The Literate Kerry (Vol. 6)

(Albert Payson Terhune was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1872. His family lived in Europe, Springfield, MA and Brooklyn, NY, but it was their summer home in Pompton Lakes, NJ that became famous.

Terhune’s home, Sunnybank, became the setting for most of his books on dogs. Terhune wrote for newspapers, magazines and published over fifty-five books, primarily on his dogs at Sunnybank. One book published in 1919 entitled, Lad, A Dog, is still in print. Although he wrote about his collies, his books talk to all people who own dogs.

Albert Terhune died in 1942. Much of the land once constituting Sunnybank was lost to developers in the 1960′s and the house was demolished in 1969. However, through the efforts of Terhune fans and dog fanciers, the central 9.6 acres was preserved and is now Terhune Sunnybank Memorial Park, administered by the Wayne Township Parks Department.

The passage below is taken from, “Some Sunnybank Dogs.”)

Of all my countless ignorances of dog nature, the densest is his yearning to be near his master or mistress.

I don’t know why my collies will leave their dozing in front of the living-room hearth for the privilege of following me out into a torrent of winter rain. They hate rain.

I don’t know why all folk’s dogs risk gladly a scolding by breaking out of a room or a kennel into which they have been shut, and galloping down the street or over the field to catch up with the master who purposely had left them behind.

Today (for another and non-thrilling instance) I am writing at my hammock desk, a hundred yards or more from the house, Seven dogs are with me. It is a cool, brilliant afternoon; just the weather for a romp. The lawns and the woods and the lake all offer allurement to my collies.

What are the seven doing? Each and every one of them is lounging on the ground, close to the hammock.

Even the crippled and ancient Sandy (Sunnybank Sandstorm) has left the veranda mat where he was so comfortable. To him all movement nowadays is a source of more or less keen discomfort. Yet he limped painfully down the six steps from the veranda to the driveway, and came slowy over to me, as soon as he found I was here; stretching himself at my feet, on bumpy ground much less comfortable than his porch bed. And here for the past two hours he has been drowsing with the others.

Why? I don’t know. There must be some mysterious lure in the presence of their human gods which gives dogs that silly yearning to stay at their sides; rather than to do more amusing and interesting things.

When I chance to go from the house toward the stables, a cloud of the white doves of Sunnybank fly to meet me and to escort me in winnowing flight to my destination. There is no mystery about this semblance of devotion. They know their food box is in a shed there.

The same cause was assignable to the welcoming whinnies of my horses ( when I still kept horses) that greeted me as I passed in through the sable doors in the early morning.

It is the same with the goldfish, when a hundred of them converge in fiery streams to where I halt at the curb of the wide lily pool; and when they wriggle fearlessly in and out among my dabbling fingers. They know – or hope – I am there to feed them.

No, none of those phenomena holds a single half-grain of mystery, any more than does human fawning on a rich relative. But the dogs – mine and everyone’s – stick around where we are and go where we go, through no graft motive at all.

They are absurd enough to want to be with us, and with no hope of reward. That is an impluse I have sought hard and vainly to explain to myself.

Last Updated: 07/06/2004, 9:53 am