Friday, February 19, 2010

It's A Dog's Life

I always root for the Collies and the Shelties – herding dogs – when the annual Westminster Dog Show is televised. That's my Collie, Shadow, above. I guess it’s natural, because I’ve only known two dogs really well. The first was our beloved family dog, a purebred Shetland Sheep Dog our daughter named “Nippy”. She was the dog the kids grew up with, who enlivened the household chasing our two cats around and constantly announcing her presence with her friendly bark.

Herding dogs are barkers. You gotta know that before you decide to share your home with one. She was always trying to herd those damn cats, who defied her every attempt to organize them.

Nippy had a tough life. As it turned out, she was from a puppy mill in Iowa, even though the dog store where my wife bought her had all the AKC papers and documentation. We spent a fortune on vet bills to keep her going, through a couple of “toe” amputations which made her walk in a funny, swaying gate, and through so many serious bouts with viral infections it seemed she couldn’t go two months without getting sick.

But we loved her dearly, and when her enlarged heart got so big it started to block her windpipe and made it difficult for her to catch her breath, we had to make that heart-wrenching decision every pet owner eventually faces. On a warm late-March day in 2006, Nippy died peacefully in my arms in the vet’s office.

A month later, my wife had completed her research on our next canine friend, and decided there would never be a Sheltie to replace Nippy, and set her heart on a Collie. We met our next dog, a six-month-old sable Collie puppy, at the breeder’s ranch in mid-April. Her parents – both national champions with pedigrees that had the prefix “Ch” (Champion) back five generations, were on-site, along with assorted aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews.

But this was no stand-offish, uppity high-strung show dog puppy. The first thing she did when my wife met her was put both front paws up on my wife’s shoulders and proceeded to give her about a hundred enthusiastic doggy-kisses. The deal was sealed at that point; the rest of the day was spent just having fun watching the breeders put their champion dogs through their paces.

Collies are 38th on this year’s AKC list of most popular breeds (Labs, German Shepherds, Yorkies, Golden Retrievers, and Beagles are the top 5), because Collies don’t make good “city dogs”. They need room to run. And run they do! There are few sights as magnificent and beautiful to me as our Shadow, at full-tilt-boogie, racing across our property at about 30 miles an hour, fluid and floating over the ground, her sleek coat ruffled by the rush of the wind, and then to see her change direction effortlessly without losing a step.

Collies were bred to run all day, and to use that long nose to separate sheep and herd them across expansive pastures in the British Isles.

My friends Glen and Marilyn have three greyhounds, rescues all of them, on their expansive property southwest of Madison, and those dogs can hit 45 miles an hour in three strides. Now that’s MOVIN’. But when they’re in the house, they’re just as docile and well-mannered as my Collie.

Tomorrow, we’re loading Shadow into my huge, gas-sucking foreign-made SUV and heading down to the breeder’s ranch again. There’s an 18-month-old Blue Merle Collie lass that my wife has her eye on, and I think Shadow is about to have a wonderful playmate to run with and patrol our property with….if the stars align properly.

I have a feeling they will.

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