“Missing Betsy,” a Memoir

by Amy Palmer

    She was only interested in getting there. Getting there fast and first. No stopping, no pausing at every pole and post for Boo, as she was affectionately and lovingly known by her family.

    She wanted no distractions and no diversions. She was formidable, chuffing like a small and perfect steam engine down the road from the beginning of Paul’s Lane to Sagg Pond. She knew exactly where she was headed as soon as she sensed and saw the leash.

    The other two dogs that accompanied her were along mainly for the pleasure of reading their mail for an hour or so, leisurely trotting along, taking in the scenery, stopping to have people admire them and ask the name of their breed, always phrased as “What kind of dogs are these?” No one ever seemed to know, but then Wales is a vast ocean away. 

    Betsy never expressed the irritability she felt at being slowed down, as she waited patiently to resume the race. She stood there quietly, awaiting the signal to let her know it was time to carry on her competition to get to the pond first. She became known as the lead dog because of her inclination to be always ahead, with the twosome behind her straining to keep up.

    Betsy would lean into the leash as a horse leans into the bit, perhaps thinking of these outings as her own personal Iditarod, to be won every time, at any cost. Nothing else would do — her focus was first and foremost on what she was doing at this moment. That was it, that was all that was important.

    In her quest to get to the pond first, she gave no thought to the conditions. The day might be hot and humid, sunny and dry, misty with fog, cold and icy, or windy, as it often was. No matter. She was from Wales; she could take the vagaries of any weather.

    She stood and smiled at the feet of her walker, listening once again to the story of the place she had come from and why her work necessitated the shortness of her legs and the agility she knew she had, the agility of a low-to-the-ground race car. Hers was the job of herding cattle, this she knew. She knew this instinctively as birds know how to build their nests, and the inquisitive people on the road always asked the same question. “Why are their legs so short?” They always got the same answer. Betsy knew the answer by heart.

    Her legs were short because if they were not, she and her ancestors would not have had the skill to avoid the kick of the cattle as the cattle tried to rid themselves of the annoying creatures snipping at their heels, herding them as they scrambled to get away. To steer clear of the powerful kick of the cow meant that these dogs would live to see another day. And those descended from them would pass along the short legs needed to enable the dogs from Pembrokeshire, Wales, to do their work.

    Every day for more than 15 years Betsy exhibited the traits and characteristics good humans strive for. She loved her family, her children, her home. Loyalty, devotion, kindness, gratefulness, and courage were among the traits she so humbly demonstrated every day.

    She lies now in peace in the garden with the other dogs, beneath the lilacs and under her small stone that simply says:

    Betsy. 1996 - 2011.

    Not enough it seems, to honor her good and giving life, except to say there is a memorial stone looking over her resting place with the words that say, “If love would have saved you, you would have lived forever.”

    Amy Palmer, a Bridgehampton resident for 22 years, is a mother of three and a grandmother of six.