Notes from the White County Historical Society

By Charlene Shields

Notes from the White County Historical Society as they appear in "The Carmi Times."

Copyright ©2000 by "The Carmi Times" Permission to reprint granted to Cindy Birk Conley and the ILGenWeb by Tammy Knox, editor, "The Carmi Times."

A canticle for a cairn

(Through the several years of writing this column, I've been given
complete freedom to write whatever I wished to write. This time I'm
hoping my publisher will indulge me as I depart totally from my usual
subjects of genealogy and local history and write of something which is
heavy on my heart today.)

I brought Folly home for the last time this week-a few spoons of ashes
in a tiny urn. Folly is (was--I must get used to using the past tense)
my 12-year-old cairn terrier. She was named "Folly" because it was total
folly for me to acquire a pet at that time.

I had retired after 35 years in the work force and was doing a bit of
traveling here and abroad, and going to Chicago to plays, etc. For the
first time in my life I was free to do those things.

Then I decided to get a dog. Having lived on a farm much of my life, I
had loved our collies and other farm dogs. However, I wanted to have a
dog in the house, and was not sure I could tolerate dog hair on the
furniture. After discussing this with a vet and a pet groomer, I became
a bit learned on the subject. Then I read about dog personalities, etc.,
and decided a cairn terrier was the dog for me. (Some people call cairns
"Toto" dogs, as Toto in the Wizard of Oz was a cairn.) I chose well. She
was sturdy, exuberant and energetic and was everything I wanted in a

I believe those who have never had a dog live in the house as a child do
not know how much love there is between the pet and the person.
Possibly, until one has lived alone with a dog, you can't really know
how close the companionship becomes.

For 12 years we shared so much. Every time I picked up the car keys,
Folly ran for the door, because it was her great delight to go
everywhere with me. She snoozed peacefully in the passenger seat while I
went to church or to the Courthouse to do research. We went for long car
rides in the evenings, because it soothed her so after she became ill.
For, you see, she developed Cushing's Disease. This is a tumor on the
brain, operable in humans but not dogs. We made so many trips to the
University of Illinois vet small animal hospital that I often said Folly
had been there more than the students. At one time she was in intensive
care with IVs, a catheter, and in the course of several days was seen
and tested by a cardiologist, neurologist and other specialists, and one
vet intern stayed with her all night when her temp went to 106 degrees.
Finally, she came home. She was a game little dog and insisted on
following her regular routine. We grew old together. Trips no longer
interested me; nothing was as important as being with my Folly.

For 11 years I awakened to see her eager face as she sat patiently
waiting for me to take her for a walk. We didn't miss a day last winter,
starting out by the light of the street lamps and staying as long as
Folly wished. Often this was more than an hour. I could gauge how well
she felt by the length of time she stayed out. Despite a roomy, fenced
back yard, she chose to stay in the house with me almost all the time.
She was quiet. Sometimes I'd wonder where she was and look down to see
her sitting as close to my chair as she could get. Excepting in the car,
she never sat on my lap or in the chair with me. She maintained a
certain air of privacy.

So when she died, I refrained from holding her in my arms, but sat as
near to her as I could get, stroking her. And she was conscious that I
was there. I had wanted to outlive her, to take care of her because of
her many problems.  I had prayed I'd never have to make the decision to
have her put to sleep, and I didn't. She became ill and died at home
without having to suffer unduly. She was a sort of miracle dog because
she lived seven or eight years after the Cushing's diagnosis, when the
average is about two years. I never spoke an unkind word to her; we
loved each other unconditionally.

Friends have helped with calls, cards, visits, food, flowers and several
contributions to our favorite charity: P.E.T.S. at Risk. Yet, I grieve
because I am totally distraught without my little pal.

I've never believed much in reunions in the sky. Yet, if Folly could be
young and well again, and if I could be young and well again, and we
could go bounding across some celestial meadow, that would be the
nearest thing to heaven I could imagine.

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