Last Friday, a long-time friend to many unexpectedly and tragically passed away. I would like to pay tribute to her today in my column.

Throughout our lives, most of us will pursue activities that bring us joy. For me, it has been the world of dogs: training, competing, and therapy work. During my journey, I have met many like-minded people who equally share my passion. What better way is there to spend your time and energy, talking and living life with those humans who totally get it!

One of these friends was a person I met many, many years ago, Cheryl Butchko. I had gone to participate in the Wilkes-Barre St. Patrick’s Day Parade with my Cairn Terrier, Toby. We were marching with the Wilkes-Barre Dog Training Club. Cheryl was not yet a member of our club, but as it was, we walked on the route together while the crowd shouted “Look, it’s Toto and Lassie!” Cheryl was walking her Sheltie, Cody. Not a collie, but we both got a good laugh out of it.

Over the years, Cheryl and I traveled to many obedience trials, specialty shows, and pet expos together. I remember when we traveled all the way to Peddler’s Village to compete in an outdoor obedience trial. The ring set up was right next to a pony ride! What?! Obviously, Toby had never seen a pony, and his interest in these big smelly dogs far outweighed his performance on that day. But after the show, Cheryl and I sat on a hillside to relax. She was throwing flying discs for Cody, who would chase them all day long. It was just so relaxing. And of course we talked, and talked, and talked dogs.

A few years ago, Cheryl and I went to a Sheltie specialty breed show in Macungie. I love all dogs, but Cairn Terriers are my ‘heart breed’. But while at the show, I absolutely fell in love with a Sheltie puppy on the grounds. I watched this gorgeous little girl all day. She strutted around the showgrounds like she owned the place. She was fearless and confident, and I LOVE that attitude. I darn near came home with her, but thankfully, she was not for sale! Cheryl laughed about me almost coming home with a Sheltie.

I was very fond of Cheryl’s mom, who invited me to attend their family functions after the loss of my mom. She was genuine and sincere in her invitation, and I am forever grateful for her caring and kindness during a very difficult time.

My mom became ill and was placed in a skilled nursing center, I was living alone, and it was unsettling. I had my devoted Toby, but this was unfamiliar territory for both of us. One morning at 1 a.m., my door bell suddenly rang. Toby barked frantically, and of course, I was terrified. I tried peeking through the blinds on my front door but saw no one. Five minutes later the door bell rang again. In a total panic attack, I called Cheryl. Of course I woke her up, but she said she would come right down to my house, and she had her attack Sheltie in tow to protect us both. She came in and we talked, and waited. At long last the coast seemed clear, and Cheryl headed home. The next day, I discovered that my door bell had a short in it. Oh, dear. But I will never forget Cheryl’s kindness to come out in the middle of the night to support a scared friend.

Cheryl did many activities with her Shelties such as obedience, freestyle, and carting. Cheryl’s Sheltie, Banner, was the first Sheltie in the country to earn a carting title. Although Cheryl said she was quiet as a child, I was impressed by her ability to speak to anyone at length, especially about dogs, and it always appeared when they parted as though they were old friends rather than new acquaintances.

Years ago, Cheryl had bred a litter of Shelties, and I was invited to meet them at one week old. When I would gently touch each one it would roll over, and I joked with Cheryl that I had quickly taught each puppy their first trick! My doctor at that time had recently lost her senior Sheltie. I gave her Cheryl’s contact information, and she ended up buying one of these puppies.

Freestyle is the sport of dancing with your dog. It is teamwork at its finest, and beautiful to watch. Cheryl did a freestyle routine to the song, “The Dance,” with her Sheltie, Cody. I am not a fan of country music, but this is such a beautiful song. I would cry each time I watched them perform. The Saturday after Cheryl’s passing, I put this Garth Brooks video on my Facebook page, and I sobbed. This was the most beautiful memory of all. “I could have missed the pain, but I would have missed the dance.”

As with all friendships, Cheryl and I had our differences of opinion. One time, we were heading to the turnpike, and I had my Cairn Terrier, Toby, in the back seat closed in a crate. As the attendant reached out to get my money, Toby went crazy, barking madly and rocking the crate from side to side. The guy looked shocked; “what the heck is in that cage?!” Cheryl commented that she would never let her dog behave in such a way when he was crated. And I told Cheryl that I often traveled alone, and if a strange man was reaching into the car toward me that is EXACTLY how I would want him to act. Cheryl did understand my rationale, and I would later hear her tell others that story.

Months ago, Cheryl disagreed and criticized something I had written in my column. Of course she has every right to do so, but the human side of me was insulted and annoyed by her comments. I fully admit that I have a hard time letting things go and will often take criticism very personally. For years, we would go out nearly every Saturday night with friends. I pulled back for awhile, but then Cheryl began having some health problems, and the weekly gatherings became even more sporadic.

I was able to visit Cheryl in the hospital when she had surgery recently. Little did I know it would be the last I would see her, but I am grateful for this time we had together.

Although my column today was focused on a human, we were united through our love and passion for animals. May you rest in eternal peace, Cheryl Butchko. You will be missed by many.

Dog bless.