Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
Beverly Waldrop of Hartselle said she never knew how close a human and an animal could become until she invited a sheltie puppy into her home nearly 16 years ago.
"A dear friend gave him to me as a Christmas present," Waldrop recalled. "I was in graduate school and didn't have a fenced yard to put him in, so he got to live in the house and stay in the kitchen."
However, it wasn't long before the new houseguest conquered Waldrop's home.
"He would inch his way from the kitchen to where I was sitting in the living room. It always amazed me because he never made a sound. One minute, I would see him sitting at the edge of the kitchen with one paw across the threshold. The next minute, he would be right beside me on the couch. After that, the house quickly became his."
Even though he had found a place in her home, Waldrop still wasn't sure this pooch was going to find a place in her heart.
"My family had a collie who lived outside when I was growing up," Waldrop said. "I never thought I could love this sheltie. It looked like a collie with its legs sawed half off."
Waldrop's brother encouraged her to keep the puppy around until she learned his personality.
"And I am so glad that I did," Waldrop said. "He was so playful and so funny, right from the start. I just fell in love with him."
Waldrop admits she procrastinated a little in naming her new furry friend.
"After quite some time, I finally came up with the name Beverly's Golden Regal for his registered AKC name," Waldrop said. "But I had been calling him 'Puppy' for so long, that's all he would answer to."
Waldrop, a kindergarten teacher at F.E. Burleson Elementary, said she often shares her and Puppy's tales with her students.
Like their morning breakfast ritual. Waldrop said she always makes herself a piece of wheat toast and a cup of tea. She makes Puppy two pieces of wheat toast-minus the butter.
Or about the tricks she has taught him. Puppy learned to sit, lay down, roll over and shake hands-with his left paw, just like his left-handed owner.
And about their duets. At a young age, Puppy developed a love for the Andy Griffith Show theme song. Waldrop would whistle the tune and Puppy would throw his head back and sing along.
"I've always loved to share stories about Puppy with my students because most of them have pets, too," Waldrop said. "They can tell by the way I talk about him just how much I love him. He's the closet thing I've ever had to a child of my own."
The parents of Waldrop's students have always realized the bond between she and Puppy as well.
Waldrop's classroom has a hand-painted miniature window mural of Puppy on the wall next to the play housekeeping area. A framed picture of Puppy also sits on a shelf near the teacher's desk.
At the end of last school year, Waldrop's 2002-2003 kindergarten class pooled their resources to give their teacher a heartfelt gift she would surely never forget.
"They presented me with a gift certificate for a 16 x 20 framed picture of me and Puppy," Waldrop said. "I was so flattered. They really put a lot of thought and care into choosing such a touching gift."
All dogs go to heaven
Nearing his 16th birthday, arthritis and sight and hearing problems began to take their toll on Puppy. Since going for a car ride, something he had always loved to do, had become such a painful chore for Puppy, the photographer came to Waldrop's home to take pictures of she and her aging companion.
The framed portrait now hangs in Waldrop's classroom.
"He looks so young and happy in the picture," Waldrop said. "It's like he rallied and said, 'I'm going to look good for this!'"
Waldrop said the photograph, taken in July, is one of her most treasured gifts, especially since Puppy passed away Sept. 12.
"People have been so kind," Waldrop said days after Puppy's death. "A parent of one of my former students wrote a poem in his memory. A friend called and invited me to lunch. I've gotten flowers and brownies. They all realize he was like my only child."
Waldrop held a small service for Puppy and buried him in her back yard near the spot their last photo was taken.
A neighbor built Puppy a special coffin and a friend made a white wooden cross, adorned by a sheltie magnet, to mark his grave.
"I'll really miss him, but I'm just so thankful for the 16 years we have shared. I adored him. He made me laugh and brought me so much pleasure and joy. He was a wonderful companion," Waldrop said.
"Animals love you like you are an they hold no grudges. If only we could all be a little more like that."