I had planned to write this week's column about the pros and cons of Shetland versus Welsh ponies, a subject near and dear to my heart. However due to a death in our family, I was unable to do so. I lost my best friend, my work partner, my constant companion of 11 years. We had to put down the greatest dog I've ever known, my precious boy, my Dillon. I had the honor of "owning" him, but he was never my possession; he was my friend.
Many of you, my dear readers, had the joy of meeting Dillon since he greeted everyone who drove onto my ranch with a friendly bark and constant wagging of his little docked tail. He picked "his" children up from school every day with me, from pre-school until four days before he passed, showering them with kisses the minute they got in the car.
Nothing happened on our 40 acres without Dillon knowing about it, from keeping track of his canine sons and teaching them how to be good dogs, to making sure I knew the minute anyone stepped on my property.
Dillon was more than just a beloved family member; he was a working dog and he took his job very seriously. You show me a horse ranch without a working dog and I'll show you an incomplete ranch.
Dillon saved the lives of seven horses that colicked in the middle of the night by coming and getting me. There are a few families in Bear Valley that owe their horses' lives to Dillon without even being aware of it.
He could tell the difference between a sleeping horse and one thrashing in pain. He helped save another nine by keeping them up and walking while I was barely able to put one exhausted foot in front of the other.
When we ran cattle he saved my life by stopping a spooked herd that was running down the roping shoot towards me. I tripped and fell and would surely have been trampled had Dillon, all 65 pounds of him, not stood in front of ten steers and barked and nipped and held them until I climbed out of the way.
Dillon's most remarkable moment was also tragically what shortened his life. Five years ago I was taking my son Finn to Kindergarten and my daughter Catie to pre-school. We were in a terrible car accident; my daughter had a concussion, my son's face was horribly cut and my pelvis and right leg were shattered. Dillon was thrown from the front seat all the way to the ledge behind the children. He was knocked unconscious and we later found out his skull was fractured.
As soon as he regained consciousness, he climbed from the car and positioned himself next to my crushed door. He knew I was hurt and he wasn't going to let anyone hurt me more. In pain and terribly frightened, he refused to leave his place by my side.
He bit two firemen and would not let anyone near me until a ranch hand from home came and got him, allowing the firemen to free me with the jaws of life. I was told when the helicopter lifted off with me in it, he howled for all he was worth, for over an hour.
Unfortunately his head injury caused Dillon to develop glaucoma in both eyes. He went blind 18 months ago and had his left eye removed last October. But he never stopped working, living or loving.
We worked together and I became his eyes, retraining him so he could still get around the ranch, still pick up his kids every day and still go on trail rides every couple of weeks. He could still tell me if a horse was colicky and he never failed to greet his family every morning.
Ten days ago my precious boy had a stroke and I knew that one of the most important souls in my life was leaving me; it was almost too much to bear. But I know that someday, the first voice I'm going to hear when I get to that ranch in the sky is my baby, my partner, my love... my darling boy Dillon. I love you Scrompy. We'll miss you forever. Dillon McDaniel, 2002-2013, RIP.
I'd like to thank Dr. Burt Roe and Dr. Steve Anderson for keeping Dillon in one piece for all these years and Dr. Chris Comeau for helping him pass in a gentle and humane way. Thank you all for being kind, generous and skilled with my boy. I will forever be indebted to you.
KELLY MOLLOY-MCDANIEL is a Tehachapi-based trainer. Please email any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org; follow her on Twitter @SpitCreekRanch #SpitCreekelly