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Friday, April 15, 2016


You are probably thinking from the title that perhaps an ambulance or a police car was on this hill for quite a spell but I’d have to say that would be wrong. A sunset? No, not really. What I’m talking about that had a flash of red was an Irish Setter that roamed freely and yet he did have a home—right up the street from me. When he ran, I saw a flash of red that was more highlighted on a sunny day and this dog was a sight to see: He looked ablaze.

In my life up to that point, I’d never seen an Irish Setter much less been near one. Oh I’d seen a lot of different dog breeds prior and would wind up having my first dog when my sons were little on this hill for we got a purebred collie but not at the start. Curiosity got the best of me and I followed this blazing red dog home one day and found out that his name was Sham—short for Shamrock. He belonged to a family up the street that had two daughters and a son.

It was a time when there were no leash laws. Right next door to the where Sham lived was a huge collie named Fritz; he too was a visitor in my house.  But Sham was the one with the personality that said “I will come in your house and I will make myself comfortable.” And that he did. I’d find him lying on my couch with a non-care attitude looking as if he belonged there. My young sons adored him and although I’m not quite sure what my then-husband thought, Sham seemed to be my best buddy.

I had to nix that idea really fast after finding out that my house was not the only house that Sham inhabited while roaming during the day: He visited practically everyone on the street and they let him. But oh when he was here it was as if I had a house guest—albeit one with blazing red fur and four legs but he had manners. Good dog manners. I would find out that one day those good manners would change and become something that to this day, a lot of us remaining here still remember with a huge laugh.

There were many young couples on this street and upwards and many young children. Young children can entice and also leave front doors open for they have the habit of going in and out a gazillion times. Just ask any parent even today: It happens.

It was one young family up the street from me that was composed of young parents and three little children. I knew them all and was at their house a lot as were many other young families. On a hot summer day, the young mother had fixed a huge ham and set it on the kitchen counter. The aroma hung in the air and leaked outside beckoning any ham lover to get nearer and nearer. Now no one knew this for a while until everyone saw Sham running down the street with the entire ham tucked in his mouth!

The aroma got to him and there was no way he could help himself we all reasoned and especially that young mother who was expecting to have a lovely ham dinner. Didn’t happen.

Where Sham took that ham will remain a mystery to this day for no one saw him after he had it in his mouth but one thing was certain: He had eaten it all. Whether it made him sick or not is not known but he was roaming around the very next day as if nothing had happened with a look on his face “I didn’t do a thing. Suspect me? No way.”

A couple of months later we got our first dog and he was a collie named Rusty. Rusty got bigger than thought and yet when Sham came to visit, there was no tension between the two of them—Rusty would go his way in the house and Sham always sought my living room couch. I would have loved to have known what Rusty really thought but since I was and am not a “dog whisperer,” I will never know. They got along.

For what seemed like years but in essence must have been at least seven or so years, Sham lit up the neighborhood with his blazing coat of fur as he ran up and down the street.  Everyone knew him and his name: How could they not? He was magnificent with a streak of ornery in him.

It saddened his owners far more than me when the word “divorce” was mentioned. I will never forget the dad asking me if I’d take Sham and keep him. Having two young sons and a dog quelled that idea in me but in retrospect, I regret it this day that I didn’t take that dog. It would have worked out. I just couldn’t see it at that point.

Sham did find a home—in the country somewhere I was told—and for that I know the owners had to be grateful and yet longed for him. I can only hope that they got to visit him and that he lived out the rest of his life happy.

As for me, I will never forget that flash of red on the hill ever:  Sham was one of those dogs that crept into your very soul and stayed there long after he left here. And he wasn’t even mine.  I missed him on my living room couch, I missed his roaming and anytime anyone up here fixed a ham, well you know who they thought about—the one and only Sham. There has never been an Irish Setter here since him and I often wonder about that for I’ve seen all breeds of dogs around but never that specific breed.

Sham was just plain special and unforgettable. To this very day, I think of him and a smile washes over my face: How lucky I was to have known my neighbor’s dog in such a way and how lucky they were to have owned and shared him. He had the personality and beauty and knew it. What a dog!

Sherry Hill

Published in the Charleston [WV] Sunday Gazette-Mail

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