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Border Collie Inquisitor
Sheep in the Winter Night
by Tom Hennen
Inside the barn the sheep were standing, pushed close to one
another. Some were dozing, some had eyes wide open listening
in the dark. Some had no doubt heard of wolves. They looked
weary with all the burdens they had to carry, like being thought
of as stupid and cowardly, disliked by cowboys for the way they
eat grass about an inch into the dirt, the silly look they have
just after shearing, of being one of the symbols of the Christian
religion. In the darkness of the barn their woolly backs were
full of light gathered on summer pastures. Above them their
white breath was suspended, while far off in the pine woods,
night was deep in silence. The owl and rabbit were wondering,
along with the trees, if the air would soon fill with snowflakes,
but the power that moves through the world and makes our
hair stand on end was keeping the answer to itself.
courtesy of today’s Writer’s Almanac
by Judy Bonner
“Can your dog come over?”
The words refocused my attention to Gracie. We were at the vet’s check-out window, paying the bill. Gracie was tethered to a hook under the window.
I looked down at Gracie. Her eyes were dancing, her lips in a puckered up smile, her butt wiggling. Gracie loves people, especially children. Who was now the apple of Gracie’s eye?
I looked up. There was a woman at the next check-out window. She again asked if my dog could come over. Why not, I thought. But wait, what is that in her hand? A leash? My eyes narrowed in on that leash, following it down to the floor. Sure enough, it attached to a dog sitting tightly next to the woman’s legs, a dog not much bigger than Gracie.
Okay, take a step back, I thought to myself. I stood in front of Gracie. For as much as Gracie loves people, she is cautious around other dogs.
Gracie did not play with other puppies at break time in kindergarten class; she preferred a side seat with a good view instead. She made friends at our group dog training classes, but certainly not at the first class. She came to enjoy a good one-on-one play with her favorite friends. On her short list were a Golden Retriever, a Great Dane, a Cocker Spaniel, a Basset Hound, and a Wheaton Terrier, the only female in her circle of pals.
Otherwise, Gracie generally offers up calming signals to most dogs in her path…turning her head, sniffing the ground, making a C-curve, changing direction, all to avoid a face-to–face encounter. She is now a four-year-old Border Collie. I have one finger left on each hand to add to my count of dogs Gracie has shown a great displeasure of their presence and behaviors.
The woman, probably noticing my hesitation, went on to say her dog was a rescue, living with her four years now. “It’s only in the last year that I can pick up a broom without her running behind a door. This is the first time she has shown ANY interest in another dog.” Four eyes were pleading with me–the dog’s and her owner’s.
No words from Gracie. I glanced down at her. Hmm . . . now a sitting wiggle-butt. “It is up to Gracie.” I gave Gracie permission to “go visit,” thinking she would head straight for the woman, ignoring the dog. Nope. Gracie walked softly and slowly over to the dog. They touched noses and started sniffing each other’s muzzle and face. Good so far, but dogs in her face is something Gracie will tolerate but does not enjoy. Best not to push our luck. “Good girl, Gracie,” I said. “All done. Let’s go now.” Gracie returned to my side.
“Thank-you” the woman said. I smiled and nodded. Back to business. I signed the credit card slip, gathered all my papers together, and looped Gracie’s leash in my hand. We headed to the exit door.
“Can she come over one more time?”
I turned around. “It is up to Gracie,” I said. Gracie was once again doing her sitting wiggle-butt. “You can go visit.” I touched her head as she glided past me to the other dog. I let them greet each other longer this time before calling Gracie back to me.
The woman started crying. “You don’t know how much this means to me,” she said, kneeling down to hug her dog. “This is the first time I’ve seen her really happy.” The dog snuggled into her owner’s embrace.
Tears welled up in my eyes as Gracie and I tuned around to leave. I’d had dogs my whole life. My journey with Gracie was unlike any other. This was another entry into my journal of living with grace.
An Explorer Extraordinaire
by Wendy Drake
After I spent a day in Cooperstown meeting relatives who’d known my grandfather, many more side paths tempted me. I wanted to know more about these new-to-me relatives, Hugh and Eleanore. Eleanore also played piano and had learned from my grandfather’s sister, Lucy. I wanted to spend more days at the Inn at Cooperstown, which had been the Cooke (my maiden name) family home from 1893 – 1974. Further, Charles’ book held themes, which resonated for my running.
Charles had compared piano practice to being fanatic about healing fractures. Using a bone healing analogy throughout his book, he suggested bracketing the portions of a piece of most frustration to a pianist, practicing them over and over, until mastered. Years may pass, he acknowledged, but the pleasure derived in the process and the strength of the bone at the fracture make the whole piece stronger than it ever would have been without the work.
After healing from three fractures in my feet and many shredded body parts from tripping and falling on trails, I understood that, with work on specific weaknesses like downhill footwork or running uphill, I could get stronger and stronger in my running. After failing to find a path with the letters so many times and continuing to practice with them, I felt my story becoming stronger. I also felt a connection to Charles through my practice. I wondered if Louise had this lifelong relationship with her piano playing as well. I wanted to indulge the endless side paths to which I was being introduced.
While I didn’t want to leave Cooperstown, a puppy awaited my arrival. I reluctantly retreated from these new paths to proceed onto the one I’d planned. It was time to meet Terri and the team of people who surrounded Wee with infinite puppy love. As the miles increased on my journey toward Wee, so did my excitement. By the time I met Terri, I could hardly wait to meet him. When I finally did, he seemed as eager to greet me as his brother Ace, who was twice Wee’s size.
The afternoon flew by too quickly. Terri took me to lunch with Megan, who’d cared for Wee with two of his siblings, Brea and Ace. We talked about the dogs. I wanted to know everything possible about Wee. Terri had checked every medical and behavioral box and more for Wee, her first runt. We talked about Megan’s upcoming wedding, the book Terri was writing, and mine too. She mentioned several times in passing a writer named Lisa in Florida. The depth of their friendship would not become clear to me until months later. Wee, Jorge, and I’d come to know her better through her border collie, Mick, who was two weeks younger than Wee. It turned out to be Mick who would have the unpredictable health problems I’d feared for Wee. While we would have our share of health scares with Wee, the biggest problem we’d have was keeping what came out the other end solid.
After lunch, we returned to Megan’s home for the beginning of tearful goodbyes, but not before a final play date between Scout, Brea, Ace, and their dam (mother) Echo. In a short twenty-minute play session, I took over ninety photos and a video. I didn’t want the day to end, but Wee and I had already scheduled his first adventure: a plane ride.
We made one last stop at the Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center (VREC) so that caregivers like Ashley (left) and Jen (right) could say good-bye to Wee too. Wee’s mom Echo also came along to say bon voyage to her youngest and smallest pup. Then it was time for Terri.
I doubt I could ever be a breeder. Letting puppies go over and over would be impossible for me. Because this pup in particular had worried Terri for weeks, it was especially hard for her to let him go. Is there ever love without worry though? I doubt it. Terri’s tears tugged at me, and I found myself wanting to ease any additional lost sleep.
“I’ll keep you updated. He’ll have a Facebook page as soon as we decide on his Colorado name.”
And just like that, the Wee pup became Mr. Explorer Extraordinaire. Terri helped me tuck him into the carrier, which would fit under the seat in front of me on the plane. Never would the Wee pup ever fly in cargo. I might have been more demanding on this point than Terri.
The first flight was short and uneventful. I expected some whimpering, but Wee had perfect manners. We arrived in Philadelphia and made our way through a crowded airport. Wee was a star everywhere. He was attracting so much attention that my good friend Jennifer, who goes by “Ifer,” couldn’t miss us. She’d been consulting in Philly that week. We collapsed into each other’s arms with hugs and girlie exclamations over Wee.
“Are you headed to or from Boulder?”
After realizing we were on the same flight, Ifer hurried with me to check-in and upgrade her seat. I’d splurged in Pennsylvania at the airport for Wee’s first big plane flight to be extra special and we were flying business class. It paid off. The flight attendant not only kept Ifer and me giddy with red wine, but also instigated us to take Wee out of his crate for the entire flight. He wiggled around my lap and gave everyone kisses, something he still does today.
I don’t remember how we decided to give Wee the name “Scout.” I think I first heard the name when Terri mentioned one of her dogs, who was named Scout. Wee seemed to want to explore everything when he arrived home, so Scout Explorer Extraordinaire seemed a good fit. After we watched “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I was sure. Both Jorge and I love to go on adventures and we were hopeful Scout would go with us too.
In the year since he’s been with us, he’s documented all his adventures on his Facebook page, Scout, Explorer Extraordinaire. He never warmed my feet as I’d hoped when I wrote. I suppose those days may be ahead when Mr. Scouty boy mellows a bit and I make the time for the second book about the letters. We’ve had some rough spots where he was sick, once with kennel cough and a few times with things we never did figure out. He destroyed shoelaces (on our running shoes) and offered up a few baseboard corner casualties. Like Sadie’s those repairs will likely be de-prioritized for years. One of the most disappointing was being suspended from herding school. Scout had been doing well, but I’d not worked with him long enough on attention to give him a fair shot. When he bit a goat, Cathy, his handler, suggested he needed “some time.”
Scout did and does, however, accompany Jorge and me all around Boulder getting love and praise for his good behavior. At the post office, he’s allowed to “paws up” to the counter. We send copies of my first book, Running to Thousand Letters, about what happens when I open 100 of the 1,000 letters. He pokes around McGuckin, the local hardware store, for project stuff and obeys “lie down” for treats. He’s taken a few plane rides with us and had lots of training at the Boulder Valley Humane Society. He even goes to work with me now that I’m working in downtown Boulder at a startup. We stop at The Unseen Bean, a coffee shop run by a blind man and his canine helper dog. The Unseen Bean has Scout’s favorite treats and mine too: dirty Bhakti Chai (chai with espresso shots). That’s a treat for both of us as is running up Sunshine Canyon trail for our four-mile mid-day workout.
We still have yet to get Scout on regular long weekend runs with us. First, we have to learn recall together in order to earn his “Green tag,” granted for Boulder dogs, who’ve pass a program for good off-leash behavior. Terri tells me it takes a solid two years to get recall consistently. Scout does pretty well especially if I have the Chuck-It ball Megan sent for his first birthday.
Second, Scout continues to learn that biting our feet while we run is not cool. Both Jorge and I have learned new hopscotch-like foot moves when Scout goes for our shoes instead of running with us. Even so, his longest recorded run was thirty-one miles late this summer. For a few days after that run, every time we’d put our shoes on, he’d self-crate himself. I suspect we overdid him that day. It seems four-to-six miles is his preferred, non-meltdown distance.
The Wee pup’s story has a happy ending. From twelve-and-a-half pounds at the airport when we left, he’s now a healthy thirty-five pounds. Wee became Scout who is a classic Boulder dog, growing up outside and playing in the mountains. He asked for a GPS watch for Christmas. You can follow how that works out for him at facebook.com/explorerscout.
My One and Only Online Crush
by Wendy Drake
And what an adventure Wee and I have had in our year together here in Colorado. I never would have believed it. Writing a book about unfolding 1,000 letters I bought at an estate sale in 1997 led to the joy of waking up every day to a black ball of fur demanding massages and kisses before he will get out his queen-sized bed. Guests sleep on the couch. Yes. Border collies are the smartest dogs on the planet.
In the Fall of 2012, I was deep into research for my book, Running to Thousand Letters. In 1997, on an impulse I’d bought 1,000 letters at Louise Palmer’s estate sale. Louise’s love of piano (it was her vocation) had triggered one of the many side-paths I indulged as I began unfolding these letters. The one I was following when I committed to adopt Wee was learning about my paternal Grandfather, Charles, a self-described amateur pianist who lived in Cooperstown, New York, less than a two-hour drive from Terri.
I’d also just begun training again for long distance running in the foothills of the
Rocky Mountains here in Boulder, Colorado, my home. For me there is nothing more fulfilling than a day on the trails. I didn’t start out being an endurance runner. I just wanted to be in the mountains, climbing to the top, looking off in the distance toward another end that is really just another beginning, and exploring new paths.
Even the trails couldn’t fulfill me entirely though. Something was missing. It had been almost two years since my seventeen-year-old fur-child, Sadie, died. She is a soul who will never leave me, the partner who lived longer than she should have, and one of a few beings who stops my heart because she left. I wondered if I could ever offer the love I had for her again.
It had been seven years since Freeway died in 1995. Freeway had been a border collie, so I had a good idea of how much exercise and how many tennis balls his breed would require. Among the most intelligent dogs, border collies learn quickly and it’s important to constantly keep their minds busy with new games to avoid spontaneously exploding couches.
I’d planned to adopt two thinking they could keep each other busy. Mostly though, I wanted dogs that would match my energy. They had to be able to run the thirty to forty miles a week on average (sometimes as many as fifty to sixty during peak weeks) I ran training for long distance endurance runs. They also had to have an “off” button and settle down when I sat down to write for four to six hours a day.
Sometimes plans are pointless.
I intended to adopt two- to three-year-old dogs and had seen what seemed like every single available border collie rescue in the prior six months. So had all my Facebook friends. One, Brenda, connected me to Terri in Pennsylvania.
I wavered a bit about traveling to adopt a dog; there are plenty of high-energy dogs at home in Colorado. Freeway had been a rescue; Sadie a Humane Society girl. Occasionally the Humane Society advertised a border collie too, but in months of looking I hadn’t seen two in time to adopt them.
“Would you be interested in my Wee pup?” Terri had asked.
I did a double-take. What? A puppy? I was looking for grown dog, preferably two, who could run with me . . . now. I had organized marathon distance training into my weekends and had committed to my first 100k (sixty-two miles) in May 2013. A puppy couldn’t run long distance for about a year and this one, I learned, might have special needs.
Had I remembered how time-consuming the first months of a puppy’s training can be, I would have declined. Sadie had arrived home about the same age as Wee, eleven weeks, in 1994. She ate several of my favorite shoes; not both shoes, just one of many pairs. She gnawed on baseboards whose repair was de-prioritized for years. Once, I’d left her in her crate while I was out because I’d read it was the right thing to do. Sadie would allegedly love it, and if I put something that smelled like me with her, her separation anxiety, which was intense, would be abated.
Sadie hated the crate. I picked an object that had eight hours a day of my smell to leave with her: my favorite feather pillow. Her crate was super-sized anticipating her growth into the seventy-five pounds she became. The feather pillow fit perfectly in the floor space. When I left, Sadie was curled up on it. When I returned home all I could see was her snout poking through the wire door, feathers billowing out like a wild ticker tape parade in my dining room. She never went in the crate again.
When I saw Wee’s pictures, none of Sadie’s puppy years upstaged his adorableness. He captured my heart, and I fell in love, my one and only online crush.
If I hadn’t pulled up a Google map of Terri’s location, I doubt I would have committed to her offer. When I realized she was within a two-hour drive of Cooperstown, New York, and other unlikely connections to the my research triggered from the letters fell into place, it seemed destiny that I would adopt him.
Terri and agreed I’d pick the Wee pup up during the first week of November just after my first long race since my injuries – the Moab Trail Marathon in Utah.
I had a few weeks to puppy-proof the house. Friends let me borrow crates for the car, bedroom, and my home office. I unboxed dog bowls, food containers, and dog gates. I bought puppy supplies for the inevitable accidents. I downloaded the latest puppy books and worried about not having time to read them cover to cover reminding myself how to be an awesome dog mom again with all the current methods ready to go. By November seventh, two days after finishing the marathon, I continued along the path of distraction trusting my intuition but having no idea what connection existed between Cooperstown, Wee and the letters . . .
Wendy Drake is a writer and an adventurous endurance athlete, a 20+ year veteran of the computing industry, and Chief Human to Scout, a border collie online when his human isn’t hogging the computer. (Facebook.com/explorerscout)
Wee’s First Hours
by Terri Florentino
“I think she’s having another puppy!”
“Another?!” My friend Megan had been helping me to whelp the litter the entire night. It had been two hours since Echo delivered her seventh and last puppy–suddenly she was bearing down and licking again.
I moved the other seven puppies to the far end of the box out of her way. While I assisted Echo, Megan got the hemostats, washcloth, bulb syringe, and scissors ready for yet another go. As we watched, Echo delivered what looked to be nothing more than a placenta.
“No puppy,” I said. As my hand closed around the mass, I felt something inside the size of a mouse. “Megan, hand me a wash cloth and a bulb syringe! I think there’s puppy in here!” I removed a section of the sac away, and there was the smallest black and white face I’d ever seen. Megan and I shared a look of amazement and fear. Afraid the puppy wasn’t breathing, I placed a bulb syringe in its mouth to clear away any mucus and wiped its teensy nose. Once Echo had separated the puppy from the umbilical cord, I massaged him in a towel.
“Is he breathing?” Megan asked.
I opened the towel to look. I had never seen such a tiny Border Collie. He was half the size of his littermates. “He’s gasping—hand me the bulb syringe. I want to clear his mouth and nose again.” I gently massaged him with the towel and waited for a little cry.
By now Echo was nudging my hand, demanding her puppy like the good mother she was. I set him in the box between her front legs. She rolled him from side to side, washing him from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. She didn’t seem concerned about his size; she was as diligent with him as she was with his littermates. Surely she would have sensed if he was disastrously abnormal.
“His color looks good,” Megan said. We were both looking for whatever reassurance we could find. “He’s breathing steady, right?”
“True,” I sighed, and sat back. “But I’d hoped to hear a little squeal out of him by now.”
Once the pup was sufficiently washed, I leaned over the whelping box and moved him into position to nurse. Much to my delight, the little guy latched on and eagerly suckled. We began to relax, and fatigue set in.
“Let’s weigh them. After we’re done I’ll go wash Echo if you’ll freshen up the whelping box and put down the fleece.”
“You bet,” Megan said. All seven puppies weighed either fifteen or sixteen ounces. The wee one was eight. Megan recorded their weights. “He is literally half their size!” she said.
“C’mon Echo, let’s go for a walk,” I said. Echo jumped out of the box and ran out the door. Once back inside, I placed her in the bathtub for a quick rinse. Wyn, who is a daughter of Echo’s from a previous breeding, took over licking and fussing after the puppies while Megan was busy wiping down the whelping box and lining it with a large piece of soft, warm fleece. Echo never minded Wyn caring for the pups in her absence.
After Echo was dried and clean we returned to the puppies. Echo immediately jumped into the box and gingerly lay down with all of her puppies. The puppies were squirming and squeaking while making their way to the “breakfast bar.” I placed little wee puppy at the nipple closest to him and helped him latch on. Once latched, he eagerly nursed. Megan and I watched in dismay as the stronger puppies pushed him away from the “milk bar” as if he was nothing. It was going to take a lot of management to keep this puppy going. I wasn’t going to be able to do this alone. It’ll take a village, I thought.
My mind went a million different directions all at once; I’d never had a runt. I feared the little guy wouldn’t make it through the night. I tried to prepare myself for worst, but except for his size, he was vigorous. He was determined to survive. If the little guy was giving it his all, I would give him mine.
September 28th, which was the second time Mick nearly died, I nearly let him go.
Three days off the IV later, he was bounding around the house. That had me spooked. More and more specialists were working on his case, but we still had no idea what was trying to kill Mick. I was overjoyed he’d escaped death again, even if my knees were still knocking.
Then, as soon as he was strong enough, I took him two-and-a-half hours north to the University of Gainesville veterinary hospital, where Dr. Specht told me to turn around and drive back home. Mick’s illness was too mind-boggling. Dr. Specht needed days to go over all his files and test results. That was a Wednesday. Dr. Specht was supposed to call me Friday with a hypothesis and a plan. He called—but only to ask for still more time. “As long as he’s doing okay, I’d like to take the weekend to keep investigating.” Mick wasn’t just doing okay, he was thriving like never before. I said okay.
Monday Dr. Specht called and talked for an hour. He said Mick was complicated, and probably more than one disease was at work on him. The primary suspect was cobalamin (B-12) deficiency, but he might also have Trapped Neutrophil Syndrome and Pancreatic Lipase Immunoreactivity. If not those, then Coombs’ Disease, homocystemia, pyruvate kinase deficiency, lymphangiectasia, inflammatory bowel disease, a motility disorder, or a malabsorptive disorder. “It’s also not impossible that bone marrow cancer might be crawling around in there, so we can do a biopsy.”
“You lost me at lymphangiectasia,” I said. “I’m not sure we have this kind of staying power.”
“Let’s start conservatively,” he said. We ordered a few basic tests through our local vet and arranged for the results to go to UF. We waited.
The results are in, but we’re still waiting for Dr. Specht’s analysis and recommendations. Mick’s cobalamin was low, which is good news—one kind of B 12 deficiency explains many of Mick’s mysteriously menacing ailments, and it’s easy to treat. But what’s causing the deficiency? Does he have other disorders? How low do we let his B 12 go?
Meanwhile, there’s nothing deficient about Mick. For the first time in his life, he’s a full-blown Border Collie. He’s rocketing around the house, yapping at the door, barreling after the cat, trying to boss us around. Most astonishing: he cleans his bowl, morning and night. He’s grown so fast so suddenly, he’s almost caught up to his brother Sweep, something I gave up hoping for.
It used to be he’d eat a whole bowl, then half, then none, and lie down despondent. We used to pace the aisles at Dog Lover’s searching for a dwindling numbers of foods he hadn’t yet tried. Right before his last near-death crisis, we realized we’d run out, and what was the point anyway? By then I knew, it wasn’t the food, it wasn’t his care, it was his body, and I thought no one could help us.
But now, Mick eats and heartily. He jumps and barks and roos while I open the can of Hill’s prescription i/d. I even saw the dog who refused all kibble steal a piece from the cat.
One day a week or so ago I thought he might have eaten an ibuprofen he found in the bottom of my daughter’s closet. I hardly had the energy to race him back to the vet, yet again, but I did. All he needed on top of everything else was a little poisoning and kidney failure. The assistant told me no ibuprofen was found in his stomach, but he really surprised her. “Mick is a new dog! He’s clattering around his cage and barking for attention—especially when we pay attention to another dog. And you won’t believe it. Dogs hate activated charcoal so we usually have to force it, but he ate it!”
Mick was a new dog. Was he going to be as sweet? Was he going to be as eager to please? Was he still going to be the charming darling that everybody loves? Also, Mick has been “cool” in the old-school, Sean Connery as 007 sort of way, always fearless, always amused, always a twinkle in the eye for the ladies. Nothing rattled him. Would he still be my delightful go-anywhere, do-anything, gal-winning pal?
I’d grown afraid to train him or take him anywhere. “I don’t want him to catch any germs,” I said. “I don’t want to wear him out.” But he had more energy than ever. The truth was I was afraid to risk loving him again. I avoided training and socializing, anything that suggested Mick had a future that could be taken from us. If I invested any more in him, it would just hurt all the more if I lost him.
Gradually I restarted our training. “He’s ready,” I said, but really I was starting to feel safe. We dusted off his old tricks, revisited our basic manners, and finally tackled our skateboard lessons again. By the time Intro to Agility started Mick was in orbit.
But the first round of blood test results have been in for a week. I’ve called and left messages. Today the front desk said Dr. Specht emailed me, but we’ve exchanged emails before. I haven’t gotten an email. They said he’d try again by 5:00 today, but still no email, and here comes the weekend.
I think it’s okay, though. Mick is doing great. He’s ready for his walk now, and it’s a beautiful evening in Florida. Have a great weekend, everyone! Mick says, “Roo!”