Miles of Memories – Part 1: Four-Footed Friends

Gayle & Mary outsideThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

My husband and I recently returned from a nearly 4,000-mile journey through several states as we visited friends and family. The journey brought back many memories as well as reconnections with people I hadn’t seen in many years (more on all that next week). Some of the memories stirred included thoughts on the four-footed friends I had, especially when I was a child growing up in Iowa.

Winding through the roads of the Midwest (Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, and a touch of Iowa) stirred the senses and the heart. From seeing great blue herons in ponds to listening to red cardinals chirp in trees (and I don’t mean the St. Louis baseball team, although we all chirped for joy when the Cards beat the Brewers 7 to 1 on the Friday night Greg and I sat in Busch Stadium!), my mind and heart drifted back to childhood days in and around Burlington, Iowa and the animals that impacted my life. Those impacts helped shape me into the person I am today: an appreciator of nature and a lover of animals, especially pets.

My first pet was a calico cat named Precious. She was a stray that followed me home as I walked from my friend Shelly’s house. I was seven years old, Precious was about three months old. My father disliked cats but because I could be cagey and precocious as a youngster (I am an only child afterall!), Precious became a member of our household, a role she had for the next 10 years.

My very first dog was a pup from a litter my dad’s German Shorthaired Pointer Lil had. Sadly, most in that family were sickly when born, and Whitey, as I named the skinny white with liver-colored spotted runt, only lived a few years. But, during the short time we shared, we ran the fields and forests of our Iowa property, chasing butterflies and lightening bugs together.

Bridgette and Gayle
Gayle and Bridgette, western Montana, 1983

When I was 16, I chose an 8-week-old German shepherd mix puppy as my canine companion. I adopted her with money I’d earned from chores done on the farm and at the house, as well as helping my aging grandmother at her home in town. I named the honey-colored, curly-coated dog Bridgette. She was my constant companion during the remaining years in Iowa. We explored the hills, feed the flocks of chickens, ducks and geese, and rested in the shade of hickory and cedar trees. When my parents and I moved to Wyoming in 1978, Bridgette helped calm my nerves with her tranquil presence as I entered a new school system (and a much bigger one!) during my senior year of high school. I became a busy college student and our walks together became less frequent, but my dear mother stepped in and filled my shoes as Bridgette’s human companion. When my parents moved to Montana, Bridgette went with them, and when I would occasionally visit, her forgiving, kind spirit welcomed me back as if I’d not deserted her. We explored the mountains of Montana near my parents’ home for the next several years, and today, her bones are buried on a striking vista overlooking the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana, a place she, and my parents, dearly loved.

Ama Cat_sleeping_haircut
I adopted Ama from the Bozeman, MT Humane Society in 1990. She lived to be nearly 19 years old.

The joy I received from those animals of my childhood stuck with me through adulthood, encouraging me to continue sharing my life with pets. Since those early days of canine and feline companions, I’ve experienced delight with other pets, including Sam, a cocker spaniel who shared my life from 1989 to 2000; Ama, a long-haired orange tabby who became princess of the household, reigning from 1999 to 2006; Sage, the blind springer spaniel Greg and I adopted after our marriage and whose life inspired me to write books and short stories; Cody, the cocker spaniel who came to us as a nearly 10-year-old and lived to be nearly 18; Bailey and Murphy, whose mother was a feral cat but who accepted help from our rancher friends in order to give her kittens a better, more stable life than she had – these sisters will be 11 years old next month; and Mary, the springer/cocker mix who helped Cody live to be as old as he did just by sharing the house, the couch, and the cabin with him (and us humans) – and who braved the recent 4,000-mile journey that’s refreshed and replenished my special pet memories.

Sage and Cody inspired many books and stories.

It is through gratitude to all these animals who have touched my heart and life in such magnificent, beautiful ways that I wrote “Lessons from Dogs – A Tribute” which is published in Memories from Maple Street USA: Pawprints on My Heart, released last week by Sundown Press. Although Sage and Cody are the main focus of my short story, I wrote it with all my pets in mind, as well as the animals I’ve known through family and friends. I’m honored to be part of this publication, and through it, as well as my other stories (such as those found in Chicken Soup for the Soul and the ones published in Prairie Times) and books (like Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, Sage Find Friends, and Sage’s Big Adventure) perhaps I can impact the lives of pets, and those of people, for the better. Education and inspiration are the goals of my writing as well as to make a positive difference for pets and people, including adoption and rescue. For truly, pets adopt and rescue us when we adopt and rescue them. Animals, when we let them, certainly do leave pawprints on our hearts and upon our lives. I know mine surely have!

gayle and sage_smaller


Gayle_signing photoGayle M. Irwin is an author, writer, and speaker who enjoys sharing about the human-pet bond. She writes inspirational pet stories for children and adults. She is the author of six books, some for children and some for adults and families, and is a contributing writer to six editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. She is also one of the writers featured in Memories from Maple Street USA: Pawprints on My Heart, released last week from Sundown Press, with a story about the positive life lessons dogs can epitomize. The book is available in both e-format and print format. Learn more about this new publication at Learn more about Gayle and her writing and speaking endeavors at

Pawprints Book   Chicken Soup_DogDidWhat_Cover   Spirit of America book   Walking_FrontCover_small   SageBigAdventureFront-small   Sage Finds Friends_front cover   Cody Cabin_New Book CoverImage   Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final  Dog Devotions 2 Book Cover Sage Advice Cover   Blind Dog Ebook Cover_updatedMay2014

14 thoughts on “Miles of Memories – Part 1: Four-Footed Friends

  1. Sweet, wonderful post, Gayle. So many ‘furry’ memories. I’m so glad you shared them, including your photos of some of them. Your words reveal your deep love for all of them.


  2. Your enthusiasm for animals, almost, makes me want to rush out and get one for myself but an animal is for life as you so rightly point out. They thrive with the kind of care you give them but I despair when reading of animals (mainly dogs) who are bought as extensions of a ‘show off’ culture of the most expensive or new breed. Sometimes those creatures aren’t given the freedom of the outside that you clearly give to your dogs.


    1. You are SO RIGHT, Nancy, and I appreciate your comments. There are many wonderful ways to help animals if you can’t adopt, including volunteering for rescues and donating supplies and funds. I’m sure there are some Scottish groups that would appreciate your assistance however you feel compelled to do so. 🙂 I’m about ready to adopt again — it’s been 6 months since we lost Cody — and I’ve started to look. You may be learning of another “Irwin” before year-end! 🙂


  3. Your post brought to mind all the lovely animals that have been a part of my life over the years. From Jake to Whitey to Ajax to Andy to Mac to Puss to Vernon to Ginger to Spenser to Scruffy to Baili to my present puppy sister Lola–thank you for the love you have shown me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Gayle, this is beautiful. I love your timeline of animals. I use my animals and my grandchildren as timelines. I know each of these pets were lucky to have you as their human. Thanks for sharing. Congratulations on entry for Memories from Maple Street, Paw Prints on my heart. Cher’ley


  5. What a lovely post, Gayle. What shines through is your beautiful heart and your special love for all the pets in your life. Each of those pets, although giving you a joy and peace, were very lucky to have had someone like you to be their owner. You always amaze me with the way you write. Your love for animals shines through. I’m so glad you’ve written so many books to share with others, because I’m sure through those writings many people have found and adopted pets of their own to love.


  6. Gayle,
    I read this on break at work the other day, but ddn’t have time to comment. Not only did the post bring back memories, but it renewed my faith that their are people who care deeply about our four footed friends. Thank you for that. Doris


  7. I love this post, Gayle. I too am an only child but unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to have dogs growing up. I had allergies but later in life, because I was around my friends’ dogs so much I guess, I grew out of the allergies. Hana is my first dog and I love her dearly. I loved all your memories of your animals. I am a big animal lover (always have been) and had every type of pet I could growing up that I wasn’t allergic to (birds, fish, rabbits, turtles, mice). Congrats on the publication of your recent release, Memories from Maple Street!


  8. Thanks for sharing. Pets truly do adopt us. Our dog Val chose us the day we went to the shelter. Val taught us what her boundaries were. Okay she could get on the furniture, but she couldn’t chew on it. She would gladly sit for a treat, but she decided 8 pm every night was snack time. If we did anything more than two days in a row to her it was the new routine. It truly was a give and take relationship. She greeted me at the front door everyday when I came home for years. When she lost her hearing and couldn’t hear my car pull in the driveway anymore she would lay by the door so she could still greet me. She was with us for over 13 years and our memories of her always bring a smile to my face.


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