The Fox and the Border Collie
By Terri Florentino
As time went on, Tillie’s social skills slowly evolved. She was more tolerant of people near to her; however if a stranger reached out to touch her, she’d back away and duck behind my legs. Even though she went with me to the training center daily, I thought that perhaps a foster home that offered extra one-on-one time might encourage more social advancement. She knew my parents, their home, and Dusty their goofy, good-natured golden retriever. I gave them a call, and they agreed warmly.
We arrived at my parents’ home in the afternoon. I’d set a few hours set aside to help Tillie acclimate and explain to my parents what type of training she needed.
“It’ll take patience,” I said. “If we can get her to the point that she’ll allow people to approach and not duck and hide, that’ll be an achievement.”
“We have all the time in the world. Not to worry. We’ll take good care of her,” my Mom said, as we hugged goodbye.
The next morning after I’d finished with my first private training lesson I checked my voice mail. I heard my Mother’s voice, and she sounded concerned. “Tillie jumped over the fence and ran off behind house; she’s up on the ridge. I can see her, but she won’t come to me. Call me back as soon as you get this message.”
I immediately called back and told my Mom I was on my way. “Don’t try to catch her. Just keep an eye on her movement.”
An hour later I pulled into my parents’ driveway. My mom met me at the door, “I’m so sorry she flew over the fence. I had no time to stop her,” she said.
“It’s not your fault Mom. She’s like a feral cat. I suspect she’d been on her own for quite awhile before she ended up captured and surrendered to the shelter.”
I stuffed my pockets full of treats and headed up the mountainside. As I made my way along a deer path, I couldn’t see Tillie anywhere. I called to her over and over, but saw no sign of her. As I started to make my way up the steepest part of the ridge Tillie came bounding out of nowhere jumping up wagging her tail and barking. “Silly Tillie, where’ve you been?” I smiled. As I reached out to take a hold of her collar, she leapt back just out of my reach. “Oh, I see we’re playing, ‘catch me if you can.’” (A game I’m not at all fond of).
I sat down and made myself as comfortable as I could on a nearby rock. I reached into my pocket. “Tillie, look here! I have yummy treats.” I extended my hand. She stuck her nose in the air and moved toward me. I opened my hand to expose the now-melting piece of cheese. She leaned in just near enough to snatch it from my hand and scurry out of reach. I’d made no attempt to grab hold of her. I knew what she was up to. I’m smarter than she is, or so I thought. I
I figured I’d wait until she came back several more times. Once she let her guard down, I’d grab her. In theory this technique works rather well; reality proved different. An hour later, defeated, I walked back, leaving Tillie with a belly full of cheese and me with no dog on the end of the leash. Well, at the very least, I didn’t think she’d wander too far, and I knew she had eaten.
“No luck?” my mom said as I came back in the house without Tillie.
“Ms. Independent will have no part of it,” I quipped. “I’ll come back tomorrow and this time I’ll bring her best buddy Scout along. In the meantime please keep a bowl of food and water by the garage so if she comes down off the ridge she can find nourishment.
“I’ll do that, and keep an eye on her as well. Again, I’m so sorry,” my mom said.
“Don’t worry. We’ll get her, Mom. She’s a survivor.”
Late the following morning, Scout and I arrived back at my parents’ home. I had spent the first half of the morning baking real beef liver, and a lot of it, for today’s second round of ‘catch me if you can.’
“Tillie kept us up most of the night,” my mother said grinning mischievously. “And you’re not going to believe me when I tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
“First off, Tillie spent most of the night by the garage.”
“Really, how’d you know that?”
“She set off the sensor for the driveway lights all night long. It looked like a light show in our driveway,” she said. “Then, occasionally she’d bark, and as soon as I’d appear, she’d dash off. She kept this up all night.”
“I’m sorry, you must be exhausted,” I said feeling badly I had asked my parents to take Tillie in the first place.
“Oh, that’s not the half of it,” she said. “Follow me.”
We walked out onto the back deck of her home. “Be very quiet,” she said as she pointed to a specific area on the ridge. “Look right there by that rock wall.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was Tillie lying on top of a large boulder while several young kits frolicked nearby. I watched for several minutes, then gestured for my mom to go back inside. Once in the house I turned to my Mom utterly amazed. “I can’t believe what I’m seeing. Where’s the vixen? I’m amazed she’s allowing Tillie to stay so close.”
“I thought the same thing,” my mom said. “I’ve been watching them most of the morning.”
“This should be interesting,” I said as I filled the treat pouch with the liver and called for Scout to come along.
“Pull up a chair on the back deck, Mom. This should be a good show.”
Scout and I made our way out the door and headed up the ridge towards Tillie and her newfound furry friends. Scout trotted several paces ahead; it didn’t take Tillie very long to join us. She wiggled, jumped, and circled excitedly all around Scout. They stopped to sniff noses, then Tillie took off running back towards the den of foxes. We followed her, but I thought it wise not to get too close to the den, so I found another rock and sat down. Tillie quickly made her way back to where Scout and I had settled. I picked up where I left off yesterday, handing out treats, holding them closer to me each time. Tillie was more comfortable coming close with Scout practically climbing into my lap to get the liver. As I doled out the bits of liver, I glanced off to my right and, peering over the rocks, were the tiny noses of the kits and two adult foxes staring in my direction. I felt uneasy and wondered if being downwind so close to the fox den with freshly baked liver was such a smart idea after all. How hungry were the foxes? Not wanting to get into an altercation with a vixen, I hurried the process along. One for Tillie, one for Scout, each time holding the treat closer and closer. Finally, as I gave another treat to Scout, I grabbed for Tillie’s collar. She lurched back and ran off, darn!
I started walking back to the house, hoping that Tillie might follow along with Scout, and thankfully she did. I paid little attention to her as Scout and I walked into my parents’ open garage, then into my Dad’s workshop that was attached to the garage. I started throwing bits of liver to the far corner in the workshop, and when Tillie trotted into the corner with Scout to eat up the bits of liver, I quickly closed the door. Finally, she was caught! I took a deep breath and let out a huge sigh of relief.
Now, how to get her home?