Lily’s Birthday

Rather early on after meeting Steve, it was clear that we were going to stay together. He already owned a home, and I was renting a tiny cottage a few towns over out in the country. We talked about me moving in with him. “Only one condition,” I said. “If I move in with you, I get a dog.” Looking back, I realize that I didn’t say “we get a dog.” It was I.

I found what was likely a husky/Australian shepherd mix at an animal shelter. Nimbus was under a year old, and she’d already been adopted twice and returned in haste by both households. She wasn’t the right dog for most people, but she was the perfect dog for me. She liked Steve well enough, and even, once we had them, the children (who dropped crackers from high chairs and so were okay.) But, she was my dog – that was clear to everyone who saw us together. Who can say what makes a heart dog? Nimbus was smart and funny and willful. She needed to have an interesting life, and so my life became more interesting. Nimbus was a catalyst for change, and it was all for the better. In search of a way to channel her energy, I discovered agility, and we made it up to the masters level. Because of agility, I found clicker training and Karen Pryor. Because of that, how I interact with all beings, humans and animals alike, took a more thoughtful, more positive turn.

A person is lucky to have one heart dog in a lifetime. When that one dies, there is heartbreak and you think that that dog can never be replaced. It’s true. Don’t even try. But, that doesn’t mean that you give up on animals in your life. I couldn’t. Without a dog, I didn’t go for walks. The space around me felt hugely empty without another being linked to me with eyes, ears, and that finely-tuned dog attention.

I went looking for a border collie mix. I found Lily. The “rescue organization” (I put that in quotation marks, as it turns out it was one person who did not know what she was talking about) claimed all sorts of things about Lily’s temperament, socializing and breeding. She was wrong on every count. But, Lily needed a person and I needed a dog. I put her into the crate in my minivan, and she was carsick all the way home. She never did get over hating car rides. Nimbus loved riding shotgun, Lily whines and cowers. From the start, Lily was reactive to movement. I had young boys in the house, and so we did much training to reduce the risk of dog bites. Lily resource guarded with snarls and teeth. Lily chased everything, including chickens. She was sure that threats were everywhere, that men who smelled of cigarette smoke should never step a foot near the house, and that all trucks should be barked at with the highest pitched, most painful to hear bark on the planet. She didn’t read other dog’s body language well, so often felt threatened, and so walks with her were not relaxing.

And yet, on this blog, I call her Good Dog Lily. Because she is. Because, she is very, very good at what she does. Lily has the best hearing of any dog I’ve ever known. (Truly! She can hear someone walking down the street from inside of the house, with the windows closed.) She tells me what vehicles are driving down the street (UPS calls for extreme vociferation.) There is even a bark if a car deigns to slow down by the driveway. She tells me who is at the door, and when the power goes out (she hates the beeping of the alarm.) Even now, when I wake up in the middle of the night, not knowing (because I can’t hear) what woke me, I look to Lily. If she is calm, I know that there is nothing to worry about. There’s something to be said for having an alert, worrier of a dog! She might not be my heart dog, but she is my dog, and she is always, always with me. I trust that when she has something to say, that I should pay attention. In my office, when her head picks up off of her bed, and she looks outside, so do I.

Lily on bed


Lily turns eleven today. I have lived more than ten years with this complicated dog. Eleven is old. Her hind legs hitch a bit as she follows me up the stairs. Her muzzle is grey. But, from her purple chair inside the house, she still knows when hawks circle the sky, and when the UPS truck is in the driveway.



We humans are often focused inward, or on the computer screen, or at a task. Combine that with our dull senses, and we go through our days barely aware of the world beyond the extent of our physical reach. A dog like Lily, who is vigilant and hyper-aware, can change the very space that we live in. Some people find dogs like this demanding and impossible to live with. Not me. I am grateful that she clues me into this greater world.

It’s hard work, being Lily. She never takes a break.

lily eyes


But, today is your birthday, Lily. The sun is out! Let’s go for a walk!

Lily face


  1. Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear Lily…

    Great Blog, almost brought a tear to my eye.

    My heart dog was a lab/Airedale mix. His name was Enos, I had him from age 8 to 19. One quick story. My uncle lived next door about a 1/2 mile down an old gravel country road. I went over for visit went in through the garage door. Of course Enos went with me. I left through the basement door. The next morning I was frantic when he wasn’t at the back door when I went to feed him. (Enos was an outside door, my parents never allowed a pet inside). I searched and searched and searched.
    My mom summoned me and said my uncle called and wanted me to come get my dog. Apparently he spent the whole night at the garage door waiting for me to come out. ;-)

  2. Our Ben is a vigilant and hyper aware dog. He barks and growls at many sounds and I can tell what “threat” level it is by the tone of the bark. I’ve learned to ignore a certain bark, its “the squirrels are on the neighbors roof” bark. Happy Birthday Lily.

  3. Happy Birthday Lily! :) You’re a very pretty dog!

  4. Maybe you’re her heart human. : )

    Good dog, Lily! Did she get a cake?

  5. Happy Birthday Good Dog Lily!! I have found that no matter how many dogs pass through our lives, there is ALWAYS room in my heart for another. I can honestly say I have had at least three very SPECIAL dogs in my life. Two wait for me at the Rainbow Bridge and the third (and I’m thinking the fourth) are still here with me. Sparky is in his twilight years and I try not to think about tomorrow with him, just enjoy him while he’s with me. He will turn 15 in June!! Smokey is another dog all together, but still much loved for what he offers..his unconditional love and devotion.
    God bless you Lily, you are loved and return that love. You are a GOOD DOG!!

  6. What a lovely post. Happy Birthday, Lily! You are, indeed a good (and gorgeous) dog. That pic of her on the purple chair is beautiful.

  7. Happy Birthday, Lily! You are a good watchdog! My sister enjoys her Shar pei shepherd mix dog because her dog is always aware of what is going on outside. She’s her sound-the-alarm dog.

  8. Thank-you for this sweet sweet post. Lily is indeed a lucky dog! Glad you have had 10 years to enjoy together…may you have many more dog years, Terry.

  9. Happy B. Day Lily!
    I am sitting at the computer with Jasmine, a 15 yr. old Dachshund, snoring in the round Papasan chair next to me!
    Although she is not really a heart dog, and no one would put up with what we have the past 13 yr., we still love her very much!
    Thanks Terry!

  10. It’s the difficult ones that pull us out and up, isn’t it? That’s my Bailey!

  11. Happy Birthday Lily! Look at the size of those ears! I too have a dog like her. Her name is Boopie and she’s super aware of everything! She’s my ears when I’m outside and I’m using my lawn tractor or weed eater and I can’t hear. If she barks then I know somethings up. And like Lily, she has different bark tones for different events. I sure rely on her! We can’t say the “walk” word here. We say just w. Now she’s on to that! She’s even knows signs of our pre-walks. And like Lily, Boop is getting on in years and is a bit slower along with hip problems. She can no longer jump on the couch or chairs. I keep a heating pad in her bed for her. I love how dogs live in the moment and she teaches me to do more of that everyday. I will likely keep dogs by my side for the rest of my lifetime.

  12. Happy Birthday, Lily! Some maybe favor Scooter(and adorable, he is) but Lily is the one that captures my attention. I love a smart, aware dog. You’ve expressed just what I went through a few months back, after losing my heart dog. I cried over everything. She followed me step-for-step throughout my day. I missed her presence, completely. I felt so alone. The house was too quiet and I found myself trying to stay anywhere, but my own home. My daughter thought the only solution was to get me a new dog. She was so disappointed at my lack of interest. She showed me rescue dog after rescue dog. Nothing. She asked if I got a new one what would I want it to look like. I told her. She found exactly what I described on the internet. She made the appointment to see the dog. I was half interested. Allowed it, mainly to appease her. Then Doc, who was just as hurt over Buffy, said no. So the appointment was cancelled. We went to Pet Smart a couple of times, but everytime I thought to get a puppy, I just started crying and we had to leave to get myself together. It just wasn’t working out and my depression was getting worse. As it turned out, I had to go with daughter to an appointment and afterwards she had to stop at Pet Smart to pickup a couple things for her cat. Surprise, surprise, there was the little dog she had made the appointment for with the dog’s brother’s and sister. Once I saw her, I knew. She had to go home with me. The usual crying started, but I didn’t care. Nobody knew how much I hurt over Buffy, my heart dog. I cried all the way through the adoption process. The lady seemed to understand my emotion. It was cleared through Doc first. Dear God gave me exactly what I wanted. I know He understood my pain. First attempt didn’t work, but He must have softened Doc’s heart up. God gave me a second chance. I’m healed and all I can say is this dog is pure chaos. She makes us laugh all the time. She loves Doc. I miss Buffy and I pray to God that we be together in heaven. But Tippy (my new dog) is so close to being loved just as much as Buffy. Life is good. Thanks for posting this. Sorry this is so long, but I wanted to share. Please give Lily a hug. She is a good dog.

    • I am very, very glad that you have a dog back in your life. Accept Tippy for who she is, and she will be in your heart. Never the same as Buffy, but there just the same.

  13. Happy birthday Lily! And no, your graying muzzle doesn’t make you look fat…

  14. What a lovely tribute to Lily. Happy Birthday, girl and many more. Could it be that the last picture reminds me just a bit of Tonka???

  15. My heart dog was half poodle and, we believe, half rough collie. She was the most difficult dog ever in my life and also the only dog I’ve ever fully trusted. God, how I will always miss her.

    She was a dumpee that showed up at the trailer court where we lived back in the day. I did not need an active dog in a tiny trailer. No one wanted to call animal control. Where we lived, animal control was a guy who came and caught the dog, kept it for three days, and then shot it. With road kill to eat and lots of people to throw scraps, she hung around. I tried to stay away from her. My father was very clear about the problems of taking in strays, when I was growing up. And I was no longer working. We wanted to see if we could make it on one income. But after two weeks of watching her deal with the dirt bags in the trailer court, the cats, the kids, and the road/cars, I knew I had to have her. But the husband wasn’t keen. “She’s going to double in size, at least!” Then one of the neighbors came looking for her. The animal control guy had been called and would be there that afternoon. I called the husband who said, “No!” And then an hour later called back, “Aw hell, go get that damn dog. She doesn’t deserve to die.”

    I’m sitting here crying while I type this with a beautiful, wonderful dog that I love at my feet. But Kenzie and I could talk without words. There is just something about these special ones that never let you go.

  16. Happy Birthday sweet Lily. If for some reason you ever get mad at your “Mom” call me and I will gladly come and get you! I don’t think your “Mom” is too worried. You are such a sweet looking, happy dog! I hope you get homemade treats for your birthday!

  17. I love this story. And, I love your heart. It is a heart of commitment and dedication once you get a pet.

  18. I have a very similar dog. Black and white. Ever vigilant, scared of everything, and vocal as all get out. Named Lily.
    I often say that I wouldn’t trade her for a million bucks, but I wouldn’t ever want another one like her either. My Lily is now 12 and I wonder about how long much longer she’ll last. It’s been a stressful life for sure, but also one that includes lounging on my bed all day and pulling all the blankets into a nice nest no matter how tightly I’ve tucked them in.
    Thank you for reminding me to cherish my Lily and I hope you too have many more years with yours.

  19. Happy birthday, Lily. You’re such a good dog. And sooo pretty.

  20. Those perky ears when you said “Let’s take a Walk”!! What a precious pup. Happy birthday, dear Lily.

  21. My, what big ears you have, Good Dog Lily! I had a heart cat who literally fell out of a 2nd story window into my arms…well, actually onto my head but I understood his intentions. He chose me and that was that, my heart was his. I never thought that I would have that connection again but a new heart cat got my attention at the animal shelter and I took him home. We are lucky when we get those connections but sometimes the truly special ones are the ones we have to work at. I have a Siamese who doesn’t like to be touched except on the head. She does the slinky if I pet her back. But I treasure the little improvements I see with my steady work with her and how she adores her people…just not in a cuddly way. Happy birthday, Lily!

  22. Oh Lily Happy Birthday! No Scooter on your bed. That must have been his present to you! My dog JuJu had a different bark for the gas man and the postman. She also was very alert. I found her in a junk yard, she was covered in ticks. She had a rocky start in life but she was a loving companion and scamp. She has been gone for over 20 years but I still miss her.

  23. Lily and I thank you all for your birthday wishes, and for those stories of beloved animals in your lives. We had a very nice walk!

  24. Terry, all your posts are wonderful but this one is especially wonderful, thanks. I’ve had 2 heart dogs in my life and many good dogs as well.
    Happy Birthday Lily.

  25. Happy Bday Lily! Here’s hoping you got a good walk and a treat on your special day.

  26. A big Happy Birthday to Lily. My heart dog was a small Sheltie. I took her to obedience classes and showed her at AKC trials. She held 2 US degrees and one Canadian. The commands with hand signals were very handy. Once when I was talking to a neighbor outdoors, Molly wandered off across the street and several houses away. She was hustling back to me when I heard a car coming. I flung up my hand and shouted “Down!”. She dropped in her tracks and didn’t move until the car had passed and I called her to me. I would take her with me when we were preparing for a dog show and I was going to the grocery. The store management knew how well trained she was and that we were practising and allowed her in with me. We would go on a school day in the morning when the store was quiet. I would leave her on a Sit, Stay in an aisle while I walked around picking up items, sometimes in another aisle. The only problem was small children always wanted to hug her and she didn’t like that. Her lip would curl and she would growl a bit so I always had to be alert and restrict the kids to patting while reassuring the mothers that the dog would never hurt anyone. Occasionally someone would go to the office to complain but Molly and I were never asked to leave. I never knew about agility until a few years ago. I think Molly would have loved it but she was probably a bit too old when it started there.

  27. What IS it about the UPS truck?????? Every dog I’ve ever had……

    • Oh, my dogs also……it’s because they drive up in a noisy truck, jump out and rush to the house, drop a package and rush back, and I’ve been told that dogs don’t like dark uniforms. That’s my theory.

    • Of course, the UPS truck and the FedEx truck are both worth barking at, but the UPS is the one carrying aliens.

  28. A late happy birthday Lily !!! The way you describe her Terry, my chihuahua Luna is like Lily and Scooters spirtual love child. She is a worrying chihuahua, who though all delivery trucks are evil, it is bicycles and motor scooters that make her bark so hard that she doesn’t watch her footing and ends up with her falling off the window sill and then must be rescued from behind the couch.

  29. Thank you for the interesting background story! Happy Birthday Lily! She really is a good dog (as shown in the raccoon story).

  30. i read about lily also and came close to tears like everybody else said – and didn’t write u until i’d thought about this a bit.
    i’m sure you know all sorts of good things to do for her, but this might be a different thought.
    do you have an animal acupuncturist in your area? our ringo looked a lot like lily, only he had just one spot on his head and it gave him the appearance of only having one eye(!). he lived for 15 years or so and the last year was stiff and sore in his back end.
    and you know how you are when there’s something you can’t fix for your dog. i had found acupuncture for stiff knees, so i asked about it and we
    ended up taking ringo to the acupuncturist. it helped him immediately and beautifully and temporarily. and this is something, too – ringo loved people, liked to ride and when he was getting needles stuck in his skin he thought that of everything he’d ever done, this was the nicest.
    it would help him immediately and beautifully, but temporarily a week was about the longest.

    • Thank you for your thoughts. We all get stiff with age. Lily is comfortable and shows no signs of pain other than what you’d expect from an animal who approaches life full-tilt all of the time. She’s on green-tipped mussel supplements which help the joints. Perhaps I should go on them, too :)

  31. Oh, this was great. I adored the last two photos, with the pre-and post-‘time for a walk’ ears!

    I am so not a dog person! But I have learned through the years to appreciate that some people simply have the dog version of my cat connection. I know people too who have that connection with all animals, but many of us are specialized! I also suspect that my biggest objection to dogs is the lack of training and bad owner behavior I see everywhere!

    I have had one heart cat, who crawled into my lap at PetCo and came home with me, to the displeasure of my sweetheart — who pointed out, rightly, that we already had two perfectly good cats. True, but neither of them was a lap cat, and both were lovely but aloof. I wanted a lap cat. After three days, he relented (what was he going to do, anyway — take her back?!) because of course by then he, too, had fallen in love.

    Not only was she the dearest, sweetest heart friend for me — forsaking all other laps — but she modeled lap sitting for the other two, older cats, who both figured out they were missing something wonderful. Both became tremendous lap sitters, and one became best friends with my wee Robin. Her only personality ‘flaw’ was a wild streak that caused her to escape the house at every opportunity and then hide from me. One night she got out by a door left ajar and was hit by a car in the middle of the night. When I found her little stiff body the next morning I thought my heart was broken forever.

    Here’s the amazing thing. I called a dear friend who was an animal psychic for comfort — she practically shouted into the phone: “she’s back! it was all a mistake! she’s down at the animal shelter in a new body, waiting for you to go get her!” What?! I couldn’t believe it, but I went down anyway, and there was indeed a small cat intent on climbing into my lap — whenever every other cat in the shelter was completely uninterested in me. I was confused because she was a completely different color, but she seemed right so I took her home. I really believe she is my Robin, come back to me, though blended perhaps with the previous cat’s personality. She is more mellow and will deign to sleep in other laps. But she does tricks only Robin ever did, she uses the same part of the litter box, and is every bit as beloved as Robin. So you never know.

    I apologize for going on and on on Lily’s birthday! I loved this post, Terry, and I so love reading about all your animals. I especially love the ones about Tonka. This 64 year-old woman still has the horse-crazy 10 year-old inside her, and still has a secret fantasy about getting a horse and learning to ride. Maybe next lifetime?