13 wonderful years

Today is Sunshine's 13th birthday. In light of the past 24 hours, I am even more grateful for her shining light in my life. It is time for me to tell her story.Sunshine was born in Saranac, MI, March 18, 1996. I had just moved to E. Lansing and had the summer to enjoy before enrolling into MSU to complete my undergrad degree. It was a HUGE transition point in my life. I was 20 years old and I believe that getting Sunshine was the first major "grown up" decision I made in my life. Making the commitment to be responsible for another living thing at that age, come what may, was a big deal and I knew it. My Mom and Step-dad, Mark, actually drove me to pick her up and bought her for me as a present (I was going to be living with them for the next 3 years while I finished up college.) I knew I wanted a big brown dog - that was pretty much my only requirement. Mark had a passion for Labs, he already had a yellow one and really encouraged me in that direction. I found Sunshine's litter advertised in the newspaper. When I called on a Saturday afternoon there were 4 chocolate pups, 2 boys and 2 girls. We made an appointment to come out the next morning, Mother's Day 1996.
Sunshine is a purebred Labrador Retriever with the papers to prove it, but not from a "breeder". Actually, her litter was part of a junior high girl's 4-H project. Her Mama was Honee Dew, a yellow lab and her Papa was, Maxwell Norman McDuff, chocolate. When we arrived that beautiful Sunday morning there was only 1 girl and 1 boy pup left. Of course, I wanted both but we left with just my little Sunshine Daydream. I think the girl already had her parents convinced to let her keep the little boy pup.
I named her Sunshine Daydream after a phrase in the Grateful Dead song, Sugar Magnolia. I was BIG TIME into my grungy hippie years and the name really fit her sunny personality. We had decided I would kennel train her, in the interest of home preservation. The first night I set up a little bed next to her kennel in the dining room. After laying there listening to her cry in her kennel for an hour I got her out, took her up to my bed and never looked back. We have been soul mates ever since.She was a highly energetic puppy but not what you would call destructive. We spent tons of time at a little park near the house walking the trails, her learning to retrieve balls and Frisbees. There was a little pond there and she was an amazing swimmer. She was like an Olympic athlete, you could see her muscles ripple like a horse's when she ran. It didn't matter how far we would throw the ball, she would swim out and get it. As she got a little older I took her to obedience school and she was the star pupil. She was the kind of dog I could, and did, take everywhere with me....my constant companion. During college she spent both summers away with me on internships. The first was in Petosky, MI and the second in Athens, GA. We took road trips all over the country together, she always sat shotgun, gazing out the window for hours before cuddling up with her head in my lapThe only time she ever got aggressive was when we lived in Athens. We were staying in a big old house where I was subletting a room for a couple of months. One morning before work I had opened up a cabinet to get out some coffee and a huge heavy Mason jar filled with cornmeal came crashing out and broke on my foot. There was blood and glass and cornmeal everywhere. Worried that Sunshine or the cat that lived there would get into the glass, I hobbled around sweeping up. I finally realized that I was never going to get all the glass shards and cornmeal out of my cut up foot and had to drive myself to the ER. I finally got home like 3 hours later, totally doped up on pain meds with some stitches in my bandaged foot. I crashed out in my room with Sunshine asleep beside the bed. Some time later I woke up to unfamiliar deep growling and a man in the house yelling for help. It was the landlord. I guess he had come in to do some maintenance (my roommate and I had tried to install a ceiling fan and had done a number on the electrical system the night before...but that is another story) and had come into my room not realizing that I was home from work. Sunshine was on him in an instant, she was not going to let anyone get near me in my vulnerable state...what a hero!With all this praise, I cannot forget to mention her mischievous side. I remember being at a friend's house in Atlanta for dinner. My friend had a large aquarium tank sitting on the floor of her dining room, cover less, that was the home for 2 beloved guinea pigs. We were sitting on the deck enjoying an amazing dinner when Sunshine came outside with something in her mouth. In the twilight it was hard to see what it was but it was definitely a large oval shape. My friend jumped up and started yelling, "My pig, my pig - Sunshine has one of the guinea pigs in her mouth!" The chase was on, 4 of us chasing Sunshine around the table. She thought this was a terrific game. When we finally caught her we found that what she really had in her mouth was the extra pork tenderloin that the hostess had left sitting on the kitchen counter. There are many, many things that have disappeared off the kitchen counters when Sunshine has been around. She has also been known to take the opportunity when presented, to take off on an unsupervised trek around the neighborhood, only to show up 4 or 5 hours later, absolutely filthy, but with the biggest smile. When I was in Europe, Sunshine was hit by an SUV. She very nearly lost her life, but thanks to my families dedication to her and the amazing skills of the MSU veterinary hospital staff (Thanks, Jen!!!) she came out OK. Her knee has never been the same, but she has not let that stop her from enjoying her athleticism to the fullest. Since then she has swum for hours, ran miles, hiked mountains and been on hundreds of adventures with me. When we moved in with Bruce she took to him immediately. They have developed such a loving special friendship, uniquely theirs. When we had Griffin and then Lucy, Sunshine gracefully accepted her shifting status. Lovingly watched over the children that had pushed her out of the limelight, that she had to now share the attention with. She has endured hours of little fingers probing her eyes, mouth and nose. Ears being pulled, back being rode, toes being stepped on did not elicit one response from her. She is unfailingly faithful and gentle.Sunshine has always been open and accepting of every human and animal she has come across. She is strong and energetic and athletic. She has a bottomless well of love to give. She has changed peoples minds - many people who are staunchly anti-dog make an exception for Sunshine. She has helped those afraid of animals loosen up. She has been many a small child's first introduction to the wonderful world of animals. She has that special something, that touch of magic, that energy of understanding and communion. She has been my faithful companion for 13 years and for that I will be everlastingly grateful. Happy Birthday sweet friend. You will always be my one true canine love.


janine said…
This is such a beautiful tribute to your Sunshine! I absolutely adore that picture of a little Griffin (with the hat) and his pooch! Too cute!

Willowbea passed away soon after we adopted our kids. It was so sad. She had been living with my parents since we moved to Utah. We now have our dog (Pakak) that the kids love and she the such a sweetie! (our kids' biggest concern when we move is that she won't come with us!).

Louise said…
Happy Birthday Sunshine. May you have many more happy days ahead of you.
Anonymous said…
Whay a great tribute.Yes, Sunshine, you will be missed. You were a very special dog. It is a sad day. Dikke