I remember my grandparents had a couple of English Setters.  First there was Lady, who was kept outside in a coop year-round… and I seem to remember that Cio Cio Laura (Bobchi’s sister) and Uncle Bob Poirier had another named Junior – and I believe they bred the two… the result of which was Shippan, one of the best dogs I’ve ever encountered.

I was very young when Shippan was born. I remember it was winter. Bobchi would bundle me up like a little Michelin man to go outdoors with Gigi, and I would trundle along behind him and ‘help’ him with his yard chores.

Lady had had an ill-timed litter tha winter, and it wasn’t until some time later that I realized that one of Gigi’s ‘chores’ was to crawl into the coop on his hands and knees, and carefully pull out the puppies that hadn’t survived the night.  He would lay them out on newspaper, wrap them up, then walk to the shed to place them inside (the ground was frozen solid, so he would have to wait until the weather warmed before he could bury them).

One fateful morning, Gigi and I were on our way to the shed, when I asked him what was in the newspaper. He explained the best way he could, but it was very upsetting for me.  I asked to see them, and he carefully opened one package to expose a little frame with blue-tinged skin.  Gigi set the last bundle down on top of the others and walked deeper into the shed to do something else.  I remember not being able to take my eyes off the newspaper.

Then one moved.

Just slightly.

I yelled for Gigi and told him that one had moved.  At the time, I’m sure he was just trying to humor me, but he came over and opened up the paper. The little figure moved again. Just barely.

I started to cry.

We just couldn’t leave this little puppy outside in the shed to die. He was the last one of the litter – and the runt.  Gigi tried to explain that he wasn’t likely to survive since his mother didn’t want to care for him. But I would not be consoled.  So he found an old box and some rags and brought the puppy into the house, placing him in front of the fireplace in the kitchen.  I’m sure he thought that it would only be for a night.  But that night turned into another day. Then another week. Then a month came and went… and it was clear that the little guy wasn’t going to give up so easily.

When it was clear that he was out of the woods, my grandmother asked me what we should call him.  I remember that it seemed obvious – crystal clear -what his name should be.

Shippan.

Later, Bobchi asked me where I came up with the name… to which I apparently replied “I dunno.  Off the top of my head.”

Shipan lived many years – not passing until I was away at college. He lived in the same coop after Lady had passed on, and though he’d never been fixed, he still never left his yard. Instead, patrolling the perimeter every day. Not a single dog was allowed to enter – until Ginger. 

And that’s another story.

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