JT and Princess

One of my jobs at Shep’s is to write thank you notes to people who donate by mail. These days, most donations are electronic, but we still receive a fair number of good, old-fashioned letters with checks. For those folks, we like to send a receipt with a handwritten thank-you card; it’s the least we can do. Some donors are monthly regulars, while others just appear out of the blue.

So yesterday, while opening envelopes, I came across a name I didn’t recognize. The handwriting looked tenuous and shaky; you could tell it was written by an elderly person. I won’t mention the donor’s name, since he may not wish it shared.

Opening the envelope, I found three items. The first was a check for $1,000, which naturally caught my attention. The second was a note, in the same tenuous handwriting: “This donation is made in loving memory of my cousin, *** ***, and my pet Collie Princess. Please send receipt.”

It was the third item that made me catch my breath. The sender had enclosed a black and white photograph – not a scan or a copy, mind you, but an actual, original photograph – of himself and his collie, Princess. On the back was a handwritten note that said simply “JT and Princess”.

The picture shows a handsome collie, sitting proudly by her person. JT appears to be a teenager, crouched next to Princess, smiling. They are outside at a park, or perhaps their back yard, enjoying each other’s company. His plaid shirt and rolled up jeans look like a costume from Happy Days, or American Graffiti.

Now, I was born in black and white times. My baby photographs from 1964 were black and white, but it was only a few years later that they turned to color. So this photo had to be from the early to mid 1960’s, at least. JT’s clothes and haircut fit that timeframe. That means the picture has to be at least 60 years old. JT must now be nearly 80, or more.

We regularly receive donations in honor of a pet that has recently died. The owners are hurting, and want to do something positive to memorialize their dog’s passing, or perhaps a family friend wishes to express their sympathy. Those kind of letters I’m used to: you send a note expressing sorrow for their loss, and thank them for their support. But this one was different. How do you acknowledge the loss of a dog from before the Beatles split up?

I kept coming back to the photo, to this happy moment frozen in time. Princess looks so real, like it was yesterday, like you could reach right over and pet her. But it was so long ago.

What happened afterwards, I thought? Time passed, of course. The world turned to color. Princess must have passed a few years later, as dogs do. JT grew up, and lived his life. There were moon landings and wars and computers and Tik-Tok. Eventually, he grew old.

And now…

And now, despite the gulf of years between them, JT still remembers Princess. Sixty years later, he still has her photograph, and shares it proudly. Now – SIXTY YEARS LATER! – he still thinks about her, and loves her. The world has changed, and there might not be another person alive who remembers her. But JT does. He still recalls what she looked like, and how she felt, and the way she ran. She is still his beautiful dog, and always will be.

As it sunk in, I ain’t gonna lie, I did not hold it together. Kleenexes were used. It was just so beautiful: a boy and his dog, separated by time but together in memory: a love that can never fade.

If you were lucky, you probably had your own Princess. Mine didn’t come till later in life. Even now, four years after his passing, I still think about Shep every day. And when my current dogs are gone, there won’t be a day go by that I won’t think of them with love. I’ll probably be sharing pictures of them when I’m 80, too.

But isn’t that sad? There is a tinge of sadness and loss, yes, but it is only a small part of the story. JT didn’t send Princess’ picture because he was sad. He sent it because he wanted to show me his beautiful girl. He wanted to share his love for Princess, his gratitude for the time they had, and the happy memories that are still clear, even six decades on.

So, let us all, in our own way, send thanks to our Princesses: to Shep, and Gotti, and Charlie, and all the dogs who have enriched our lives. We can still see you, our friends, and feel the impact of the life you shared. Like Princess and JT, you will remain forever fresh in our memory.