Farewell Dear Sunnie Sunshine

Dear Sunnie, come here, will you? Jump up on the sofa and lay down beside me. No, no! Don't bite my hand, please, it is not the time to wrestle now. Lay down here and let me put my hand on your silken head and my other hand on your warm, soft belly. Yes, you can gently chew a little on my thumb if you like, but please listen to me now! You know, it is now time for me to tell you a few things that I want you to have with you, during the long journey you are just about to start, far too soon.

I am not a very social or spontaneously open-hearted person, you might have noticed that, but it takes time for me to get used to and learn to know new puppies for ex. With some puppies it has taken many months. I believe there was one puppy in the past that I never learned to love, and hence had to give away, find a new home for her. So when you came into our house I was to start with also a bit suspicious and wondered what the heck the cat had dragged in? So was Briz, our late 9 years old no-nonsense professional gundog. At first she was also cold as a frog towards you.

Our attitude did not bother you the least but you started to work up on us immediately. You showed so much courage and competition drive and also gentleness and co-operation so it did not take many days for you to alter our attitude. In fact you never asked me to open the door for you to my hearth. You did not even knock on the door, you just simply kicked it open and jumped in! And there was no way for me to stop you! Yes, I understand today that that was your way to deal with everything. And take it easy now, please do not tear my shirt into pieces! Sunnie - please!

From the start we had no actual plan for how to raise you, but wanted to wait and see what kind of a character you were, and then act according to that on a day to day basis. Well, we had one simple plan, though. We thought that Briz would do most of the ground work in raising you to a respecting young dog and also point the way for you on the field. At first Briz was unwilling to agree to that but since you never gave up to work on her she finally, the night before she so sadly and unexpectedly passed away, gave up her resistance and played with you. And so very sad that came to be the first and the last time you two played together. The next day Briz had to leave us due to a final diagnosis of a very severe illness.

The death of your would-be foster-mother was a kick in the belly for us. Your were there, thanks heaven, to comfort us when we needed it, and to keep us busy with practical things and hence help us dispel our dark moments. Yes, I am crying again now that I think of it, and it is good to feel how you again lick the tears from my face. Be kind and clean my nose also, it is running a bit and you do not want your master to look like a mess, do you? Thank you Sunnie! You are as kind as always, you really are!

Although you are bold and straightforward when meeting other dogs, the fate never gave you the time to learn to know them really well. If it had, you would have learned that all dogs are individuals, with individual characteristics and behaviours. Quite often there is a red line in the dogs behaviour, that is tied to its breed. A setter for ex. is supposed to behave like a setter, at least to some extent. But setters have spaniels as their predecessors from hundreds of years back. The spaniel genes are to a large degree extinct in setters but one way or another some of them had become active in you. You showed "a will to please" that is rare or unheard of in setters. You showed "co-operation" that usually must be hammered into setters. And you showed a spaniel-like "trainability", also almost unheard of in setters. It was so easy to work with you and our life with you started to feel like a dream-like glide into luxury, it was difficult to understand that we had been the lucky ones to have you. And in all this delirious flush you were so nice and kind-hearted, my dear Sunnie. So nice, so nice...

During the winter the setter in you started to show more and more of its feathered tail, but you never lost the spaniel-like characteristics of yours. Instead you developed them further to our great astonishment. Not long ago did you start to "throw" your toys at me in order to get me started, remember that? Of all our earlier dogs only Springer the Spaniel has done so. And we had our wrestling matches every day, several times per day. I still have some scars and small wounds from your teeth on my arms and hands, although they are healing now - to my sadness, I must say. I would like to keep them as a memory of you, kind of tattoos, indeed. Anyway, how many setter owners have to wrestle with their dog every day - and love and enjoy it!

Without any particular effort from us you started, quite opposite to what we expected from a setter, to listen to our "Come here" command, even in hunting situations. Well, so far your hunting only consisted of pointing and chasing of the numerous black-birds we have had around our house this winter, but anyway, they stimulate a young dogs prey drive as much as any game bird do. The fetch training with you was easy as boiling water is for a chef, and you learned to walk at heel without pulling the lead in an instant.

You remember that we tested your capability as a birddog very early, you were some 3,5 months old only, I think. We put out partridge, 4 of them, on a field and let you, without any interference from us, find them as you pleased. You developed from bird to bird and when you had found the fourth bird it was all there, the search, the find, the point, the flush and of course the chase. You learned so fast to read the air and ground scent so we had no actual sensible comments to your performance, but more or less just stood there with our mouths open, looking like empty birds nesting boxes. You taught us a heavy lesson there, did it ever occur to you? To be modest, we were pleased with what you had shown and decided to wait with further field training until you had matured over the winter. After all, as I mentioned, you had given us the lesson, what more could we possibly teach to you about finding birds? There was indeed a red carpet rolled out for you, directly into a bright future. Then the evil Fate came and mercilessly jerked it away from under your feet.

My very dear friend, we now lay here resting together for the very last time. I can feel your moist and warm nose in my ear and your calm breathing in my hair. I can caress your soft, silken back and beautiful head and ears. I can feel your hearth beat and the energy that flowed between us, from you to me and from me to you. I smile and I cry at the same time but you remain calmly positive, considerately loving and happy, as always.

Please look at the portrait I made of you, uppermost on this page. It was a photo I took a cold and very dark day in January. It was actually darker than the camera could handle and the photo was basically dull and useless when I for the first time looked at it in Photoshop. However, I liked your stance and expression in it, it was you, all the way to the last pixel. I went back to the computer and started to play with the controls in the editor, just to see if there was something that could be taken out of the dull, but still attractive photo. At least I thought it was me playing with the Photoshop controls...

I am not superstitious, religious or something like that, but I am not anymore sure that it was my hand on the mouse that moved the controls. No matter how I moved them, the end result was the same, the only possible improvement of the photo was this angle-like image of you. Today, with the answer book at hand, I like to think that an angle really came and laid her hand on my hand that was holding the mouse, and by directing my hand to create this angel-like image of you, gave us a hint of what would shortly lie ahead. We just did not understand the message...

Dear Sunnie! I hate this moment immensely, but as I now understand that the time has come for you to go, I would like to give you some last advice along your new path. Let's get up... yes, I know that you hate it too, my friend... and go outside into the free air. Let me lift you up in my arms, I have to show you something in the sky. Look over there, to the north-west high up in the blue sky. Do you see the big, white alto-cumulus cloud, shining so beautifully in the sunlight? Yes, it is that one, it looks a bit like a bare mountain.

Now, when you go, go over the top to the back side of it. That is were grouse go when they die. That is also were Briz is now, together with her mother Foxy. They will welcome you and they will show you how to find, point and flush willow grouse. When you have learned that skill, they will teach you how to handle the most challenging of grouse, or any other game bird for that matter, the King of the high mountain realm - the Ptarmigan! Then at night you will rest close together, or even on top of each other as setters often do, and you will be very comfortable. You will like it there and you will be just as safe there as we like you to be.

Also give Foxy and Briz all the love from us and tell them we will never forget them but we miss them every day. Let me kiss your dark, honest eyes and your soft, silken ears now, before I let you free. And thank you Sunnie for all the Sunshine you gave us!

2010-01-10 photo Maud Matsson

Farewell now, my dear Sunnie, farewell!
Just remember that I will remain eternally yours!
Your loving master and humble admirer Torsti

Sunnie started to limb now and then, some time ago. We first suspected that too much work in the deep snow had something to do with it. As it did not get better she was finally taken to the veterinary hospital in Uppsala. Not even our worst case scenario did match the diagnosis. She had the worst type of osteochondros, her elbows and shoulders were destroyed. There is no treatment for that, whatsoever and her pain would slowly had increased from day to day. The only thing to help her was to put her to an even deeper sleep, right there on the x-ray table. This type of osteochondros is extremely rare in working setters. However, knowing that is to no comfort to us. The only comfort we can get comes from the warm memory of our dear Sunnie. Sunnie left us February 19, only a wee bit more than 6 months old.

Text & photo Torsti Mäkinen