10/5/2020We were so lucky the day we first saw you at our local animal shelter in Woodbridge, Virginia. With your chin pressed hard against the bare pavement of the “cell” you occupied, you gave us a forlorn look that melted our hearts. We learned that you were a stray, and we named you Virginia, Ginny for short. Your breed has always been a guessing game—definitely lots of border collie and some spaniel judging by your long, feathery ears, but people have suggested other mixes, including Labrador retriever based on your glossy fur and Australian Shepherd. You definitely showed herding and hunting instincts, but you never cared much about running after a ball.

Whenever we walked you off leash on the trail along the Occoquan Reservoir, there was a chance you would dash off after a deer you scented before any of us saw it. You usually came back wet after cooling off in the water. There was also the time you chased a fox down the embankment, and the two of you circled each other in the river with fangs bared. With incredible quickness, you grabbed the unfortunate fox by the neck. Another river adventure occurred in the winter, when the water was iced over. I didn’t expect you to cross it, but again the call of the wild—a fox you spotted on the other side—was at work. Fortunately, after you fell through a thin part of the ice near the opposite embankment, you scrambled out of the water and eventually crossed back over.

Your amazing sense of smell was also evident in a different kind of pursuit. Sometimes I thought when you sprinted up the hill from the trail that you were hot on the heels of a squirrel or a fox. But when I caught up with you, I found you chomping on a stale piece of bread in someone’s backyard. How you smelled that from 200 feet away just astounded me. That’s a skill that must have helped you survive your days as a stray.

You loved to go fishing. Whenever you heard the zinging of the drag, you knew there was a fish on the line. You couldn’t wait to jump on top of the fish, and I always had to try to hold you off.

With a treat, you could learn anything. At a group training session at Pet Smart, you were so focused and attentive that you easily responded to the sit and the come commands. The trainer called you the valedictorian of the class. He even joked he could teach you the moonwalk. We eventually taught you to roll over on command, to crawl, to give us one paw and then the other, to play dead. At the playground, I taught you to jump over the swing seats and to go down the slides. At the soccer field, I gave the command to stay at one goal line while I walked the one hundred yards or so to the other goal line. Then I gave the come command and you dashed the length of the field in about ten seconds.

You were a loving dog but very selective about who was allowed to pet you. You showed no interest in being petted by nonfamily members, but were very happy to receive a treat from anyone. Typically, whenever we stopped to talk to other dog walkers, you sat still at attention in expectation of receiving a treat—either from us or from the other dog’s master.

You were very healthy and hardy through your life, until about age 15. That’s when we started doing a year-long video project while walking you along the trail. You were walking slowly by then and were content to wait patiently while we angled for perfect shots of the flora and fauna in every season. Even then, you alerted us to the presence of wildlife invisible to us, but unmistakable to your nose. Your pace picked up and we could tell you were on high-alert. You were the reason we got great photos of a stock-still groundhog, a grazing deer, and a fox peeking out from hiding. We rewarded you with handfuls of wild blackberries growing along the way.

It was so sad to see you lose your hind-leg strength to the point where you couldn’t get up by yourself. There were still days where after helping you stand up you could slowly walk around by the side of the house on relatively flat ground and spend some time enjoying the nice summer and fall weather. But when you couldn’t even do that, we knew it was time to let you go. Until near the end, you sometimes growled and barked in your sleep while your legs jerked around. We supposed you were excitedly dreaming about chasing deer or cats—just as in the good times. Now that you’re gone, dear Ginny, we find solace in imagining your spirit is once again enjoying the thrill of the chase.
Frank MillikanWoodbridge, VirginiaOctober 30, 2020
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