Happy Birthday Paladin!

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Our Handsome Birthday Boy

Today is my big buddy boy’s 11th birthday.  Of course the number of years is a vet’s best guess, and the date is one that I arbitrarily picked as being appropriate for a big Irish lad.  But we are celebrating his 11th birthday today nonetheless.

All dogs are of course special, but Pal is especially so.  Now before I get ahead of myself, let us go back to the beginning – a place that many good stories start from.

Back then, my father and I were volunteering as foster parents for an Irish Setter rescue organization.  Our family’s association with Irish Setters goes back many years, as described in some detail in my post “The Saga of Cement Sue”.  Dad & I had fostered 9 dogs in the space of 2 years.  Then I got the call to pick up number 10.  The story I was told was that this big red boy had walked up to the Humane Society in Kankakee, IL.  The staff at the shelter had watched him walk down the road with a Collie at his side.  The two walked straight up to the front door of the shelter, and sat down politely to wait.  The staff found ID tags on the Collie and contacted the owner saying “we have your dogs here.”  The owner responded that he only had one dog, a Collie and didn’t know anything about an Irish Setter.  Based on his condition, the vet at the shelter estimated that this big boy had been on his own for about six months.  The shelter got in touch with our rescue group.  Arrangements were made for a volunteer to pick him up from the shelter and transport him north to New Buffalo, MI where I would pick him up and take him to our home for fostering.

When the volunteers arrived at our rendezvous point they came in one of those really big crew cab pick-up trucks.  This big 90 pound dog in the back of the cab looked quite frightened at the prospects of leaping to the ground from such a height.  I reached in and picked up the big lug in my arms and set him gently on the ground.  His big brown eyes communicated to me as clearly as could be “Thank you, that was a scary prospect.”

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Look at those ears!

At this point I got my first good luck at this handsome lad.  He had such a noble countenance, with big brown eyes that you could swim in, and such long graceful ears.  He was simply the most handsome Irish Setter that I had ever seen.

As was my usual practice when transporting a foster dog home, we drove immediately to the closest fast food outlet, in this case a McDonald’s franchise, for a treat before starting the drive home.  When we arrived at the Magic Window, I got my first view of this master flirt in action.  He immediately went head and shoulders out the window, with no shame about standing on me to accomplish his goal.  The girl working the window was immediately taken with him and started petting him and whispering sweet nothings to him.  As we drove away, breaking the poor girl’s heart, I handed him a cheeseburger.  Again those communicative eyes spoke plainly and said “Thank you, this is the most wonderful, magical thing ever!”

On the drive back to Spring Lake I decided to name him after the hero of my late grandfather’s favorite TV show “Have Gun Will Travel”.  And so this boy became Paladin.

When we got home, Pal & Sue greeted each other, and Sue in her magical way let him know that this was her house and that she was the alpha dog.  Pal seemed OK with that, and performed a quick scout of the house.  He returned to stand in front of the living room sofa and look up and down the length of the couch.  Then he looked over at Dad.  Back to up and down the couch, and then back to Dad.  My father said “You can get up there if you want.” and Pal was instantly up on the couch and settled in like he belonged.

I was head over heels in love with this boy, but trying to be a good foster parent, I worked towards the goal of getting him adopted out to the right family.  Then one day Dad said, “We should keep this boy, he is on the same schedule as me – breakfast, then a nap, lunch, then a nap, supper, then a nap, bedtime snack, and then off to bed.”  And that was all it took, Pal was home.

Over the next few weeks, we learned how smart Pal was – he can open door knobs, that he was a total garbage hound – able to retrieve food scraps from any receptacle, and that he was a superb lady’s man – he would push his head into their legs, then roll his head up so that he was looking in their eyes and they would totally melt.  We also became aware of what a gentle giant he was, able to maneuver around Dad, without toppling him or his walker over.

While Pal was King of the Couch at home, we soon learned that at the Dog Park he was the Park Policeman.  Pal will not tolerate aggressive behavior in his vicinity.  If two dogs are behaving aggressively in the slightest degree, Pal will insert himself between them.  If that doesn’t settle the situation, Pal will rest his head on the aggressor’s back.  And if that doesn’t settle it, then Pal will push the aggressor over on to his back.  He may be the gentlest giant ever, but when his dander is up, you don’t mess with Big Pal.

Pal was a happy boy, and very content in his home.  But changes were in the wind.  In my initial conversation with Linda about moving to Durham, the first question I asked her was “Do you have a couch for Pal?”  Of course she had multiple couches for Pal, and she understood why that would be such a high priority to me.

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Pal loves kissing his Mamma!

It shouldn’t have surprised me how much Pal loves his new home.  He has his new Mamma, Linda.  His greatest pleasure is walking up on her as she sits at her computer and kissing her face for as long as she will tolerate it.  And it isn’t just at her desk – he’ll happily kiss on her no matter where she is, even in the water at the beach.

I’m sorry big buddy, but I don’t know how to convey in words how special you are.  I am just so glad that you chose to be a big part of my family – and I hope that you know how much both Linda & I love you.  Happy Birthday Pal!

The Saga of Cement Sue

my christmas gift

This is the special wonderful gift that my Linda gave me

I’ve often waxed poetic (or at least posted prose) about my love, Linda Herman.  I’ve worn out my list of adjectives trying to describe how wonderful she is, and how good she is for me.  This Christmas, she demonstrated her love with the best material gift I have ever received.

What could this gift be?  It is a two-foot high concrete statue of an Irish Setter.  Yes, you all know that I love Irish Setters, but that wouldn’t make this the best gift ever.  So what would?  I hope you have a few minutes as this is a convoluted answer.

The story starts with my great-grandfather Hall.  I don’t know much about the man, I don’t even know his name.  The generation before me simply referred to him as “Grandpa Hall.”  By the time I was aware enough to ask his name, my father no longer remembered it.

My great-grandfather's property in Spring Lake

My great-grandfather’s property in Spring Lake

Here is what I do know about the man.  He owned a farm in Spring Lake, MI bordered on the south by modern-day M-104, on the west by Fruitport Road, on the north by the railroad tracks, and on the east by the swamp.  On this farm he raised pigs, which he smoked and sold as bacon & ham in the surrounding communities.

The other, more interesting thing, that he did on his property was breed and train what he called “Irish Bird Dogs.”  We would know them today as Irish Setters & Irish Red & White Setters.  Even then they were trying to breed the white out so that they could develop into the red dogs that we know today.

Great-grandfather Hall always kept three dogs for breeding – a male named Patrick and two bitches named Molly & Sue.  When one passed on, or retired from breeding, he would replace it with another dog with the same name.  So he always had Patrick, Sue, & Molly.  This allowed him to sell to returning satisfied clients another dog with the same parents as their previous dog.  And disgruntled customers could be offered a dog from the other mother.

John & I with Jojo

My brother John & I with our dog Jojo.

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My grandfather with a Sue or a Molly

This practice of Patrick, Sue, & Molly was carried on by my grandfather, Melvin Bristol Hall.  He didn’t do the dogs as a full time profession like his father did, but he kept the Patrick, Sue, & Molly tradition alive.

Now my father, Melvin Edward Hall, didn’t breed dogs.  We always had at least one dog in the house, most of them Irish Setters.  But in my little atomic family, my mother claimed naming rights for all pets.  So we had Duke, Jojo, Koof, Kerry, & Scarlet.

Then in 1992, Dad retired from teaching.  It turns out that there was an Irish Setter breeder near Coldwater, MI who had a bitch that was descended from one of my great-grandfather’s lines.  And he presented the dog to my father as a retirement gift.

This was one of the rare occasions where my father stood up to my mother.  He explained to her that the dog was a gift to him, the dog was part of his family history, and he would be naming her Molly!  My mother didn’t speak to him for weeks afterword.

grandma and a dog

My Grandmother Irene Vos Hall with a Sue or a Molly

My uncle Ken Hall (Mel’s younger brother) had a much more entertaining response.  Uncle Ken located a concrete, life-sized, concrete statue of an Irish Setter.  Since Mel had a Molly, Ken brought him a Sue – Cement Sue (you have to say it like Jed Clampett – See-Ment Sue).  And from that point on, we had Cement Sue stationed in our back yard.

The years were not kind to Cement Sue, as she stood sentry day and night in all kinds of weather.  She may have lost pieces of concrete, leaving just bits of rebar hanging out.  But she was always there, and Dad & I made a habit of saying hello to Cement Sue every time we came or went through the back door.  As time went by Dad did indeed add a Sue to go along with his Molly.  After many good years with Mel, Molly final had to go to the Rainbow Bridge.  Fortunately, he still had his Sue, who stayed by his side until his death – and Cement Sue was still on station in the backyard.

ken hall & family

My Uncle Ken and his family

Mel & Molly

Dad with a Molly from his grandfather’s line

When the bittersweet time came for me to leave 712 Winter St., Spring Lake, MI to join my lovely Linda in Durham, NC I discovered a sad, sorry truth.  Cement Sue was so damaged, and so sunken into the very ground of the backyard that it would be impossible to move her.  So with a very heavy heart, I left her behind at 712 Winter St.

In my heart, Cement Sue not only meant Molly & Dad but also 712 Winter St., Spring Lake, Uncle Ken & a grandfather & great-grandfather that I never met.  Of course, being so sensitive, loving, caring, and attuned to me – Linda knew all of that.  So she gave me not only a brand new Cement Sue – but also all of those important things left behind when I left Michigan.  I have never received a finer gift with more love behind it.  Thank you Linda – I love you.

The Original Cement Sue (back) with Paladin

The Original Cement Sue (back) with Paladin

Strange Theology

Now I’m not much of a theologian, and I’ve never even played one on TV.  But sometimes I stumbled across a bit of religious philosophy that just makes my little brain hurt.

I’ve seen a few different people on the news lately who stayed put while Hurricane Ike tore through their area.  Thankfully, I suppose, they survived.  But the part that confuses me is when they get in front of a TV news camera and proclaim, usually with a bit of tearful joy, that God saved them from Ike.

God saved them from Ike.

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