Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:



(I stole this photo of Patches from my brother’s blog: Too Long in the Wind)


On one of my recent walks, a man and his dog were out in their yard. The dog was tethered, but it ran toward the street to greet me. The pup was a terrier, white with a brown patch over one ear. This dog looked very much like Patches, our family pet during my childhood.

Oddly enough, when I saw this other dog, the Patches memory that first came to mind was the sound of her tail thumping on our washing machine. Patchie was a happy dog, she was in the house much of the time, and the washing machine, right there in our kitchen, was very accessible to wagging tails.

There are dogs that are good pets, good company to have around. And then there are dogs that are so integrated into every aspect of your life that you wouldn’t have become the person you are without them. Patches was my constant companion, a confidant, a best friend.

Patches joined our family when my brother and I were young, probably about 7 and 5, respectively. The Schraeders, who lived down the street, had a litter and we got a wiggly pup from them. She was Leon’s dog and he named her Patches because of the brown ear and a few other spots on her otherwise white fur. That first night we settled her in behind the backyard fence. We awoke the next morning to find an empty doghouse. Leon and I were destroyed; she didn’t like us, she ran away. But soon the Schraeders called and said she was there.

We confined her to her outdoor pen when we went to school, but most of the time she ran free. There were no leash laws at the time in Pawnee Rock. I had many friends and many adventures and Patches liked to be a part of the fun, so she followed me everywhere.

She was my telltale sign. In a town the size of Pawnee Rock, everyone knew everyone else – as well as their dogs. If Patches was sitting in front of the post office, the grocery store, my dad’s shop, or a friend’s house, people knew that I’d be inside. More than once my mom used the dog as a Cheryl-finder.

Patches tagged along as usual one day when I walked to Marilyn’s house. I left Patches on the front porch, but later left through the back door. At home, I began to wonder where the dog was. I went back to Marilyn’s house and sure enough, Patches was sitting on the porch, staring at the front door.

Mom and Dad didn’t intend for Patches to be a house dog, but somehow Leon and I weaseled her into the house enough that my parents either forgot about the “dogs belong outside” rule or just gave up on it. Before long, we all came to realize that the house felt empty without her presence.

Patches slept on the bed with me most nights. She growled when I rolled over because her delicate sleep was disturbed. She also retaliated by sharing her fleas with me.

Cheese was her weakness. Her ears perked at the rattling of a cheese wrapper and she danced in circles when we said the word cheese. If we needed to talk over her head, we used the Spanish word queso.

One July day when I was in college and living away from home, Mom called to say that Patches, who had not been well, was in her last days. I drove home and stayed up all night with that dog, petting her, thanking her, telling her how much she had meant to all of us. I was there for her last breath. At daylight when my dad got up, we buried her in the back yard.

I see dogs around Emporia all the time, but it was that brief encounter the other day with a Patches look-alike that awakened this stream of memories, starting with the sound of her tail thumping on the washing machine.

Patches has been gone for thirty-some years now, but she is still present. Pets don’t leave behind a lot of belongings, there’s nothing to hold onto in a physical sense. But you remember the unconditional devotion of a good dog. You just don’t forget that kind of love.

Copyright 2013 ~ Cheryl Unruh


 Cheryl-Patches1 I have my watermark on here, but my brother took this photo as well.




  1. The story of Patches brought tears to my eyes. We have two special dogs and when the time comes for them to leave us, it will be heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Loved this—my Patches was a paint mare named Lady– now it was a dead give away to have a horse where ever I was!!!! 🙂 If the horse came home by herself with the reins tied over the saddle horn– it mean I sent her home— if she came come– dragging reins & no me— someone better come looking for me– as I was in trouble some place & sent Lady home for help!!!! 🙂

  3. I started to write a note about one of our/my dogs, but..I miss them all. Thanks for the loving tribute and all the memories.

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