Monday, October 5, 2009

A Ghost Tale for Tuesday

My black Lab turned fourteen back in May. We keep expecting each beach walk to be her last. And then what happens? Did you ever wonder if ghostly apparitions are limited to humans?

In my book Unfolding the Shadows, Jillian only sees and talks with the ghosts of people. But what about dogs and cats? Why couldn't our beloved pets come back as spirits, too? To walk on the beach with us, and keep enjoying the activities that meant so much to them in life?

My sister Deb swears that the ghost of our Scottish Terrier, Duffy, used to hand around in the bar of the Grey Bonnet Inn in Killington, Vermont. She told me she saw it there on numerous occasions. She'd point it out to people, but most of them couldn't see the dog moving in the shadows between the bar stools. Some did see her, though, and would ask about the black dog. The bartender on duty would gently tell them that the dog had passed away a few seasons ago. "But I just saw it," they'd insist...

My parents bought the Inn and moved our family to Vermont when I was a freshman in college. Duffy was already nine and our Golden Retriever Samantha was only a year and a half old when we moved out of our single-family typical New Jersey colonial and into the 42-room Inn, complete with restaurant and bar.

Samantha became the "Inn Dog"...meeting and greeting guests, and eventually having her own "news" in the seasonal newsletters. As a Scottie, Duffy wasn't really friendly to strangers...except if they had food. She was a slut for anyone with a treat. She'd hang out in the bar with me when I was bartending, and came to realize that there were always peanuts and goldfish crackers to be found under the stools. She became a constant fixture in the bar, whether I was the one serving the drinks or not.

At 13, Duffy developed a brain tumor and began wandering out of the yard. The Grey Bonnet Inn is located on busy Route 100 North. One day during the hectic foliage season, she was hit and killed instantly by a car.

My sister started seeing her under the bar stools that winter, nosing around for peanuts.

Online research suggests that animals who die suddenly may not "know" that they're dead. They sometimes are seen continuing along their usual routines for years afterward. Certainly where my dog had a brain tumor, she had lapses of "knowing" even when she was still alive that last year.

Black dogs are prevalent in ghost stories and mythology from England, as well as other parts of the world. Most recently, one showed up in J.K.Rowling's Harry Potter series as "The Grim," the mythic black dog who portends death. In the Potter series, it turns out that the "Grim" Harry sees is really just his shape-shifting godfather and doesn't fortell Harry's demise.

But there's a lot of precedent for the English seeing black dogs...

On the Isle of Man, the black dog is known as the Mauthe Dhoog. People believed that anyone who sees the dog will die soon after. In Guernsy, there are two named dogs: Tchico, who is headless, and Bodu who still has his head. Both spectral dogs fortell death. In Jersey the black dog is also called Tchico, and his appearance fortells storms. In Normandy, they called the dog Rongeur d'Os, which means literally "bone gnawer."

In Wales, they tell of the gwyllgi, the "dog of darkness" with blazing red eyes. Black dogs with fiery red eyes are reported throughout South America, from Mexico to Argentina, with various names including Perro Negro (literally translated to "black dog") and Nahual. Let's hope there aren't any showing up for the Olympics in Brazil!

According to Wikipedia, that bastion of obscure information, ..."the origins of the black dog are difficult to discern. It is impossible to ascertain whether the creature originated in the Celtic or Germanic elements in British culture. Throughout European mythology, dogs have been associated with death. Examples of this are Cwn Annwn, Garmr, and Cerebus, all of whom were in some way guardians of the underworld. This association seems to be due to the scavenging habits of dogs. It is possible that the black dog is a survivial of these beliefs." old black dog was certainly a scavenger. Apparently in both life and death.

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