten greeting along with a decorative trinket of Betty’s creation that she calls a Kennel Gem. The handmade ornament features a delightful illustration of my Irish Water Spaniel, Kurre, hand-painted by Betty on both sides of a cameo, festooned with beading, and finished with a decorative clasp on top. I’ve hung my Kennel Gem on the lamp above my desk where it provides a steady stream of inspiration as well as a welcome distraction at times.
The image Betty painted of Kurre perfectly captures my dog’s joyful spirit. Betty is an accomplished artist with an eye for capturing her subjects’ inner beauty, and her creation beautifully symbolizes my dog as I know her, if not exactly as the camera sees her.
My birthday keepsake is a decorative reminder of the value of friendship in both human and canine form. And while I enjoy having it in my office, I think it would also look terrific as a crate tag, a door tassel or a Christmas tree ornament. No matter where I choose to display my gift, it will always be one of my very favorite doggie things.
Julie Hensley, who purchased a bitch puppy from me in 1988, gave me another surprise gift that I treasure to this day. The green plastic zippered pouch, with the name of my first show dog embroidered on one side, was a thank you present for showing Julie’s ‘Bailey’ one year at the National Specialty.
Like most exhibitors, I’ve collected so many ribbons (not all of them blue or purple, I must confess) that I needed a place to keep them safe and out of harm’s way. So for nearly 25 years now, the green pouch has safeguarded those little slips of satin that represent small victories and humiliating defeats. Each ribbon is a keepsake to my relationship with a single dog and to the people that each dog brought into my life, like Julie.
I’d actually forgotten about the pouch for several years when I wasn’t actively showing. Tucked away in the back of a closet, I only rediscovered it when I went looking for a suitcase. Reading the name “Teala” stitched on the side brought a smile to my face then, just as it does now, and looking inside at the ribbons and assorted trophies has always made me grateful for my dogs and doggie friends.
One of the more unusual things stowed away in the pouch is a spool of yarn woven from Teala’s hair. In the mid-1980s, I found a woman who spun yarn and knitted scarves and mittens from dog hair. I can’t remember what I paid for her service, but having the yarn from my first Irish Water Spaniel is priceless to me today. Touching it reminds me of the dog that brought so many wonderful people into my life.
In 2011, Julie got another female puppy from me and, after years without communication, we found ourselves sitting around a whelping box once again telling old stories from days gone by as we dreamed about the future. On her last visit, I forgot to show her the pouch she gave me long ago. But rest assured, it’s still tucked away in the closet under the stairs, ready to receive any new memories our dogs make for us.
Dede Selph is another friend who gave me one of my all-time favorite treasures. Dede got her first Irish Water Spaniels, Reggae and Darby, from my first litter, and surprised me with a signed and numbered print of my favorite breed by British artist Mike Sibley on her return from a visit to Crufts.
In the early 1990s, Dede came across the print among the hundreds of vendor stalls at Britain’s largest dog show. Sibley’s work is well-known to dog fanciers today, but in those days he’d only just begun to capture purebred dogs in graphite on paper. For fans of the Irish Water Spaniel, his masterful work, commissioned by the parent club in Great Britain, is a treasure beyond compare.
Although Sibley admits to having had “little knowledge of the breed at that time,” he nonetheless perfectly captured the Irish Water Spaniel’s coat and the intelligent look of its almond-shaped eye. According to the artist’s website, “The edition of 50 prints was released at Crufts at 8:30 am and sold out before midday! Originally sold at £45 each, the prints were soon changing hands at £450 or more.”
Of course, it’s not the value of a gift that matters, but rather it is the spirit in which it is given that brings the most joy. The Sibley print occupies a special place in my home gallery where it reminds me every day of the wonderful friendships I’ve made through dogs over the years. It is truly one of my most treasured gifts.