Big Paw Prints to Fill - The Missourian: Feature Stories

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Sights and Insights Big Paw Prints to Fill

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Posted: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 11:46 am, Wed Mar 20, 2013.

Everything will be coming up daisies soon. Our Maplewood clan is getting a puppy, sure to be a golden girl. Part poodle and golden Lab, the photos of Daisy have winged their way to our house via texts, along with her arrival date — April 6.

Avery and Parker, our granddaughters, couldn’t be more excited about the addition, and I don’t know how I’ll stay away. Who can resist a roly-poly, curly ball of fur? And when you don’t have paper-training responsibilities, it’s the cat’s meow.

Daisy might be small initially, but she’ll have some big paws prints to fill. The pup follows on the heels of a loss that hit hard over the holidays.

Walking into the house after only being gone a couple of hours, my son-in-law Jeff noticed the absence of the familiar face that normally greeted him at the door, tail wagging with excitement. He found Chloe in the basement, discovering their longtime pet had passed away.

You had to admire this loyal hound with deep brown expressive eyes and a speckled coat. Part bloodhound and Louisiana catahoula, Chloe was a true member of the family. She loved the little girls we adore so much, allowing them to ride her like a pack mule and roughhouse when all the pooch probably wanted to do was watch the world go by in her chair by the window.

Chloe was devoted to her family and protective. Let a stranger come to the door, and she’d nearly go through the glass, warding off any potential danger.

Chloe called Maplewood home for 10 1/2 years — probably had cancer the vet said when Jeff rushed her there, even though he knew there wasn’t anything the vet could do.

No one had even realized Chloe wasn’t up to par. She was as patient with the girls as ever, but in retrospect, Jen and Jeff noticed she’d been less perky; they thought she was just enjoying the new bed they’d bought her.

The subject of pets, and Chloe, comes up when I do school talks with children. Chloe was one of the dogs in the serial story “Patriotic Pals,” that appeared in The Missourian last year. She’s also in my new book by the same title, which will be out in August.

The book is narrated by Chuck, a Border collie that takes a road trip with his froufrou poodle pal Tillie to learn about canine mascots from the Civil War.

I’ve been meeting weekly with the book’s editor, Matt, and illustrator, Richard Bernal, an artist from St. Louis who’s making the mascots come to life on the page. Over the holidays, Jeff and I arranged for Richard to come to Maplewood to take photos of Chloe so he could begin to sketch her. That sweet hound couldn’t have been more patient, or friendly. A couple of weeks later, she was gone.

I always tell students that writing is hard work and takes as much practice as playing the piano, soccer or gymnastics. But the end product is rewarding and can serve as a means to capture memories of a pet or person, and be a way to immortalize them in words.

The dog that Chloe represents in my new book couldn’t be more fitting — the hound is called Shanks — a name I made up for a legendary dog at the battle of Shiloh. He journeyed from Illinois to Tennessee with his owner to fight for the Union, and when his master fell, as thousands did, Shanks remained beside his grave for 12 days, enabling the man’s wife to find her husband’s grave, or so the story goes.

Richard has captured Chloe’s likeness with such clarity and emotion that it makes my breath catch in my throat whenever I see the sepia-toned painting. At the grave, a widow in a long dress stands holding a rose — alongside her is a speckled hound with eyes we all recognize.

Richard has done Chloe proud. She won’t be forgotten, in illustrations, in words, or in the minds of two little girls sure to make memories with a new puppy that will find a place in their hearts.

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