Category Archives: Mick of Borderland
As I work with more dogs, I only become more convinced that, as hokey as it is, dogs are people too, and also, (although it’ll raise hackles), people have dog in them too.
Case in point, this year-old foster dog, a Border Collie mix called Baxter. Baxter arrived after several days of travel, long hours in a crate, strange places, people, sounds. His medical records said he arrived at the shelter aggressive and severely emaciated. Most dogs I get after ordeals are withdrawn and hyper-vigilant. Traumatized. They’re refugees from unspoken wars. Until they can trust that they’re safe now, they conceal themselves physically and emotionally. They study my family closely, treading cautiously on the web of our densely-woven household culture. Depending on the severity of their stress levels, which vary not just according to history but toward temperament, it can take days before they relax enough to show me who they really are. It reminds me of children new to a playground, adults new a workplace, a lover new to a family. It shows emotional and social smarts to suss the situation.
Baxter, however, is blessed with such resilience and irrepressible good humor, he leapt from my car into my household with a bounce and a grin. He blew into my dog pack like a young braggart, clapping everyone on the back, telling jarring jokes, and pinching Maisie’s backside with a wink. I thought he was wonderful–who wouldn’t love such big happy eyes and that roguish tail, carried high and always to one side?
My dogs, that’s who. As usual, Mick performed the circle-butt-sniff, wagged, and went back to his deep and serious work of Frisbee retrieval, which immediately rendered Baxter invisible to him. As usual, Spiffy fell madly in love for about a day, until he was convinced the newcomer was not going to be the next Anastasia Steele to his Christian Grey. As for Maisie, her hackles went stegosaurus-high.
Baxter was cheerful, friendly, playful, and polite, but all three of our dogs went cold. They allowed him to enter their ranks as an equal, and they tolerated him, but there was no nose-bumping, head-ducking, tail-wagging, no play bows. I figured it would come. Baxter didn’t mind–he was joyfully oblivious to the chill, and I envied him. I can feel rejected in the most welcoming atmospheres. I come equipped with a factory-installed outcast setting. Not only had Baxter come happily through hardship that traumatizes most, when he rolled over, I saw he was also recovering from a recent neuter. It’s not that he’s stupid. He’s a quick study, as you can see in the training video below. Unlike most characters I know, human and otherwise, Baxter has an unshakable faith in himself, bright as sunshine, untouched by the cloud of anyone else’s frown.
That evening, while we watched television, Maisie didn’t join Mick in the nightly tennis ball marathon. She curled up on the couch between Alby and me. We looked at each other and wondered. The next morning, while we ate breakfast, Maisie didn’t join Mick in the daily dock diving practice. She curled up under the table. We’d never seen her like this, and I began to worry she was ill. Ignoring her body language, Baxter tried to climb on her, I scolded him, he backed off, and Maisie brightened. She felt protected, and by backing off, Baxter gained a little of her trust. Later that morning, I took Maisie and Baxter into the back yard and threw the ball. She retrieved happily, and soon she and Baxter were wrestling. This video was taken that same day:
I’ll never really know what was going through Maisie’s mind the first hours of Baxter’s presence here, other than sexual tension. Perhaps he still smelled of testosterone. Perhaps that hormone is partly responsible for his brio, and it’ll soon subside. Despite his good manners and good sense, perhaps his confidence comes off to his peers as obnoxious. Maybe they just don’t really like him, the same way I sometimes just don’t like someone, even when I want to, even when I have no idea why, and keep trying, and keep trying. Sometimes it’s something superficial and unchangeable, like a grating voice, and other times it’s something beneath my reason, a warning from my gut I should know better than to ignore.
Baxter isn’t without neediness. Although he’s 13 months old, he knows nothing. Not one command. He’s essentially without language. It’s not that he doesn’t know our household protocol, he doesn’t know any household protocol, which is okay; it’s common in fosters. The difference is that his particular combination of ignorance and heedlessness unnerves my Border Collies, who are so very sensitive, sophisticated, and proper, easily anguished by someone else’s blithe blunders, especially in one who lacks the puppy excuse. Other dogs come who know nothing, but this one doesn’t seem to care.
But he does care. He’s so merrily assertive, it’s easy to forget he was recently starving to death. He craves constant interaction. Naturally stoic, he doesn’t show his anxieties except when I want to toss him in a crate or leave him outside to romp with my dogs a little while. Separation anxiety runs deep in him. Left outside, even in the calm, sane, and agreeable company of my dogs, Baxter wails as if reliving the Tet Offensive. Indoors in a crate, however, he trusts I’ll return. He still doesn’t like it. He resists. He has to be grabbed and wrestled into the crate, and that’s no way to live.
I launched a training campaign to help him: “Make Your Crate a Happy Place.” The techniques involve simple recoding of the crate. Instead of solitary confinement, it’s a cozy, private place to enjoy treats and alone time. Helping him learn to accept his crate time reminds me of the years I had a long and hateful commute. I couldn’t live shut up in the car for hours every day like that, but I had to. Then I discovered I could borrow books on tape at the library. Soon I treasured my hours sipping coffee and rolling in the pre-dawn dark listening to tales well told. When I arrived, I lingered in parking lots and driveways until not the journey but the paragraph came to an end.
Maybe there’s a place your dog resents and resists, like the bathtub or the car, and this video can help. If there’s a place you hate but have to go, (e.g. a committee meeting, the laundromat, your own home), maybe watching how Baxter’s learning to love his crate, you’ll see a way to toss yourself “treats” and ease your hours. What it really involves is a little planning, a little prevention, and a tweak in attitude. Doesn’t matter if you’re a dog. Sometimes taking the edge off a place can give you the mental space to figure your way out of it altogether. Once he learns how to be a house dog, Baxter won’t need the crate so much anymore. And I found a way to move closer to my job so I didn’t have to commute anymore. I do, however, miss those books on tape.
If you like this post, please follow Lisa Lanser Rose and The Border Collie Inquisitor. If you like the videos, please follow the Youtube Channel, Mick’s Tricks. It’s the little things that make us big. Thank you!
From what I hear, it isn’t enough for a writer to sit around writing alone. You have to force yourself to become an extrovert and network and platform and find ways to reclaim your introverted self in a snap and write in the cobwebby corners of your now extra-hectic life. If you’re like me, and find all that self-promotion queasy and sleazy, you find ways to promote not yourself but other people and passions you share. So I’ve been busy working behind the scenes on The Gloria Sirens, plugging away on Mick’s book, and letting Mick take me out in the world. He’s three now, going on four, and doing well. He’s a big brother to Maisie now, and he’s herding sheep, working his way through agility, counseling foster dogs, and helping me teach tricks at the Upper Suncoast Dog Training Club. With Mick and Maisie’s help, (they are working dogs, you know), I’ve braved the Youtube world, stumbling my way through videotaped tricks training lessons without knowing a thing about framing, lighting, editing, or sound. But it’s going all right (even though all of this is more and more unpaid work, such is the madness of love). I’m doing it because Mick’s tricks saved Mick’s life and I want to share what we learned so that your love for your dog might grow a little more fierce, a little more sweet, and a little sillier too. And we aren’t alone.
Trick training is an easy, convenient way to interact with your dog anywhere, anytime, and all you need are some treats and some know-how. Perhaps your dog is easily bored, or seems a little depressed, or distant. Maybe your dog’s been naughty, or you’ve grown discontent with your relationship for some reason–too much toilet-paper shredding, chronic weave-pole refusal, or a pathological Minecraft addiction (yours or your dog’s).
Maybe you’ve got a service dog and a few tricks would add so much charm. Imagine if your dog could shake a dialysis patient’s hand, give a child with leukemia a high-five, or even pray with patients?! Maybe you have an awesome agility or obedience dog but you’re both getting bored, or strained, or you want something you two can do in the living room without breaking a lamp.
Maybe you have multiple dogs and one’s been neglected. Maybe it’s your new puppy. Maybe it’s your retired agility or herding star, and you’re weary of feeling harried and sad. Well, if you can, shut the other dogs away for a few minutes right now. This is quality time to cherish your friend.
Get down on the ground and join us for some sweet interaction with your best friend. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned dog trainer, learning some charming tricks together can deepen your bond and soften your soul.
Or even give you some great new ideas and a belly laugh.
All it takes is two- to ten-minute sessions, your call. If you’re worried about overfeeding, you can use your dog’s regular food. If you hate how expensive dog treats have gotten, you can cut up some hotdogs or cheese or even use plain popcorn–stop making excuses and be creative! If your dog isn’t food-motivated, get a new squeak or tug toy and use it just for Tricks training–a special toy for a special time. And you don’t have to go it alone. You can work along with me on the Youtube channel or with other beginners in our Facebook group, Mick’s Tricks Spark Team.
The point is to share a goal with your dog. You two are in cahoots. Together you’re gonna nail roll over. Or you’re finally going to have a dog that can sit up and beg because it’s so darn cute and makes for great photos. Whatever your heart’s desire, this is one-on-one time. Eye-to-eye, here-and-now time. Low-pressure, high-value happiness time. It’s mindful moments you share with your best friend. It proves to the both of you that you are there–really there–for your dog. It doesn’t matter what the trick is or how quickly your dog learns it. All that matters is joy in your short time together.
That’s why every trick is magic.
- Somebody on Facebook whom I’ve never met in person asked me if I’d help foster a puppy. I said maybe, but I sure better talk to my husband first! The next thing I knew she was sending me a whole litter. It’s the damnedest thing–it didn’t even occur to me to say no. Do you think I had a mini-stroke? What are the symptoms? Maybe it never really happened. Do you smell smoke? I better go lie down. They’ll be here Saturday.
- In a weak moment, I’d gotten a enormous bucket of fried chicken. I was looking for a place to pull over and eat it when I saw this mob of desperate homeless people on the roadside with four fires, four spits, and four puppies. I got there just in time! I gave them the chicken in exchange for the puppies’ lives.
- I was out in the backyard, when the ground shook, and I saw this hole, like a den. And one by one, these puppies popped out! I waited for their mother, but no sign of her. And then out of nowhere, the earth shook, and the hole closed up. It was awful! I hope the mother wasn’t still in there! Didn’t you feel the tremors? I’m sure the it’ll be on the news tonight.
- I was driving back from coffee with a friend when this bright light blinded me, and the car stalled. Through the glare I could make out this huge tubular silver shape overhead. I thought it must be a drone, but then there was this bald creature with huge eyes, and-and-and an anal probe–I was terrified! I must’ve passed out. When I came to, I was still in my car–and dressed, thank God. I thought it was all a freaky dream, but then I heard whimpering in the back seat, and there were these three puppies! Do you think they might be aliens?
- I was in the mall and this guy wearing a turban with a sickle-moon pin on it came up to me and gave me three wishes. I was thinking about whether I should ask for world peace,a press pot, or unlimited funding for public radio when I laughed and said, “Wow, I’m such a yuppie.” He said, “Done!” and vanished. There I stood in the middle of the mall with three puppies in my arms.
On the eve of the new year, Terri and I want share with you this surprising article that conveys the big picture: love for dogs and everyone who loves them.
Happy New Year. Be safe! Be good! Have fun! Love big!
In Defense of Dog Breeders
by urban fantasy author and rescuer, Michele Lee
I’m a part of the rescue community here in Louisville. That’s a really loaded statement. There’s a lot of issues I have with some of the people and ideas I run into. One example is the rescue world’s view of dog breeders. Some people blatantly say silly things like “I wish all dog breeding would be banned” or “We should punish breeders.” Continue reading
Here’s an excerpt from my manuscript BORDERLAND: A DOG, A LOVE, A DOUBLE-HELIX (or I might call the book AWESOME DOG, not sure). Anyway, the passages come late the book, from chapter eight, “Magic Tricks for Puppies.”
What you need to know:
I had spent two years searching for my “soul dog,” the dog most perfect for me, and I found Mick, a Border Collie puppy. I was also writing a book about Border Collies, and Mick was supposed to be the happy ending. Shortly after I brought him home, he began to wither away–and so did my writing career. At nine months of age, Mick ended up in intensive care, dying of a disease no vet could diagnose.
In my manuscript, meditations on the power of language interlace with hospital scenes while the vets and I fight for my puppy’s life:
Enchant. En-, upon or against, chant, to sing, “to sing against,” to influence. Enchant has the same root as “incantation,” which is to chant magical words in order to put a spell upon, to bewitch. Bippity-boppity-border-collie. The word “charm,” also shares the same root, Latin, canare, (canary!) meaning “to sing.” A charm is an object, action, saying, or song with magical power. Puppy.
The next morning, I woke before dawn to what might be called “a panic attack,” and called the vet. The good news was that Mick’s GI tract had begun to function again. The bloat was over. He was eating small amounts of Science I/D. The bad news was septicemia. They’d given him a blood transfusion and begun aggressive antibiotic treatments.
Despite his high fever, he was more alert. They let me take him out of his crate and walk him around Intensive Care. Hunched and uncertain, he stepped gingerly. He stood with his head low, blinking like Rip Van Winkle. My cell phone kept lighting up with notifications from his Facebook family wanting updates on Mick. “His fever’s come down a little,” I wrote. “His mind is clearing. They let me take him out of his cage.”
I posted photos of Mick greeting the tiny Yorkie with a cone around her neck and a bow in her hair, the beautiful black-and-white Border Collie posed as if for a hearth photo on a white towel, the matted Pomeranian who wouldn’t stop yapping. Their gaze and movements showed that none felt so sick as Mick did, and his chemistry profiles bore out the danger he carried inside him. Among humans, sepsis is the leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals. It kills within hours. It causes chills and confusion, and Mick shivered, but he did not seem confused. He moved solemnly from cage to cage. Hello, hello. Good-bye, good-bye. His neck had been shaved and thickly bandaged to protect his blood transfusion port. He bowed his head to each of his fellow patients, swished his tail, averted his gaze just enough. “It’s okay,” he seemed to say, with a kind of graciousness you wouldn’t expect from one so young, from one so not-human. “You’ll be okay,” he told them.
The nurses took notice.
Spell. The origin of the word “spell” has nothing to do with the so-called correct sequence of letters to make up a word. It comes from the Old English, spellian, meaning “to talk,” “to announce,” the same root as gospel, godspell, “the good news.” In its noun form, it still means “to speak,” only “spell” also indicates a sequence of words or syllables that, if uttered or written in the proper sequence, are themselves an act of magic. Hyperbilirubinemia, hypoalbuminemia! Sometimes spells hide within spells. They breach the membrane between witchcraft to religion: open sesame (from the Hebrew sem name, “in the name of Heaven”), hocus pocus (from the Latin Mass, hoc est corpus, “This is my body,” a magic spell that, presto change-o, turns bread into the meat of Christ); abracadabra, (from the Aramaic אברא כדברא, meaning “I create as the word creates,” or Hebrew, “It came to pass as it was spoken”), reminiscent of the Fiat Lux, from Genesis 1:3 “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” What the Creator decrees, He creates. The Fiat Lux is the original magic spell. The entire universe sprang from a magic word, which probably wasn’t “Big” and wasn’t “Bang.” If we knew what The Word was and we said it, what would happen? Would it tear us in half? Rumpelstiltskin.
Two nurses knelt and offered Mick tiny wet meatballs of dog food. He took them gently. If they knew him like I knew him, if they even knew him half so well as his Facebook friends knew him, would it make a difference?
“Can you say, ‘Thank you?’ Mick?” I said. “Shake.” And he did. Such a simple trick.
Trick, from the Old French, trique, meaning “deceit, treachery.”
The nurses lit up. They smiled at me. Never was Mick in more danger, yet suddenly, they no longer gave him up for dead.
He was too weak for most of his tricks. I had to show the nurses not just that he was in there, but who was in there. “He knows a lot of tricks. Hold up your hand like this,” I said, just the way I told little children. The one nurse held up the palm of her hand. Now say, “Touch.”
Head low, ears flopped to the side, Mick bumped her palm with his nose. She lit up again, just like little children do. He was keen, looking in her eyes, looking in mine. “Trick,” from the Latin tricari, meaning “to be evasive, to shuffle.”
“He’s so smart!”
“Flick your hand like this and say, ‘spin.’”
She did, and, still too tired to lift his own ears and tail, bandaged and weighted by the heart monitor strapped to his middle, Mick turned a little circle.
“Oh, my God!” the nurses gasped.
He loved their astonishment. He ate up their wonder. He wagged and dropped onto his side, clattering over his heart monitor. He gave them his shaved and bony belly to rub.
If they saw how extraordinary he was, saw him the way I did, maybe they’d care more, from the Old English carian, “to be anxious, to grieve.” I said, “Did you see the cross on his forehead?” An illusion, from the Latin, illusionem, “to deceive, to play with.”
Now, they hadn’t noticed, but now they saw it. They marveled.
“Of course he strolled around hitting on the nurses.” I later wrote to his Facebook friends. “He went from patient to patient, offering each an encouraging wag. He was particularly interested in what the other Border Collie was in for.”
“Trick,” from tricæ, meaning “trifles, nonsense, a tangle of difficulties.”
The familiar, if tedious, word grammar meant, back in the twelfth century, “learning, knowledge,” and by the fifteenth century, that learning included “magic, alchemy, astrology, even witchcraft,” wrote Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies (3). By the seventeenth century, in Scotland the word evolved into glamor, meaning “magical enchantment, charms, and spells.” The word eventually included the spell cast by beauty. “The bridge between the words glamour and grammar is magic,” writes Clark. “In popular gothic stories detailing the misadventures of witches and vampires, the word glamor (without a u)—as both a noun and a verb—describes a magic spell that puts someone in a trance or makes a person forget” (3).
The nurses forgot who he’d been to them before. Even so diminished, he was charming them. “Maybe you’d like a little walk outside?” said one nurse in her best baby talk.
Mick and I went into a small, muddy back yard. He knew the yard, I could see, he’d been in it without me. He walked a few steps, sniffing the ground. He squinted into the bright shade. Somehow, more than the fluorescent lights, the outdoors showed how dead he nearly was, bony shoulders poking through his yellow mesh tee-shirt, the yellow tube snaking from his nostril. The earth would have little to reclaim. Perhaps his performance had exhausted him, or the slight breeze was too much for his thin coat and high fever. Afterwards I posted, “Then he went out for a snuffle around the backyard of the hospital, sneezed, and asked me, ‘Do I have something on my nose?’” Publicly cheerful, I didn’t want the Facebook chorus to despair. If they lost faith, who would pray for Mick? With some effort, he climbed back onto the doorstep and turned to look at me, the very picture of misery and defeat. Hating myself a little bit, I took that picture too; something about it was truer than the others, the limp ears, the yellow tube, the heavy head, the world-weariness on the face of a creature who still had yet to hit puberty, and the strange cross stamped on his brow clear in the light he could not bear.
“He’s ready to come in,” I said.
Prayer, too, is magic, from the Latin precari, “to ask, to petition, to beg.” The word “precarious” has the same root, meaning “to be dependent on someone else’s will.” Thy will be done. “Curse,” from the Old English, curs, is just another kind of prayer, one begging evil to befall someone. For good or evil, prayer is a form of spiritual begging, and its power increases according the goodness of the prayer, the desperation and/or selflessness of the supplicant, and/or the number of supplicants all pleading the same plea, prayer chains and prayer requests, palanca, the lever, a rigid bar and pivot point and the cumulative force of supplicants moving the hand of God, the Great Puppet. Prayers often operate on the assumption that God, like an irascible genie or a worn-out dad, will break down and grant the noisiest wish, clamor, a call, an outcry, a plea, a claim, “to demand by virtue or right.” In some ways, prayer is sorcery, which influences fate by “sorting” lots, from the Old English hlot, meaning “portion, decision, choice,” deciding who should live, who should die, who should rise again. He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. Please, Lord. If You please. If it please You.
“He seems a little better,” I said, more as a question.
“He’s better when you’re here,” said the one nurse. “It makes a difference. Nobody else visits their animals.”
The other nodded.
“You’re kidding me.” I couldn’t imagine other people didn’t visit their pets. How could that be? But I realized, every time I’d been in that back room, I was the only person who didn’t work there.
“I have to come,” I said. “How else could I talk to him?” I was addicted to canine conversation, and Mick was my best partner. Who else would half-climb into his cage and whisper, “Come, Mick,” to make him see himself trotting toward me across our lawn? Who else would say, “Let’s go to school. Is that Minnie?” so his tail swished? That was how I conjured Minnie, from the Latin, coniurare, meaning “to swear together, to conspire, to command a demon by invocation or spell, to cause to appear in the mind, to call into existence as by magic.” I would whisper into his ear, “Let’s go upstairs,” and so raise our staircase in his mind. When I said, “Mew,” at the same pitch Audrey said it, Mick raised his eyebrows. His brain filled with the scent, sight, and sound of cat. That’s how I sent his mind’s nose scent-searching for her fluffy butt. “Let’s go downstairs. Want to go outside? Let’s get your collar, put your paws up, paws up, where’s your Frisbee?” Live, keep living, come home, Mickey, come forth! Only in the flesh could I perform this magic, be the magician, from the word Magi, the three wise men, followers of the order of the Magus Zoroaster, Magus Magusian, those who brought gifts to the baby Jesus and gifted us with the word “magician.”
I said, “Mick, my good boy,” from the Old High German guot, meaning “fit, suitable, belonging together.” Stay with me.
“Talk to him,” my stepfather’s hospice nurse had said. “He can still hear you.”
And so as John died, my mother and I spoke of Yosemite, his favorite place on Earth, the soaring vault of Half Dome, the dizzy view from Glacier Point, the summer snow, the sound and the scent of mist at the base of Bridalveil Falls, and the cry of coyotes against the valley walls. With a mighty spell my mother and I conjured Yosemite and teleported him there, but his backyard would have been good enough. If John were to have opened his eyes, he’d have seen the breeze tousle dappled shadows and light. Everywhere the confetti of flowers flew. Bluebirds and goldfinches sailed, blue and yellow, to and fro.
“I have to go,” I said to the nurses. “But before I do, Mick wants to show you one last trick. It’s just a trick, you know. But it’s all he’s got.”
And they agreed to see it. So I took a bit of the food, showed it to Mick, and said his name. Still squinting, he locked eyes with me, because he was keen, because he was biddable, because he was brave, because he was still Mick. I leaned forward and offered my arm for him to put his paws up. He was still game, even when his packed blood cell count was down to eighteen percent. With effort, he stood on his hind legs and placed his front paws on my forearm.
“Say your prayers.”
He bowed his head between his paws. Mick and I froze, and the tableau planted itself in their minds: the brave and dying puppy bowed in prayer. Unseen but right out in the open, I slipped him the treat under my arm.
“Oh!” cried the nurses. They marveled at what they had beheld, and pondered it in their hearts.
Here’s a little overachiever story about Halloween in Pennsylvania, raising a daughter alongside two dogs, sewing the perfect costume, carving the perfect pumpkins (that’s right–plural!), and wondering what it all means.