She was born
February 25, 1922. Her sire was my flawless Champion Sunnybank Sigurd─the
Treve of my book of that name. Her dam was my Sunnybank Alton Andeen, a
Canadian collie of rare beauty and wealth of show points. Behind the
golden baby glittered a long double line of champion ancestors. Do you
wonder we hoped grand things for her when the fuzzy puppy coat should
become rough and luxuriant and the pudgy baby body should grow and should
shave itself into strongly graceful maturity?
On the tenth day,
Fair Ellen's biggest brother─later
to become my Champion Sunnybank Sigurdson─opened
his eyes. Next day his fiery brother, Sunnybank Cavalier, followed suit.
Champion Sunnybank Explorer and Sunnybank Jamie, on the twelfth day,
displayed beady black eyes where puckered lids had been.
The fourteenth day—and the
twentieth day—came and went. Fair Ellen was sturdier and cleverer than any
of the others. She learned to lap warm milk from a dish while they were
still hopelessly puzzled by the mystery of that new form of feeding.
But—her eyes did not open.
Then, when she was a
day or two more than a month old, the lids parted. But no hatpin-head
pupils shone forth. Instead, the entire eye was covered by a thick
membrane, known as a "haw." That meant I must wait until she should be
old enough and strong enough to stand the simple—yet perilous—operation of
having the haws removed.
Meanwhile, she was
queen of the broodnest quintet. She romped in clumsy vigor with her four
less agile brothers, and she demanded and took the lion's share of the
food-dish's cargo. She throve mightily, and she began to develop a trick
of finding her way around the nest by sense of smell and of hearing.
When the pups were
graduated to the big puppy-yard, it was the same. Fair Ellen explored
every inch of the yard before the others could muster courage and strength
to toddle halfway across it. There was no awkwardness, now, in her step.
But there was, daily, more and more of caution in it. This, after she had
collided painfully with water-dish and feed-pan and runway corners and
with wire-swathed tree-trunks.
I was watching her
with ever-increasing interest. I noted that she never collided a second
time with the same thing. Always, thereafter, the wisely sightless baby
knew enough to come to a halt before she could run into it, or else she
made a wide semicircle around it.
Now, this implied
not only brain, but a certain reasoning power. And I augured more and more
for her future qualities as a housedog and chum. It is by such seemingly
trivial traits that I decide what puppies are going to show the true
collie cleverness, and which are likely to grow up less brilliant. There
was nothing stupid about Sunnybank Fair Ellen.
I noticed something
else-her brothers, Sigurdson and Explorer and Cavalier (Jamie somehow had
found and swallowed a piece of glass on one of his rambles around the
grounds, outside the puppy-yard, and had died) were as rough as young
bears in their romps with one another. But, for some occult reason, they
were queerly gentle with their eye-veiled little sister.
At last, when Ellen
was three months old, I sent for a skilled veterinary to operate on her
eyes. More than once, partial haws have been removed carelessly or
awkwardly from a collie's eyes, and blindness has followed. I was resolved
that this misfortune should not befall the little golden dog I was growing
so fond of. So I chose a veterinary who was preeminent in his profession.
He came and looked Ellen over. Then he said:
"I'll operate. But I
warn you there isn't much chance of success. See, she carries her left eye
half shut, while her right eye is unnaturally wide-open. Unless I am
mistaken, there is no sight in either eye. I believe the optic nerve is
dead in both of them."
An expert from
Cornell's Veterinary College was sent for. He made a careful examination
of Ellen's eyes. Then he corroborated what the local vet had told me. I
bade the two doctors go ahead with the operation.
removed the whitish membranes. Then I saw they had been right in their
glum forecast. A thick gray film covered each eye. There was no sight
behind the film. The tests showed that.
My beautiful little
golden collie was stone blind.
She had always been
blind. Always she would be blind. The springtime world around us was vivid
with blue and gold, and ablaze with sunlight. But Ellen was living in
eternal blackness. Ahead of her stretched a future without a glint of
light in it. The thick haws had masked total blindness. From birth, no
trace of sight had been in those mismated eyes of hers. To death, there
could be no hope for her to see.
There seemed but one
thing left for me to do. And, sick at heart, I prepared to do it. I had
grown fond of the gallant and gay golden youngster, and I hated to shoot
"I am going to put
her out of her misery," I told the Mistress.
"She has no misery
to be put out of," answered the Mistress. "She is having a beautiful time
in life. She doesn't know anything better. She thinks everyone and
everything is like herself. Why should you kill her while she is so happy?
Wait till she finds out she is afflicted. Is there so much happiness in
the world that you should something that has found it?"
Perhaps that was
maudlin sentimentality. Perhaps was splendid wisdom. In any case, it was
enough to make me take the shells out of my gun, with an odd sense of
relief. The Mistress has a habit of being in the right. More and more,
during the past thirty-odd years, I have discovered that.
So Fair Ellen lived
I make no apology to
you or to myself for letting Fair Ellen live. The less so because she has
led a gorgeously happy little life of her own, for these past ten years,
and she gives every sign of keeping on in much the same way until the end.
I say "life of her
own" because ever since puppyhood she has lived to herself and by herself
two-thirds of the time. Sometimes, of course, she is with the other dogs
or with us humans of Sunnybank. But for the most part, she is alone.
Alone, not lonely, for she has a score of odd interests and pursuits and
games which she shares with none of her fellows. I will tell you more
about these in a few minutes, if I may. For, to me, they are keenly
interesting and unusual.
Having doomed the
blind puppy to live, I felt responsible for her future. I set to work
trying to teach her to navigate the huge unseen world lying outside the
wire meshes of the puppy-yard. I looked forward to a tediously long and
hard task. It was absurdly easy.
I began by going on
short walks with her, around the grounds, trying to familiarize her with
the lay of the land. Just at first she bumped into countless obstacles
before I could come between her and them. But I noticed─as
earlier in the puppy-yard─that
never did she collide with the same obstacle a second time. She had an
uncanny memory for locations and for the spots where she had suffered
collision. Also, she learned the topography of the grounds with startling
Having traversed any
route once, she remembered where were the trees and rocks and other things
into which her furry head had banged on her first experience with them.
There are dogs—a few of them—that
need to be told a thing only once, in order to remember it forever. Such a
dog was our great old Sunnybank Lad. Such a dog was his dashing gold-red
son, Wolf. Such a dog was my big auburn chum, Bobby. Such a dog, from
another angle, is Sunnybank Fair Ellen. But it was experience, and not
mere human precepts, which taught Ellen.
In a very few weeks,
she had learned the layout of our forty acres of land─on
what portions of it she might romp or gallop with no danger of collision,
and where she must needs pick her way slowly and with infinite caution.
I remember the first
day when she and I came to the foot of the lawn at the lake's edge. She
sniffed the imperceptible (to me) odor of the water. Then, step by step
she made her way down into it. The average collie does not care much for
swimming. But Ellen did not hesitate as she moved farther and farther out
along the gentle sloping bed of the lake.
Presently, she was
swimming, and swimming calmly well; straight out. For perhaps two hundred
feet swam; seeming to realize there was no obstruction anywhere in front
of her. Then she hesitated, lifting her head high and in evident
confusion. I could guess why. In water, of course, there was no way of
scenting her direction, nor of guessing whither she might be going. Thus
by her overdeveloped sense of hearing she was trying learn her
I called her by
name. At the sound, she wheeled about and swam back in an absolutely
straight line toward me, unerringly conning her direction by that single
quietly spoken word. As her exploring feet touched the gravel and she
started to walk inshore, her toes came in contact with a somewhat sharp
under-water rock. She swerved and walked around it.
Nor, from that day,
has she touched this rock, in wading ashore or in launching herself for a
swim. Again and again I have taken her down to the lake at that point.
Always she moved to one side of the sharp rock.
Next, I took her─first
alone and then with the rest of the dogs─on
increasingly long tramps through the forests back of Sunnybank, and among
the mountains. This was strange territory to Ellen, and I made it as easy
as I could for her by picking trails instead of direct cross-country
I slowed my pace, to
enable her to keep up with me in the funny exploratory gait she had taught
choppy wolf trot, the head a little to one side and with the forelegs
thrown far forward so as to give warning of any obstacle. (At even the
light touch of some weed, in her line of advance, she halts at once, to
avert collision.) Soon she mastered and vastly enjoyed the art of making
her way through woodland and up and down hill, at my heels, guided by
scent and sound of my step.
When the other dogs
went along, their scent and their multiple padding tread made it
infinitely easier for her to keep the trail or to go through light
On one of these
tramps I entered Sunnybank by way of a patch of oak woods whose ingress
was a high gate. I unlocked and opened this gate, calling the twelve or
fourteen collies through with me. They trooped into the woods land, and I
shut and locked the gate behind us.
Two or three hours
later, one of the men came to me at feeding-time, to tell me Fair Ellen
was nowhere to be found. On a hunch, I went to the patch of woods and on
to the gate of the fence which forms the northernmost boundary of
gate I had locked behind the dogs and myself.
There, close against
the gate, on its far side, stood Fair Ellen; head and tail adroop, the
picture of patient misery.
Evidently she had
stopped to investigate some sound or scent while we were tramping, and
thus had fallen behind the pack. I had not noticed her absence from the
bunch of collies which romped through the gateway with me: She had
followed, easily enough, until she had reached the locked gate.
There, deserted and
unable to proceed farther, she had come to a standstill. Instead of
retracing her steps and thus crossing the furlong-distant highroad (and
possibly coming to grief under a motor's careless or pitiless wheels) or
otherwise trying to find her way out of the quandary, she had stood still
for nearly three hours, unhappy, lone some, but with sense enough to know
it was the only safe or sane thing for her to do.
I opened the gate
for her and she frisked up to me in half-delirious delight. At distant
sound of my steps, the drooping misery had departed and she had stood
vibrantly alert. To me there was something rather touching in the helpless
little blind dog's long vigil there in the woods. I have taken care that
such a thing should never happen again.
Of all the Sunnybank
dogs, Fair Ellen is the only one not taught from puppyhood to obey
implicitly and on the jump. One cannot discipline a blind dog. At least, I
can't. No, she has never been taught to obey nor to do anything else. It
is enough for us, here, that she is happy. Thus, she has gone wholly
uneducated by us.
In spite of that,
she has educated herself, along her own queer lines and to a very marked
degree. For one thing, she obeys by instinct, uninforced by human
scoldings or punishment or insistence. These penalties she has not known
and never shall know. She comes, immediately, at call. That is all I have
asked of her, and I have not insisted on that.
But, by reason of
her wonderful memory, she comes to me in a roundabout fashion and with
seemingly unnecessary detours. There is reason for these detours. I have
told you her avoidance of any object with which she has collided. A
workman, perhaps, has left a wheelbarrow standing somewhere in the space
between the house and the stables. Ellen has run up against it, to her
pain and chagrin. (She is morbidly and increasingly sensitive about such
collisions, and she moves her blind head from side to side, as though to
find out if anyone is laughing at her mishap; which nobody has the
remotest impulse to do.)
The next time she is
trotting along that particular spot where the wheelbarrow was left, she
detours widely, to miss it. Of course the wheelbarrow no longer is there.
But she does not know it has been removed and she is taking no chances.
Suppose she is near
the upper kennel yards and I call her to her own kennel down by the
stables. She will set out in a curving approach, detouring where once she
ran into a box of groceries left near the kitchen door, detouring again to
avoid the aforesaid non-present wheelbarrow, and yet again, perhaps, as
she passes alongside the wood. pile where once a displaced fallen log cost
her a bad bump.
A stranger, seeing
her, would be at a loss to guess the cause of her erratic course. But─laugh
at this, if you like─there
are far fewer farm utensils, and the like, left carelessly out of place
here by my men and myself than there used to be.
everyone at Sunnybank hates to see the blind dog smash against something
in her path, and to note the ensuing cringe and that piteous sightless
look to every side to learn if the accident has been seen and laughed at.
Thus, there seldom is any out-of-place article left lying where she can
collide with it.
When things are in
their rightful place, she knows by experience how to steer clear of them.
It is up to us humans to see none of these are left in her way. The result
is an added neatness, or, rather, orderliness, out of consideration for
Ellen. As I said, you may laugh at this sloppiness of ours, if you like. I
admit it savors somewhat of sentimentality. But the grounds look the
better for it.
Sunnybank Fair Ellen is dead.
For twelve years she lived under a suspended death
sentence; a sentence never put into effect.
She was a strange little golden collie; a dog that
never saw a glimmer of light. She was born blind—as are all dogs—and she
remained blind throughout more than a decade of such gay happiness falls
the lot of few collies or humans.
I don’t know how many people came to Sunnybank,
first and last to see our queer little blind dog—daughter of Treve—and to
marvel at her jollity and at her uncanny cleverness. But the number ran
high into the thousands. Many persons—myself among them—have written about
her. (In my book, The Way of a Dog, I tell the tale of the first
part of her life far more fully than I can tell it here.)
In her way she became something of a celebrity;
though she did not know it. Any more than she knew she was blind. Yet she
knew that she was happy and that everybody made much of her; and that the
other collies were gentle with her, even in their roughest romps.
As when great old Sunnybank Gray Dawn died, five
years ago, I forbade anyone at Sunnybank to speak of Ellen’s death; during
such time as it still could come under the head of news. I didn’t want
reporters sent out here to ask well-meant questions about our sightless
Most of Ellen’s horde of friends will read now,
for the first time, of her passing.
As the years crawled on, Ellen's jollity and utter
joy in life did not abate. Gradually her muzzle began to whiten. Gradually
the sharp teeth dulled from long contact with gnawed bones. Her daily
gallops grew shorter. But ever the spirit of puppy fun flared forth as
when she was young.
She would romp with me, wildly, as always she had
done. The seemingly noiseless slipping of my fingers into the side pocket
of my leather coat, where always lie a handful of animal crackers, would
bring her rushing up to me from many feet away; in gay expectation of the
One after the other, two of her brothers,
Sunnybank Sigurdson and Sunnybank Explorer, won their championships in the
show ring; and gained national fame among dog-fanciers.
Another brother of hers, Sunnybank Cavalier, won a
series of sensational show victories.
All this time Sunnybank Fair Ellen, most beautiful
of the litter, stayed quietly at home.
One by one these renowned brothers of hers waxed
old and died. But Ellen lived on.
On the afternoon of July First, 1933, Ellen and I
went for one of our daily rambles—walks whose length was cut down nowadays
by reason of her increasing age.
She was in dashing high spirits, and she danced
all around me. We had a jolly hour, loafing about the lawns together.
Then, comfortably tired, she trotted into her yard and lay down for her
usual late afternoon nap.
When I passed by, an hour later, she was still
lying stretched out there in the shade. But for the first time in twelve
years, the sound of my step failed to bring her eagerly to her feet to
greet me. This was so unusual that I went into the yard and bent down to
see what was amiss.
Quietly, without pain, still happy, she had died
in her sleep.
I can think of a thousand worse ways of saying
good-bye to this thing we call life.