The sunflower queens stood in regal groups at each side of the gate crowned with seeds and ruffles of leaves, their sunny smiles greeting all who entered the garden. A rare July breeze rocked them gently side to side. My dog, Zoey, and I followed the cobblestone path to my chair; where I sat down to survey what needed to be done in the garden. There was weeding, the roses needed feeding, and the droopy heads of the impatiens were impatient for a drink of water.

Zoey plopped down at my feet nudging my hand for a pat on the top of her head. My “shepherd” was a mutt, a mixture of large and medium breed dogs. Her looks favored the German Shepherd, her gregarious nature a Lab, and her need to “be busy” a Border Collie. She looked up at me with marchilite eyes that twinkled with mischief. Her coat was the color of the night sky with the Milky Way scattered across her chest and on the tip of her long black tail the North Star.

Of all summer’s floral bounty, sunflowers were my favorite. I gazed appreciatively at them and thought of their humble beginnings from a single seed that could easily grow into a plant twelve feet high. Grimacing, I remembered that fateful day last summer when Zoey followed me into the garden as she always did. Unbeknownst to me she paused at the stands of sunflowers as if she hadn’t seen them before. I paid no attention, coffee cup in hand enchanted, by a hummingbird drinking nectar from the crimson throat of the lipstick plant. I had no idea what Zoey was up to behind my back.

When I reached for Zoey’s head to give her a morning pat I found only empty air. Turning in her direction I watched in horror as she toppled another crowned head with practiced precision. “No, Zoey,” I cried rushing toward her. She turned and loped toward me wagging her tail giving all that grew a good sweep even if it didn’t need one. She gave me a toothy satisfied grin. Mustard green plant relish drooled from her mouth. She reared her large head, burped, and wiped her chops with a ribbon of pink tongue.

Later when I recounted Zoey’s food fest to family and friends, I imagined the scenario went like this: She stopped to study the plate-sized head of one of the shorter sunflowers poking it curiously with her wet nose. Did it give off a fragrance? It wouldn’t to me, but dogs have a sharper sense of smell than humans. Next she sniffed a floppy leaf and then took a nibble of it. This was followed by another delicious nibble and another until the whole leaf disappeared. Finding the first course up to her canine culinary standards, she opened her crocodile-sized jaws preparing for more delicacies.

Obviously this was acceptable behavior to her human mother because she wasn’t being told “No” repeatedly as if she were jumping on the couch or borrowing a stuffed animal from the little human’s room to play with. Her jaws clamped shut and in one efficient swipe Zoey decapitated the first floppy head: crown, smile and all, leaving only the stalk. The second course was so tasty, she had a third and then, proceeded with another. Would this turn out to be a six course meal? The flowers’ sacrifice was quick and undetected by my human ears. The tabby beneath the giant fern was dreaming and heard not a sound. The Black-eyed Susan watched, too frightened to blink. Would she be next?

Had Zoey mistaken the giant blossoms for golden Frisbees balanced on green beams? Had she thought they were meant for a game of fetch? Had she thought they were unable to fly so, maybe they’d make a great meal? I’m certain the sunflowers never dreamed their crowns would be stolen by a furry thief with teeth sharper than nails.

They expected autumn to arrive in measured steps, bringing colder nights, downpours of rain that softened their leggy stalks, a yellowing of their leaves giving way to burnt sienna and the final free fall into the open arms of earth. All through late August and into October they’d willingly shared their crowns with sparrow, squirrel and jay. Eventually these royals all would bend their heads in reverence to the Mother Earth, no longer needing Father Sun for their next journey. Winter hardened their fleshy stalks to bone that marked their garden resting place. Each spring the seeds, left behind by the birds, sprouted tiny heads poking up from the earth to be warmed by the sun.

After the unfortunate event, I averted my eyes when entering the garden. A week passed and I willed myself to take a closer look. I counted three plants that had made Zoey’s gourmet meal. Several days later, there was a new twist.

While sketching the sunflowers one morning, I noticed a change to those that had been damaged. They’d formed new shoots topped with small fists of green-nubs. Were the plants going to blossom again? Each day I observed their progress. A week passed and a few more. Yes, it looked like the mother plants were each having twins. In late August three sets of twin blossoms greeted Zoey and me at the garden gate. Granted their crowns were smaller than their mothers’ plate-sized ones. But they were perfect just the same.

I am thankful for my shepherd for she never loses her optimism against my downturned face, always gives me a wag of tail, and an endless supply of sloppy kisses. Did she know there were lessons to be learned? That if you share a little you can count on a larger amount being returned and that new beginnings follow losses.

*Zoey passed away on June 6, 2011

Jennifer O’Neill Pickering is a writer and artist. Blooming In Winter is available on Amazon books. Her writing has found homes in many small-print and virtual publications. I Am the Creek is part of the sculpture, Open Circle, California. Her prose appears in The Dog with the Old Soul.