Monday, January 31, 2011

Part 9-Jake looks for a home

Jake's photo from the shelter

At first, I did not think that Jake would fit in well. I’d never had a male dog and it just seemed… well… wrong. I had some preconceived notion that he would mark… he didn’t. I thought it would be hard to housebreak him… it wasn’t. I thought that he would not be affectionate…he was. In fact, almost everything I thought was true about male dogs was untrue about him. Within days, he had figured out just how to creep up onto the sofa in super-stealth mode so that I would not notice. He would snuggle on my feet at the computer and follow me everywhere.
I scheduled a vet appointment for him, first, to make sure he was healthy and also to arrange for his neuter surgery. I assumed that he would be apprehensive about walking into any place that smelled like a vet or a shelter, but he marched right in with tail wagging-like a politician running for office. He still does that, too… stops by to say hello to everyone, even jumps up and peaks at the people behind the counter. Anyway, we got in to see the vet and we talked about what a great little dog he was, and what bad shape he was in. His coat was dull and thin, and he had very poor muscle tone. His rear legs and hips had virtually no muscles and if you put your hand on the top of his hips when he sat, you could feel popping and uneven motion between the two sides. And the poor guy could only sit for a few minutes before he would flop over into a puppy sit. He just lacked the muscle strength to sit normally. The vet suggested that he had probably been enclosed in a small area for so long, that he had not developed any muscles in his hindquarters. But his hips were so unstable, we also considered that perhaps he had such bad hips that maybe he just didn’t want to run or jump. So they took him back for a few x-rays.
The results of the x-rays were staggering. His hips were not good, but not terrible like we thought they might be. The bad part was that his little body was just riddled with pellets. The vet said that they sometimes see dogs, especially hunting dogs, with bird shot from a shotgun. But these were not the little BBs you would see in a case like that. These are pellets from a pellet gun, and they were in multiple areas of his body. Since then, between x-rays and checking him over, we’ve found about 2 dozen. Quite a few are in his hips, some in his legs and feet, front shoulders, chest, even one in his ear, and in his tail. And since they were all healed by the time I got him at 6 or 7 months, he must have been a little pup when someone did this to him. To this day, I get choked up thinking about the cruelty this little guy had experienced.
We scheduled his neuter surgery and he pulled through like a champ. While he was out, the vet removed three or four of the pellets that were near the surface that seemed to be bothering him. When I went to pick him up, he was his usually charming self, unfazed by the surgery and making his rounds with the employees, saying goodbye. What a ham. It was going to be very difficult to let this boy move on to an adoptive family. But we took more pictures and I updated the website with more information and before long, applications began to arrive.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Part 8. Jake.

Maggie remained healthy and stopped eating foreign objects, so our trips to the vet were few in the coming months. But the episode had left her quite wary of strangers, though, especially those that she thought might pick her up or put their hands around her like an examination. Despite my continuing to take her into public and despite the fact that I never reinforced this behavior, it continued to grow worse. Her fear grew to the point that I stopped taking her into public, and I worried that she would eventually snap at a stranger. It was also about this time that I realized how much she counted on our little cocker spaniel for support. When Maggie was a puppy, she would walk alongside Mopsy, holding onto her big flowing cocker ears like they were a security blanket. I thought it was cute and so I never stopped her. I knew that if she ever actually hurt Mopsy, the old cocker would take her down in an instant. She might look cute, but this little girl was tough. Anyway, I realized that she really was being used as a security blanket and when the “blanket” wasn’t around, Maggie was much more apprehensive. But it wasn’t all that important to me, they went together with me most of the time, anyway. Besides, it really was very cute. : )
During these months, I continued to stay in touch with the rescue that Maggie came from and on occasion, they would send an email asking for help with a home visit, or a transport. One day, an email arrived that asked for help with a transport on behalf of another rescue. There was a young guy in Stillwell OK in a shelter that found a home in Chicago and he needed a ride to St. Louis, and a place to spend the night. Other Mo-Kan volunteers got him as far as Rolla, and I picked him up from there. Such a sweet little boy named Jake. He was a smooth coat and had very little muscle mass, especially in his hindquarters. He had one ear up and one down which gave him a mischievous look and he was wearing a cheap collar in which someone had poked an extra hole to make it big enough. If you closed your eyes and imagined a homeless dog, Jake would fit the picture.
Nevertheless, he crated easily and rode carelessly. When he got to our house, I quickly took pictures and emailed them to his adoptive family. “Oh. He doesn’t really look like what we thought. We were hoping for a high-drive agility dog” was the response I got via email. Are you kidding me? They were going to change their mind about a dog that they rescued from a shelter based on one snapshot! I called them and said, “No problem. If you are not jumping up and down excited to have him, then I won’t bring him to you.” The reply was “we will take him if we have to, but no, we are not excited to have him.” I hung up… probably not very politely.
Not only was I angry at these people, but it made me realize that all rescues are not the same. This situation would never have happened with Mo-Kan. There is no way that a transport would have been initiated without the adoptive family having a lot of information about the dog, and them being certain it was the right thing to do. And no way would someone who volunteered to transport get “stuck” with a dog. But stuck we were.
So Jake became our first foster dog. I was surprised how gentle and sweet this shelter dog was. It was clear that he was not accustomed to living indoors (he had to learn to climb stairs) and he had NO obedience training. He was a few months younger than Maggie, and they quickly became best friends. She would even hold onto his ear now and then. And we posted Jake’s picture on Mo-Kan’s website and began looking for his forever home.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Part 7

Despite the fact that she was still pretty small and that she had swallowed a mechanical pencil (or at least a large part of one) the veterinarian suggested that we “wait and see” rather than immediately go after it. He said that dogs will often pack stool around objects and then they pass on through. But to play it safe, I was to look for the object in her stool, and she would go in every day for an x-ray to track the progress until it passed.
I was very thorough, closely examining each little poop that she passed using latex gloves bought especially for poo examinations. Each little piece was carfully picked up, looked at and smashed, even though I was looking for an object several inches long. And you could tell the days that the pencil reached a place that hurt, and the days when it was “free flowing”… those were the days Maggie acted like a normal puppy. And every day we went in for her x-ray and they would report the progress. And each day she got more and more reluctant to go in. She started balking at the door and by the time she had a few x-rays, I could tell that she was becoming really fearful of going back with the tech. Just for the record, I don’t think that they were really mean to her or anything, it is just that she was young, it was scary, and I’m sure that my own anxiety made it worse. Day after day, we watched the progress of the pencil until one day… it… was… gone. Gone! Didn’t show up the x–ray! And to this day, I have no idea when or where she passed that pencil. I was so thorough on my poop check, I will never know how it got past… or passed.
It was also during this time that I learned something very important about my pet’s medical care. Since Murphy passed, I had continued to do research on auto-immune diseases in dogs, because the cause had remained a mystery that I felt obligated to solve. On one of our “pencil” visits, I mentioned to the vet that I was convinced that Murphy had acquired a particular tick-borne illness that led to the auto-immune. He said “no, if it had been that, we would have seen joint pain and her getting lame before it got that far.“ I was speechless. Murph had been in multiple times in the preceding months with joint pain and lameness, but had seen a variety of vets… never this one. And by the time he saw her, there were pages and pages in her chart about her most recent visits, and I suppose he never turned back the pages to the visits for her joints. I didn’t talk to him about it… there was nothing he could do at this point, and there was no reason to make him feel bad. But I did learn two good lessons about animal care. The first is about consistency with your vet. Now we schedule all of our visits with the same vet, no more taking whatever vet is available at the most convenient time for me. The second is that I have vowed to take an active role in the research for any pets I have with a serious or continuing medical issue. Not that I suggest that I am smarter than my vet, only that I have a lot more time to dedicate to research. No vet can do as much research for every animal in their care as I can for just one dog. And while I was relieved to finally find a probable cause for Murphy’s illness, it was very sad as well, to realize that this was something that would have been curable had it been treated early on.
I’m so, so, sorry Murphy-girl, that you suffered needlessly.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Part 6

“Oh my. What did you do?” This was the greeting I received from our vet, the one that we had begun to see exclusively during Murph’s illness. He came around the corner with a big smile on his face, but shared with us that he was a little afraid when he saw our name on his schedule, thinking that the other dog was sick. He grabbed the puppy and laughed at her, marveling, like we had, how much she looked like Murphy.
We had learned a lot (through certainly not enough) about raising puppies in the years since we got Murph and I was dedicated to making sure that she was properly socialized. We went to puppy school and she was the star. Walking on lead, sits, downs, stays… she was smart and eager to please. She played with the other puppies but was reluctant to have strangers pet her. After she knew someone for a while, she would accept a treat, but was uncomfortable being handled. We went to Home Depot and Lowes a couple times a week, even when we didn’t need anything, just to get her out. She was a little on the shy side, but nothing for me to worry about. Most of the time the little cocker would walk alongside her and provide her with confidence. I exposed her to every possible environment that I could think of… well except a crate of course.
One issue that she had from the beginning, and still has today, was an unwillingness to eat. She was tall and lanky and old folks would tell me she had worms. But no matter what I bought for her, she would not eat. Pretty soon I was buying the most expensive dry food I could find, and then I was buying freeze-dried raw diet which I had to reconstitute with hot water. I tried gravies and pastes. I even replaced her food bowls (she did not like seeing herself in the shiny steel bowls-still doesn’t). I would write emails to the rescue group about her eating disorder and it wasn’t until I’d mentioned that I was now sitting on the floor with her and feeding her by hand that someone finally kicked me in the butt. “Knock it off” I think was the advice I got. “You are creating a monster. No healthy dog will starve themselves” and “pick up her bowl of food after 10 minutes… she will be hungry by the next meal.” It was one of the hardest things I had to do, but I did it. Ten minutes after I put the bowl down, I picked it up. Next meal, the same thing happened and I began to worry. But after missing two meals, she was happy to have a meal and while she didn’t “scarf” it down, she did eat it.
And so it went, eating fine for a few days and then skip a meal. One day, she skipped a meal and then a second meal. While this normally would not have concerned me, she just didn’t look well either. She was about six months old and we were accustomed to her crazy antics. One of her favorite “games” was to race through the living room and use the back of the sofa as a springboard to jump to the floor and continue racing. (Looking back, I can’t believe how I spoiled this dog) Anyway, she not only stopped eating, but stopped racing and jumping and her little face just looked sad. So we made a vet appointment for that day and drug her sad little face in. Our vet tried to reassure us that everything would be okay, but after the last year, I could not help but panic a little. “I’m sure it’s nothing big, but let’s snap an x-ray just to be sure” And he took my little baby with him while we waited. What seemed like an eternity went by when he returned, not with Maggie, but with an x-ray. He put it on the viewer and said “I have no idea what this is, but it looks like she ate something” Looking at the x-ray I saw a mechanical pencil that I had recently “lost.” And it didn’t take a radiologist to see that it looked bad for my little girl.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Part 5 - Maggie

Our hearts ached to the point we thought they would break. This dog had been such an intrinsic part of our lives that none of us could imagine a home without her. The kids and I wept almost daily. Thank goodness we had a second dog, and the little black and white cocker served as tear catcher more times than I can count. And though I was the first to say that we could never replace Murphy, it was clear within the first weeks that we needed to fill this gaping hole with another dog.
A week or so later I decided to begin some research. I would have gladly gone back to look for the farmer that sold us Murphy if I had any idea where to look, so I began to Google “Border Collie Missouri.” My plan at this time was to spend a couple months of research to find Murph's breeder or another good breeder, then maybe get a puppy in about 6 months or a year.
I tried my best to locate “John” but I had little to go on, and it is highly unlikely that he was advertising on the internet anyway. And it seemed that no matter what I typed into Google to refine my search, the number one hit was “Missouri Kansas Border Collie Rescue.” I’ll be honest… I never even clicked on it once in the first week or so of searching. I don’t know why, but for some reason I thought there would only be old, mixed breed, or problem dogs there. One day I did a Google image search-since I had been so unsuccessful doing a web search for text-and up popped all these beautiful dogs… some young, some old, rough, smooth coat… a smorgasbord of BCs all tagged by Missouri Kansas Border Collie Rescue. So I picked one and clicked on it.
The link had landed me on the “success” pages of Mo-Kan’s website and the stories that I read of dogs that had been pulled from shelters or found wandering without a home filled me with emotion. And I read the stories of the people that fostered them, renewed their health and their spirits, and the stories of the families that adopted them. Again, I am struck by my own ignorance, I didn’t have a clue about the wonderful work a rescue organization does. Once I had reached the bottom, I took a deep breath and clicked on the “available for adoption” button. And silent tears filled my eyes as one of the little faces filled my monitor.
Her name was Tulla, and she had been born shortly after a good Samaritan caught her mother running loose, just four days after Murphy died. She had five littermates, all of which were cute, but it was Tulla that held my attention. She had a split face, almost exactly the same as Murphy’s except in mirror image. Her eyeliner didn’t curl up as far at the corner, and she didn’t have a blue merle kissy spot. Other than that, they were mirror twins… her paws, her legs, her rough… they all were the same as Murph’s, down to the pattern of black freckles on her front leg… again, as reflected in a mirror. The shock of it was overwhelming. I called my daughter out to look, and she immediately burst into tears. The little pup WAS Murphy for us.
I immediately began filling out the application and struggled with the question “is there a particular dog you are interested in?” Obviously there was only one, but I didn’t want to look like a crazy person, so I put “any of Freckle’s pups, but ideally Tulla.” I don’t know what I would have done if they had said that Tulla had been spoken for. I suppose I would have taken one of the other pups, but in my heart, I knew that I had to have her. Any other pup would have given me the feeling that someone had taken MY dog. Fortunately, though, our application was put in the “pending” stack with Tulla’s name on it.
Obviously, the pups were still too young to go to their new home, and the rescue has the job of checking up on the applicant. I was not worried about them calling the vet… in the last few months we had become regulars there. During the times that Murph was hospitalized, I would go by three or four times a day just to sit next to her. I would even take books and read outloud, so that she could hear my voice. Even my elderly mother would go over and visit, sitting on the hard floor next to her crate, so they knew us as devoted owners. Besides, the treatments and tests for Murph's extended illness had been quite expensive… surely we were one of their best customers. It was the home visit that concerned us most-so we worried and we cleaned-hoping to make a good impression (like someone would say, "I'm sorry, your house is too dusty for our dogs" ). When the volunteer stopped in to interview us, we showed her photos of Murph in the pool with the kids, pictures of family vacations, even pictures of her opening her Christmas presents. We talked about obedience training and Murphy’s brief exposure to agility. And then she asked the question that would surely ruin us. I could feel sweat erupt from my forehead when she said “do you crate your dogs when you are gone?”
I don’t know what I said. I danced around it and then I gave some non-answer like… “we have never needed to.” I think I mentioned the kitchen baby-gate set up, but cleverly left out the oak cabinet chew-a-thon. I didn’t know if she was suggesting that this was a good thing or a bad thing, and I didn’t want to wreck my chances at getting this puppy by guessing wrong. You would have thought I was on “Millionaire” and Regis was saying “is that your final answer?” The volunteer thanked us for our time and left, saying that she did not make the decisions, she only reported what she saw to the board who made the final choice.
The waiting was pure hell. But within a few days I got an email that said we were approved for adoption, and to contact the foster home to work out the transfer … of Tulla.
I know it sounds crazy, but somewhere deep inside, we all felt like Murphy was coming home.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Part 4 of I-don't-know-how-many

Murphy turned out to be an ideal family dog. She was the kid’s constant companion, climbing the ladder to the top bunks and then leaping the 6 feet down onto a pile of toys. She would swim with them for hours… in fact I would have to put her in the house for a break or she would wear her pads raw patrolling the pool. And if one of the kids swam underwater for too long, she would jump in, swim down until she could grab their arm and drag them to the edge of the pool.
Outside the pool she was a good babysitter as well. She knew the kids by name and I could send her to get them. Whether they were in the basement or playing in a neighbor’s yard, Murph would track them down and give them a little bark that meant “Mom said come home right now.” Kids, being kids, they would often ignore her. But a Border Collie, being a Border Collie, will not be ignored when told to gather the flock. If another bark or a bump didn’t get them started, she’d give them a little nip on the ankle, which could not be ignored. Then I would hear little feet running into the house and someone crying “Murphy bit me!” We’d always go through the same routine… “Did she tell you to come home? Did you listen? It’s just a little scratch isn’t it? Well good. Then maybe next time you will come home the first time she tells you.”
And even without the twelve hours of sheep herding, she did become one of the sheepdogs of Herriot stories. She could and would go anywhere with me. We took a leash for other people’s comfort, but Murph never needed one. We would go for walks and I could leave her on a stay outside a store or restaurant to wait. We even went to the elementary school where we took Kim Lewis books about Border Collies and read them to the class. Murphy would stand quietly to be petted, even when a class of 20 third graders were doing it. I can’t imagine how she kept her herding instinct in check… you know that she wanted to gather them.
She did have the instinctual herding drive and she wasn’t always able to control it though. One evening we had a small group of people from church at our house. One of the gentleman was older and used a walker to get around. As we would move from one room to another, he would naturally be slower than the rest and more than once I caught her getting ready to give him a little ankle nip to encourage him along. And when people would stand around and chat, Murph would sometimes bump into them ever so gently at the back of their knees, causing people to take small steps forward without thinking about it. And before long, we would all be in a tight little flock in one corner while she laid in the center of the room and just watched… waiting for us to get unruly.
As the kids got older, we bought a camping trailer so that we could take the dogs along on family vacations. Murphy enjoyed the long walks at campgrounds and especially catching Frisbees… if I had been a better thrower, we could have been competitive, because there was almost nothing she couldn’t catch. One summer we took the camper to South Dakota and we played Frisbee every day. Not long after we returned, however, Murphy began to limp a little. Nothing big-most people couldn’t even see it. But I saw it, and I assumed that I had worked her too hard on Frisbee or that she had stepped in a hole. She was only about nine years old, and had always been healthy. I kept her pretty trim because she was such a jumper… I assumed it would go away in time.
Over the next few months I had her examined multiple times. Most of the vets could see a little issue, but no one was very worried. They all said that after all, she was an active dog, and she was 9, so what did I expect but a little soreness once in a while. As the months progressed, she seemed to age right before our eyes. She limped more, she tired more easily. She didn’t have the energy she once did and she just seemed like a different dog. Another vet appointment and another “well she’s getting older” diagnosis.
One morning it was markedly worse. She clearly was ailing, and I just didn’t believe it was aging. We went to the vet again, and again saw a different vet. The practice that we use has a lot of different vets, and we always saw whoever was available first, so we rarely saw the same vet twice. This time, though, the vet we saw took Murph’s condition a little more seriously and started by drawing blood. The news was bad, and additional tests brought only more bad news. Murphy had an auto-immune disease, and her body was attacking its own blood cells. We did every treatment that we could, she received blood transfusions and massive drug doses. Over the next months she would improve for a while, and then she would slip. I spent countless nights sleeping on the floor beside her, in case that was the night she decided to quit fighting. One morning she seemed to be improved and went outside to potty on her own. She came back in and curled up in a spot of sunshine.
And from that spot, on July 31, 2004 Murphy crossed the rainbow bridge.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Part 3 of I-don't-know-yet

Looking back it is embarrassing how ignorant I was. I thought I was super dog-savvy… I could identify most breeds and even tell you something about their personality and their history. I had read all of the James Herriot books so many times I could recite portions. And somewhere in my mind I thought about the Border Collies that Herriot wrote about and called simply a “sheepdog.” And I dreamed of the stories he told about the sheepdogs that would follow their master into the local pub and wait patiently under the stool while they drank their pints and swapped stories. What I didn’t think about was the 12 hours of sheep herding that the dog had done that day which tired him out enough to take a nap in the pub. Goodness I was ignorant and had just done something that was incredibly stupid. I bought a dog on a whim. And not just a dog, a high drive Border Collie from a breeder that raised them for cattle. I was bringing her home to a house in the city with a medium sized yard and two little kids. She was unsocialized and I had no idea about her health. Hell, I didn’t even know John’s last name. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
But my ignorance didn’t stop there. Back then I didn’t believe in crates. I didn’t even call them crates; I called them CAGES. And no one that really loved their dog would put them in CAGES, right? But at least I was smart enough to know that she couldn’t run loose in the house while we at work and school, so I penned her in the kitchen using two baby gates. Somehow in my pea-sized brain this was waaaaay better than a cage. We had recently remodeled our house and the kitchen had brand new cabinets and vinyl floors. Really it was a pretty good place to “crate” her. (ha) I would leave her with a few toys and a bowl of water and it always looked the same when I came home. The toys would be moved and some water would be gone, but that was about it. I would always come home and tell her what a good girl she was.
Many months later I was on my hands and knees looking for something that had dropped and I noticed that the bottom edge of the cabinets were rough. Apparently all the days when she was penned in the kitchen she relieved her boredom by chewing on the wood. Some places the wood was shredded, and in others just dimpled. To this day tiny holes from her baby canines and dents from her adolescent ones remain a permanent part of my home. Of course you have to lay on the floor to see them.
I took her to obedience class just for fun. I never expected to compete with her- back then Border Collies were not recognized by the AKC and if they had such a thing as an ILP* , I never knew about it. But it is sort of a shame, because she was really good. She was one of those dogs that watched the handler all the time, staying in perfect heel position even when I tried to trick her. She had several different “finish” methods… the traditional move to heel position on handler’s left, the “around” the back to end up in heel position and she was even working on the “swing”… a move where she would jump into the air, twist around and land in heel position. Frankly, I was not comfortable with the method to teach this at the time which amounted to jerking up on your dog’s choke collar and then stepping into them when they jumped up. Because back then, we didn’t use treats in the training ring. Or toys. We just jerked them around by the neck until that ended up where we wanted and then we said “good dog!” But Murph was forgiving and she went willingly along. And I guess my “good dog!” was enough for her, because she learned quickly despite these archaic training methods.
But even if we had wanted to compete in obedience, there was one other huge obstacle besides her registration-the wretched “stand for examination.” This is where the handler leaves the dog on a stand-stay and the “judge” walks by and gently places their hand on the dog. The dog must stand quietly without moving and allow the examination. For some reason, Murph HATED this. She would stand perfectly still for as long as I asked, until the judge came up. And then she would cower… she would shrink, close her eyes, whine, and do anything except move her feet from the spot she was told to stay. And I felt so bad for her… I could feel her anxiety. And I did what any good mom would do… I comforted her. “Poor Murphy… it’s okay… you’re a good girl… nothing to be afraid of… gooood girl.” And week after week of training this went on, and she got worse and worse.
Then, one night, one of the fellow trainers said something to me that totally changed my relationship with dogs from then on. Something that was absolutely brilliant and at the same time, stunningly obvious. As I sweet-talked her while she shook with fear he said to me “you do realize that you are training her to do that, and that you are rewarding that behavior, don’t you?” What? Training her? Rewarding her? And then I realized, week after week she heard… “blah blah blah Murphy blah blah good girl blah blah good girl” Yikes, I had taught her to behave this way as surely as I had taught her to play dead when I said “bang.” And on that night, my pea-sized brain grew a little and I took on a new role in my dog’s life. Beginning the next week, Murphy had a new no-nonsense handler which didn’t allow that kind of behavior. It took a while to change, but certainly less time than it took to create the problem in the first place. And while I can’t say today that I am a good dog trainer, I am certainly much better thanks to the frank words of a fellow trainer a long time ago.

*Individual Listing Privilege. This is a number issued by the AKC to purebred dogs that do not have registration papers. The owner provides pictures of the dog along with a description of why they believe the dog is a purebred. The AKC then decides to agree or decline the application. In 2004, ILP was replaced by PAL- purebred alternative listing which is essentially the same.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Part 2 of I-don't-know-yet

We stayed to watch a little more of the rodeo, but it was clear that the puppy was afraid. She was afraid of the little string around her neck, afraid of the noise, afraid of the smells. She was even afraid of me. Fortunately, she was not afraid of the kids… I suppose she identified with them, and she trotted alongside them as we worked our way back to our car parked in a nearby field.
On the walk to the car, she would occasionally poke her nose into the rough stubble of weeds and grass in the “parking lot” and take a long intake of air. And it was clear that she would love to dig for whatever it was that smelled so good. Eventually we found our car and once again her fear returned. She did everything she could think of to escape before we loaded her in… thank goodness that the little baling twine collar and leash not only held but didn’t choke her. Once in the car she found the only place that she felt safe was sandwiched between the car seat back and my son’s back. He had just turned 6 and already had a soft spot for animals… both figuratively and literally in this case. As we left the fairgrounds, we could still hear the announcer at the rodeo arena introducing the barrel racing contestants, and following one of the rides he said “and if you were wanting to pick up one of John’s pups, you are too late, they’ve all been spoken for!”
We arrived at Grandma’s and unloaded the little sleepy kids and little pup. We knew better than to let her off the string yet and we encouraged her to walk into the house. It was clear that she had never seen stairs and never been inside a house. She wanted nothing more than to crawl under the car… a trait she continued to display most of her life when she got a little frightened. Through the years I often worried that her life would end under a car; fortunately that fear was never realized, yet she always saw it as some kind of refuge and more than once I had to get on hands and knees to insist that she came out. And more than a few times I had to scrub black axle grease off the top of her head and off the tips of her ears.
After a bowl of clean water and a dish of dog chow she seemed to settle in a little. Grandma was willing to let the little pup sleep indoors, or even in bed with us, but not so willing to allow the fleas that she brought with her. So, poor little pup had to endure a flea bath and later a powder on her first night with us. Looking back, it was a horrible beginning to a relationship. Thank goodness that she saw the kids as her refuge from this adult human who yanked her from her mother and everything she knew and then subjected her to multiple traumas.
By the next morning we were able to create a collar for her by punching a few new holes in one from Grandma’s collection. She bonded quickly and easily with the kids and I had no fear of her taking off, so they would take her out many times a day, and almost every time she made a little potty. People asked how we housebroke her so quickly, but the truth is she never needed to be-she came to us preferring to do her business in the grass.
Because we had no plans to get a dog, we obviously had no name either. We tried on names all day but nothing seemed to fit. The show “Murphy Brown” was popular at that time, and when it came on that evening, the kids called the dog “Murphy Black and White” and the name stuck. Though everyone assumed Murphy was a male, because we associated the name with Candace Bergman, it always seemed like a good girl’s name to us.
Murphy immediately bonded with both the kids and chased them through the grass and up the gravel roads of Grandma’s house. By Sunday afternoon, they were all tired, dusty, a little smelly, and two of them ready to head home. All but Murphy, who once again put on the breaks at the thought of going IN the car. But once in, she quickly established herself between David’s back and the seat back again and seemed content. I prayed that I would not have an accident with them like this, and we began the drive home.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Maggie's Story. Part 1 of I-don't-know-yet


She was a semi-rough border collie… classic black and white with a split face. Her black parts were sleak and shiney, with a big white ruff around her neck that was prefect to bury your face in- to muffle a laugh or dry a tear. The very tip of one ear was blue merle… the only merle spot on her whole body, and we called it her “kissy spot.” On the white side of her face she had a thin line of black that formed a perfect eyeliner which even curled up at the outside…. in the style of Gina Lollobrigida. She was patient, sweet, gentle, quiet, fast, protective, and smart. And her name was Murphy.
It may seem odd to begin one dog’s story with a description of another dog, but to fully understand Maggie, you have to first know Murphy. Murph was our first border collie.

The County Fair

It was 1994 and I had been looking for a blue merle Aussie for about a year. Aussies had only recently been recognized as a breed by the AKC and I was excited to have one of these beautiful working dogs. But either there were not many Aussie breeders in Missouri at that time or else I traveled in the wrong circles, because I just never found one and had given up on the idea of getting a new dog.
In the fall of that year we went to rural Missouri for a weekend visit with Grandma and it happened that the local county fair was that weekend. For those of you that have never experienced a real county fair, there isn’t really anything else that compares. Sure, there are carnival rides, but that isn’t where the heart of the fair is. First, there are the competitions… baking, sewing, art and agriculture. Future Farmers of America (FFA) members will parade their shiny black angus or bold charolais calves, trying to earn that coveted blue ribbon. And no one is concerned that these freshly bathed and brushed entries may be the entrees at next year’s fair.
There is always a "Miss County" pageant for which girls have prepared for months. Decorated coffee cans sit near cash registers at every gas station, feed store and restaurant throughout the county asking for "votes" with your loose change. And the daughters of the owners of those businesses always have the advantage as mom and dad remind the patrons to vote for their little sweetheart. The girls show up at the fairgrounds with their hair in intricate updos, wearing southern-belle style ball gowns-often made by mom or grandma-in the hope of winning the rhinestone crown and getting their photo on the cover of the county paper.
The ladies from the Baptist church sell pies and the Lion’s club men BBQ. The Job’s Daughters have a ring toss game, and the High School principal and some of his friends play their guitars on the main stage while people from the audience get up and sing a song or two. And we all know one another… maybe not well, but well enough to say things like “isn’t that Maude and Ed’s granddaughter? When did she get braces?”
But my favorite part of the fair, and that part that attracted us this year, was the rodeo. Not like PBR (professional bull riding) but real rodeo. Calf roping, team penning, barrel racing… real rodeo excitement provided by our neighbors. We settled into our seats early with our BBQ and some goodies from the band bake sale and waited for the rodeo to begin. As they unloaded the calves and cattle from the trailers into the arena, three slender dogs jumped from one truck and began helping sort the cows and load them into the right chutes so that they would be ready.
Team penning, an event where three riders on horseback separate three cattle from the herd of 30 and push them into a pen, was first. At the county fair, the cattle are numbered and three numbers are drawn at random. Also, one of the riders had to be a woman. I don’t know if these are the real rules or not… I’ve never seen a team penning outside the fairgrounds, but that is the way they do it at the fair. Once the cows had been penned or time ran out, the cows were driven back to the end of the arena to begin again. Often, these black and white bullets were turned loose to drive the cattle back and people in the audience often applauded. After the last team ran, the announcer thanked the owner of the dogs and said “if anyone else was as impressed with John’s dogs as I was, they might want to stop over here by the booth, because his favorite stock dog, Lucy, brought her litter of pups with her. And you might be able to talk John out of one or two if you have a few dollars to spare.”
“Oh Momma, can we look? Can we just go take a look at them?” I knew that it was probably a bad decision, but I said yes and we went to take a peek at Lucy’s pups. Five wiggly little balls of black and white fur were in the cardboard box lined with straw. John said he’d take $40 if we wanted one. They were all pretty much alike except for one… a split faced female that caught our interest. They were wormy, dirty, smelly, and adorable. The forty dollars was out of my hand before I even had a chance to think about it. I didn’t have a leash with me, but John threw in a yard of baling twine for free.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


People often ask us what we win when we do agility, and are very surprised to hear me say "a ribbon... maybe a rosette." They always follow up with "you don't win any money?" ... like I forgot about that part. No, no money... just a ribbon. And if we make even one tiny mistake, we don't even get the ribbon. Most people can't understand that we do this for fun.

However, this weekend we participated in an agility match sponsored by USDAA, rather than AKC. They gave out ribbons as well (just flat ones, not rosettes). But, to my delight at the end of the day Sunday I found out that Maggie's second place finish in the Steeplechase event didn't earn a ribbon, but an envelope with $25! Maggie's first paycheck. I wonder how she'll spend it.