They come in all shapes and sizes, life lessons. Some are big, others small. Some are terribly profound and mysterious, and others are so simple that you wonder why you missed them before.
My life lesson this week came in the form of an almost five-year old purebred red Border collie named Zeus. (That’s not him over there on the right, but it could be.)
I came across Zeus listed in the pet classified section of the local paper. The ad read something like this: “Free Purebred Border Collie. Good with dogs, cats, kids. Trained on invisible fence.” I’m no idiot. I called.
See, I grew up with a Border collie. (He may have been a mix, I suppose. Difficult to say since he was found in our barn as a sick puppy that my mother nursed back to health.) Yogi was a terrific dog. Not terribly keyed up, as I remember, but very dedicated to me (I suppose that I was his work, his flock). He died many years ago, and I’ve wanted a Border collie again ever since, but it never seemed I lived in the right place or kept the correct hours. So it didn’t happen.
This seemed like one golden opportunity. We’ve recently moved, there’s almost two and half acres here, and part of it is enclosed by an invisible fence. How fortuitous is that?
So I called. Woman I talked to (we’ll call her Rita) described Zeus as incredibly sweet. “Then why are you getting rid of him?” I asked. It was the old story — kids had gotten older, were involved in school stuff and outside events, and they didn’t have time for him anymore. (Although she also mentioned that they have a Lab and there was no talk of getting rid of him. Hmmm….) “Okay,” I said. “Knowing that no dog is perfect, not even Lassie, what would you say his faults are?” Rita admitted readily that he had a tendency to mark urine near the cat boxes. I figured that was easily fixable — I just wouldn’t let him near the cat boxes. No problem. “Oh,” she says. “And he’s intact.” A five-year old family pet that hasn’t been fixed? Pray tell, why? “Well,” Rita says, “I figured if I ever had to get rid of him, he’d be more attractive if someone could breed him.”
I was torn whether to tear my hair or slap her through the phone. But her comment made me think: “If I ever had to get rid of him….” What made her think she might?
That made me ask about his past. Turns out that he was purchased from a breeder by a young girl, who brought him to her father’s farm. (This dog has more blue blood in his background that the Queen of England, including a great-grandsire from well-known breeder Walt Jagger.) Farm=happy dog, right? Sure, except dad sold his farm and moved overseas, leaving this girl with nowhere to go. Apparently, she lived in her car for a while (with the puppy). She might have lost her job at one point (that was brought up, but Rita wasn’t certain of it was true.) In any case, the girl fell on hard times and Rita took Zeus off her hands to help her out…NOT because she wanted the dog.
Fast forward three years to the advertisement and me on the other end of the phone.
We decided to go see him. First off, when we arrived, they didn’t know where he was. You’d think they’d have him ready for us, right? Not so. Rita’s husband went outside calling, checked the barn, finally found him in the garage. Practically had to drag him into the house. This dirty, matted Border collie CRAWLED into the kitchen from the garage and immediately went belly up, eyes rolling. Don’t hurt me, that posture said. I’m no threat.
Hubby and I looked at each other. What had they done to this dog in three year’s time? No name recognition at all. No ability to engage except through a tennis ball. I said, “I’ll have to think about it,” and we left.
What I should have done was call the wonderful folks at Glen Highland Farm/Sweet Border Collie Rescue http://glenhighlandfarm.com/ in Morris, NY and told them about him. They would have managed to get him out in no time. But I didn’t think about that. I thought, here’s a dog we need to get out of a bad situation. I emailed the folks at SBCR to describe him and see if they thought he was “repairable,” and they said yes. They also said, “If he doesn’t work out for you, let us know and we’ll take him.” With that to back me up, we called and said we’d take him.
The first night was a horror show. Rita and one of her kids dropped him off. He couldn’t have cared less that they left him. Obviously no connection there. The big surprise was figuring out that it wasn’t only the litter boxes he sprays. He sprayed everywhere — all over the rugs, the hardwood floor, the porch. He was Urine Fountain. I can deal with a lot, but I cleaned up eleven years worth of pee and poop from Bella and I’m none too excited by the prospect of doing it again.
Somehow, we survived that night. The first thing we did the next morning was to name him ‘Sam.’ Hell, he didn’t know his old name, so let’s give him a new one to commemorate a new life. And to his credit, he’s peed less and less indoors the longer we’ve had him. Only one mistake yesterday (that we know of) and none today (again, that we know of).
What I wanted in a dog was a companion, someone to go on walks with me, maybe do some fetch with a tennis ball. What I got was a dog who can do all that, plus plow the back forty and do my taxes…and all before lunch! He is everything one thinks of when one mentions Border collie, without being psychotic. There’s none of that (and how he missed out considering the way he was treated, I’ll never know). But THIS is not the dog we looked it. No belly crawling, no tucked ears and head. He looks us right in the eye (“I’m smarter than you, you know”) and is unafraid of making his opinion known.
And he’s inexhaustible.
Did I say I wanted a walking companion? Four miles a day doesn’t even touch him. Seven miles doesn’t either. And he’ll lay down for forty-five minutes and be ready to go again. I’m exhausted trying to keep up with him. (It’s like having a brilliant toddler in the house. Yogi was never like this.)
I emailed SBCR with my concerns and they put me in touch with a lovely woman named Ann who came out to evaluate Sam as well as our lifestyle. Her conclusion? That he’s too much dog for me. Let’s face it — between work and travel, hubby isn’t here to do much dog stuff. I need four to five hours a day to work and, in her words, “You’re not going to get that with this dog.” And she’s right. My day with Sam consists of going from exercise time to exercise time, sneaking in naps when he does. See what I mean about a toddler?
So we’ve made the decision to relinquish him to SBCR. They’ll take him, evaluate him further, train him, and find him a home suitable to his talents. I hope they find him a place with a very active family and/or other dog friends and/or sheep or geese. That’s what he’d prefer, because he is every inch a working dog. He’s friendly enough, but when work or play is over, he goes and finds a quiet spot alone to rest. He couldn’t care less about spending time with us unless we’re giving him what he needs.
I feel a little bad about this, but not much. We got him out of a really bad home, he’s had a good time with us, and he’s going to an even better place. But it makes me reconsider my desire for a dog, and particularly my desire for a Border collie. I suspect that even an elderly Border collie would have more vigor than I could keep up with. So maybe it’s time to put that particular life dream aside, enjoy watching them work from a distance, and focus my attention elsewhere.