The Collie is many things; intelligent, graceful, loyal, beautiful. Gentle and engaging, the Collie will steal your heart. Look deeply into our AKC Standard of the Collie and note the fine details of the dog to the standard. Watch the dog engaged in the many performance and obedience events, and herding trials. Marvel at its biddability. But there is a secret place for many where, once a year, Collie enthusiasts from conformation to therapy venues, from performance to rescues, congregate as one united family to our beloved breed—Sunnybank: Home of Lad, and the late Albert Payson Terhune.
During the third weekend in each August, you will find Collies of every size and color gathered at the former home of the author on Pompton Lake in Wayne, New Jersey. To Collie enthusiasts, Terhune Memorial Park is Collie Mecca.
For those unaware of Terhune, Albert Payson Terhune, or “Bert,” made his Sunnybank Collies famous through his magical writings about their character, strength, beauty, and intelligence. Initially a collection of short stories published in various magazines about Terhune’s dog, Lad, a compilation of the stories, was merged into a book in 1919 titled, Lad: A Dog. Additional books came, and woven into them were the tales of Bruce, Treve, Wolf, Gray Dawn, and others. The dogs touched your heart and emotions. They helped to paint vivid pictures in your head. While the physical home of “The Master” and “Mistress,” Anice Terhune, no longer exists, the rolling hills, root cellar, stone sitting walls, arbor, and dog graves remain.
A trip to the Van Riper-Hopper House Museum, also located in Wayne, holds a room full of Terhune treasures, including the bottom half of a dog-scratched Dutch door, Terhune’s typewriter, personal affects, and show ribbons. A bit further down the road is the Pompton Reformed Church in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. There, at the church cemetery, you will find the graves of the Terhunes, various family members, and his property superintendent, Robert Friend.
There is a spirit that resides in the park—or it is just an emotional feeling? It seeps into your soul as you pass through a dull, aged stone wall at the mouth of the tree-lined driveway. The now black-topped driveway gracefully meanders onto a parking area. This is the spot where the house once stood. Facing the lake and to the right of the split rail fence, between The Lookout and where the house once stood, is the grave of Lad.
Outlined in stone, a memorial stone marks his age with an epitaph, “LAD THOROUGHBRED IN BODY AND SOUL 1902-1918.” Other dogs have been buried around Champion Rock. A peaceful walk through the woods will bring you to the graves of other Terhune dogs. The lily pond is filled with soil and greenery. A monument of “Jack,” the pond frog, graces its center. A newer gazebo replaces the original structure. From there you can sit and gaze upon the quiet of the lake. Listen carefully, you might even hear the voices of the dogs whispering through the cool breezes.
For two days in August, the park comes alive and is renewed with Collie activities, picnics, guided tours, and memorial speakers. Therapy dog and CGC is offered on Saturday, with a Collie Puppy Virtues Match and a Lad Match on Sunday. Wandering about the lawns, you come to what was once the rose arbors. Now graced with Wisteria, you are bathed in its warm scent. The “Master” himself would be pleased with the sight of puppies romping exuberantly in exercise pens while older dogs loll in the tranquility of the park. Collies on leash explore the awe of this place; they feel at home here. Itis almost as if they, too, know they belong.
One of the highlights of “The Gathering” is the biennial memorial service. Names of deceased friends, both human or canine, are written on cards and placed along one of the rolling hills. In the background is the “Call of the Piper.” The mournful wailing of a bagpiper stirs your soul, seemingly calling to the slumbering champions from their earth-bound graves!
I wrote of my first memorial experience at Sunnybank: “A lone piper charmed the spirits during the memorial service. The mournful melodies called to the very spirits of the Collies whose bones lie beneath the hallowed earth. Were those brief breezes we felt that day, or the very ghosts of the dogs playing tag with our hearts and emotions? I prefer to think it was the latter.” After numerous visits, I still experience the same sensation each time I step onto the hallowed lawn.
Sunnybank was saved due to the tireless efforts of numerous people who have since passed. Their efforts did not fall to the wayside, but rather, this dedication to Sunnybank has evolved—and is thriving. Those of us who have come to be enchanted by Sunnybank lovingly refer to these keepers of the flame as “Laddicts.” They have made it their passionate mission to keep bright the light that surrounds “The Place.” Through their efforts, in conjunction with the Collie Health Foundation, the magic of Sunnybank will remain as a refreshing look into times past, Collie tradition, and the literature and history of the person and place that understood and revered our magnificent breed.