Lillie, Princess of the Swamp

If there is any part of moving to France that really has us by the throat, it’s transporting the dogs and cats across the Atlantic. It may sound neurotic but we really hate putting them through being locked in cages for that many hours, and for the dogs especially because they’ll be put in the hold of an aircraft without the benefit of understanding what the heck is going on.

The Traveling QuinPet should have an introduction, and since this blog post is about Lillie, here’s her story: she was found starving and thirsty and wandering along a busy road by a colleague of my mother-in-law. The kind lady enticed her into the car with the only food she had available … an apple.

We had just lost our most precious dog, Toby; and to be honest, we weren’t getting through. We took it hard. We missed our constant companion and the sound of toenails clacking on the floor. The house was deafeningly quiet. When we met Lillie, it didn’t take much debate. She seemed very sweet and precious. We brought her home.

She’s a Welsh Springer Spaniel, never to be mistaken for a male. We call her LillieBelle. She’s a dainty girl with a little butt that moves a mile a minute when she’s excited. She throws her floppy ears around as if it’s a head full of princess hair.

What excites Lillie the most, I think, is to get out of bed every morning. It’s probably what I like second about her. Even when I’m not ready for the day … she’s ready for it and that makes me smile even when my eyelids are not ready to let the world in. Her quirks? She twirls like a ballerina for food and fun. She loves to chase the ball, always bringing it back until she gets tired. Then she takes it to where it’s kept and keenly observes that it’s put away. What I love most are the spontaneous hugs she gives at least once a day. When she does, trust me, we feel thoroughly loved. She’s a happy dog!

Part of the preparation to move has been to get them used to a different living situation. We may not have a (fenced) yard in some of our rentals along the journey, so they’ve been living indoors more. We used to take them for walks one by one around the neighborhood, but lately we’ve been going together on public trails which we have to drive to.

Of course these exercises are as much a learning experience for us. The dogs are underfoot in the house which we had to get used to. When the five of us go for a walk, we must be like a live slapstick. It’s fairly typical to be tangled with the leashes and each other before the car doors are locked, and usually there are 3 number twos before we ever make it to a trailhead, and we aim a poop bag at a target while being manhandled by the eager-to-go trio. For a minute we thought life could be simplified by using a connector leash, hooking Lillie’s harness to Maxx’s, but alas, suddenly Maxximus didn’t quite understand which way to pee.

Sometimes we take them to a trail by themselves. We really enjoy their personalities and how they interact with us individually. Returning home, usually with the dogs’ tongues flopping from the sides of their snoot, they exude a smugness in understanding they’ve had something special. Logistically it’s more fun for us too … that is, until not so long ago, when we took Lillie to a local trail that runs along the swamp.

Before you think we could have possibly avoided this blunder, you should know Lillie considers anything whooshing by her head, a ball, and she’ll happily take off like a rocket to catch it. Otherwise she’s very easy to handle and I’d decided to take my old camera because some days before, I’d noticed pretty wildflowers and lots of dragonflies.

It was peaceful out there, a typical summer day in Georgia with wildflowers dancing on a hot breeze, insects buzzing around, heat shimmering off the ground surface, humidity curling through your hair, and the deafening sound of cicadas. Colorful dragonflies abound, we decided to take a break at a gazebo built over the swamp for some shooting.

The camera and I were happily enjoying the moment. Suddenly there was a loud splash from the swamp. I ran over hoping to catch a sizable snapping turtle in action. My husband, attached to the leash, enthusiastically did the same.

Our smiles froze. Lillie! In the swamp! That wonderfully enthusiastic, floppy-eared, sweet little girl no doubt chased a dragonfly right into an abyss of duckweed and swamp yuk.

Since the moment we adopted Lillie, we’ve been teaching her to trust that we will always come for her, that she’ll always come home. Since it’s likely she was abandoned, we thought it was important to build that kind of trust. We could clearly see the result of that work now.

The harness helped but fishing her from the water without having to jump in took a while. With half an eye out for water moccasins and snapping turtles, it was the trust that was ingrained in her eyes when she swam toward us that instilled the greatest sense of urgency.  I’m pretty sure my heart beat outside of my body in that moment. We didn’t talk about it then, but later, after an emergency visit to the dog bathing place for not one but three shampoo sessions (oh the stink!), we remarked on the trust she’d shown.

Despite preparation, hard work, and stress in recent months, the day of our move to France will be the toughest.  We nor Lillie enjoyed the swamp ordeal, but we learned from it that the dogs will trust us to get them and at the same time we must find trust that they’ll be okay.

After a few days of acclimating to a new life, maybe we’ll be forgiven?

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