Sunday, January 24, 2010

Border Collies Are A Special Breed

Let's not discuss weighty topics and mope around here anymore. After perusing some of the blogs I have listed here as my favorites, I am inspired to touch on the solid, non-mind-boggling topic of dogs.
Before my husband and I could afford the high-dollar, AKC German Shepherds I now own, we had a variety of mixed-breed dogs. For the first 30 or so years of our marriage, we always had a minimum of two dogs, and sometimes, three.
Many were pound puppies, some were pawned off on us by coworkers, and others seemed to just wander into our lives and never leave. I adored them all. I am, in case you haven't guessed by now, a full-blown, Class A, Lifetime, Fully and Fanatically Dedicated, and hereby Publicly Declared, Dog Person.

I tend to like other peoples' blogs who are dog people, too. I stole this wonderful "Got Stick?" picture of George from Chronicles of a Country Girl's blog to share with you. Hers is very near the top of my list of best blogs; you ought to check it out if you love dogs and beautiful photos, with great graphics and tight writing.
Her wonderful "dog blog" about George got me to thinking about the only dog we ever acquired that was actually worth anything monetarily in the years before we could afford the German Shepherds.

She was a purebred Border Collie our son named Bo. My husband had traded some ranch labor with a neighbor for her when she was an eight-week-old pup. She joined us in the middle of winter in the middle of Idaho.

The photo at the top of this post shows our mini-ranch on 20 acres situated near the Clearwater River in Central Idaho. I think I took this photo in about December of 1983. We had a couple of calves, some chickens, a pony, two other dogs, a cat, and plenty of room, or so we thought, for a little pup who'd been born to herd.
Here is a story I wrote about Bo several years ago that I hope you will enjoy. I reprint it here courtesy of the Capital Press, an agriculture and forestry-focused newspaper based in Salem, Oregon, where it was originally published in about 1990.

The title was, A Good Cow Dog; A Poor Pet:
I recently lost one of the best friends I've ever had. She was a purebred Border Collie, but in Idaho, we just called her a Cow Dog.
A direct descendant of Central Idaho's famed Salmon River Sam, she had herding in her blood. She was 10 years old when she died peacefully in her sleep at our home not long ago. I think she was tired of the confines of city life; it never did agree with her.
I'm not sure why I want to share her passing with Capital Press readers, but I think it's because I know you would appreciate a good cow dog and understand my loss. Most city people don't, really.
As dogs go, she wasn't much of a pet. Next to our affable, sunny-faced, always-smiling Golden Retriever,  this ever-wary, all-black dog came off looking like an evil step-sister. She always preferred to stay under or behind things; she was never comfortable out in the open. She never let her guard down.
It was beneath her dignity to do stupid dog tricks, no matter how hard we tried to cajole or bribe her.
But she had her own tricks. For example, at the words, "load up," she'd spring easily over the tailgate of our pickup in one swift movement, even after she got a bit overweight and on in years. No way was she going to be left home. In fact, near the end of her life, no words were even necessary. Eye contact and a quick nod toward the bed of the truck were enough.

Her greatest skill, however, was moving cows to wherever we wanted them, and occasionally to where we didn't. I remember well the day she learned to duck. She was about six months old when she caught a horse's hoof dead center in her face.
She lost a tooth and got a bloody nose. As she whimpered in anger and pain, I will always believe she cried real tears. Maybe her eyes were just smarting from the kick, but they looked like tears to me. I know my own eyes were puddling up a bit.
From that day on, whenever she worked cows, it was at the low, crouched, quickly darting pace that characterizes good cow dogs. She seemed to develop a sixth sense that enabled her to anticipate a kick.
She was beautiful to watch in action. She'd get the cows moving and if one let fly a kick in her direction, she'd duck and neatly miss the hoof, like a fast ball slipping through a batter's swing. All the time, never missing a beat, she was running from side to side behind the herd, watching everything and listening intently to my husband's commands.
She was happiest when she was working, but I think her second-favorite thing was riding in our pickup. She'd gladly ride back in the bed, but truth be told, I liked having her up front on the seat next to me. We traveled hundreds of miles together; she was good company.
But socializing with her was nearly impossible because her personality was so strange. She was intense about everything in her life and rarely displayed a playful side. She was distrustful of most people and hateful of all other dogs.
Of her complete loyalty and devotion to us, however, there was never any doubt.
There were times, in fits of anger, when she could be quite destructive. Our house still bears the scars of her absolute fury at being left home: a chewed drape, a dug-up board on the deck, a ripped-up section of carpeting.

Other signs of Bo remain as well. There are dirty spots, like shadows, on the walls behind our furniture, where she preferred to lie, wedged in solitude and safety. In my pickup, there are smudges from her nose on the passenger-side window.
I know it's a silly and sentimental mind game that's not really working, but somehow I can't bring myself to wipe away those traces of a quiet, good dog that should not be gone, but is.
It is one of the great injustices of life that just about the time a dog becomes a really good friend, when its communication with you is at a nearly telepathic level, it up and dies.
One of these days, the pickup window will steam over and someone will unwittingly wipe away her nose smudges, which are somehow still of small comfort to me. As long as they remain there, it almost seems as if she's not really gone.
But in our house, there is one corner of the living-room wall, hidden behind my husband's recliner, where a small, low-lying, sweetly rounded shadow, almost like catching a brief glimpse of Bo herself, will always remain for as long as I'm around.
And for the rest of my years, wherever I go, there will be a special place in my heart where it will remain, protected, forever.


  1. What a wonderful story about Bo and what she meant to you in your life Donna. Thanks so much for sharing it!
    I am definitely a dog person too. ;c)

  2. Nose smudges are like kisses left for us, I think. It took me a long time to clean my car windows, too, after my last canine loss. And the glass on the window panes of the living room door that leads out to the patio. The paint is still gone from where Dooley's nails scraped it away when he got excited about something he saw in the yard, but he's not the only culprit of marking that territory in that way. I'm just weeping about the nose smudges.

    I had a Border Collie, too. Her name was Brenna. Her grandmother arrived in the US in utero from Scotland, and she was born on a 600-acre sheep farm in the Adirondacks. One of my favorite pictures of me is holding her in my arms when I went to pick her up at the farm. And she loved sticks, so the photo you have there of George simply made me laugh out LOUD! One day in the back yard she went to pick up a stick to bring to me to throw for her, and it turned out to be a big black snake. When it wiggled a bit in her mouth a very puzzled expression crossed her face, she paused to consider her circumstances, and she dropped the snake and looked at me as though requesting a substitute. She was an absolute sweetheart, and my only regret is that she didn't get to do what came so naturally to her when she lived with me: work. But she was loved deeply, and she loved back.

    Dogs are the best, aren't they? I'm so glad to know about Bo.

  3. Yippee yay yay yay.
    Our dog--who we just love to pieces--is half border collie. We got her under most interesting circumstances (story another day). But she is the smartest dog we have ever had. What a love.
    It will be a sad day indeed when we have to part.

  4. I'm a dog person too. You see my shih tzu's in my blog. (unrecognizable because of their military haircuts) They go everywhere I go, except to work. The only thing they're good at is keeping me company, and keeping cats away from my bird feeder.

  5. I am definitely a dog lady. Two chocolate labs and one small Jack Russell came with me to Maine. Black Dog- my good old girl (a Border Collie mix)saw the end of her days right before the move. ...what a loyal loving creature, a friend through thick and thin..

    I see nothing wrong whatsoever in leaving remnants around for as long (the fullness of time)as it takes to walk alone again. Physical love we knew, physical touch and signs- we yearn for. Even smells- Black Dog in her aged years was quite the smelly gal...but oh how I was still comforted by her porch perch where her smell probably still lingers today.
    Perhaps the mysteries of life, much like the love of God- we are simply to accept and wonder at. I never could find my why answered, so I find myself saying, probably much too often- why not? (Jumping over puddles, still clinging to the clumps of Black Dog's hair in her brush, and even thinking still I see her out of the corner of my eye, rounding me up home.)
    Great story, write like a good reporter, leading us down paths to a clearing of memory. Whew!
    Take care-


Thanks for enabling my writing habit. I live for feedback.