It was February 15th, 1995. I was ten, sitting at a booth with some classmates, selling tickets to a school fundraiser. We were in a stock show lobby area. Mostly, it was a fun day, I would occasionally slip into the auction area and listen to the babbling of the auctioneer and watch the livestock saunter past.
Then something exciting happened. A man brought in a box of puppies. He left them with us, telling us to get rid of them for him because he couldn't take care of them anymore and was going to have to kill them otherwise. This may have just been a ploy for us to make sure they were gone by the end of the day. But it worked.
For the remainder of the day, I carried the runt puppy around with me. She was (obviously) small and sleepy. Her face was mostly black and her body was spotted and flecked.
I easily convinced my dad that we needed another dog, as we were down to just one at the time. I was even able to convince my mom to let me bring the dog home to show her, then she could decide. I knew that the second she saw the pup, it was easy.
So at the age of ten Valerie came into my life. She was a typical puppy. She gnawed on everything and nipped at heels. She peed on the floors. She cuddled and licked.
Val was raised in part by my cat Patrick. He is a very large grey tabby who, in his younger years, weighed a whopping 16 pounds of muscle. He would bring my puppy live mice and show her how to hunt them. The two would wrestle for hours. At least until she got bigger than him and then the game was for her to chase him under furniture.
When we were young together, Val and I would run around (her nipping at my heels) and jump over the four-foot fence around the yard.
She got into quite a lot of trouble on a regular basis. Mostly because she liked to roll in particularly foul-smelling things such as horse manure and road kill. She also had a habit of not learning from her mistakes and was repeatedly sprayed by skunks. During the summer, I washed her several times a week.
I took Val with me many places. We would hike together and she rode with me when I'd go four-wheeling. I even took her with me when I rode my bike. Once. She got blisters on her paw pads from trying to keep up. The first time she went camping with us was in Utah, when she was only about 5 months old. She had a blast, but she got tired on all of our hikes and I had to carry her a lot of the way.
Tennis balls were Val's favorite toy. She wasn't allowed to play with them inside, but whenever we were outdoors, she had one in her mouth. She would drop it near a person and whine and nudge it until it was thrown. She would do this for hours. Long after our arms were sore.
Val of course had some neurotic tendencies as are common in herding breeds. One of them was that she was terrified of thunder. If she was outside when the storm clouds came in, she would run away. She ended up at neighbors' houses many times. Cowering on their porches, hoping that they'd have pity on her. If she was indoors, she'd hide in the bathroom in the center of the house.
I remember her idiosyncrasies fondly. I wanted to keep her with me, but alas, I went to college then remained in the city. I didn't think it would be right to bring a farm dog to an apartment. And so I didn't see her very regularly for the last 6 or so years. The last time I saw her was last September. She had been growing some benign tumors and slowing down in general. I knew it was only a matter of time.
I did not get to see her another time.