Archive for the ‘Border Collie’ Category

Imaginary Dogs – Patch’s Vanishing Act

May 5, 2015

“Say hello to Patch for me,” my brother commented.  So I did.

This morning I had a go at walking Patch, but he didn’t stick around for long.  I expect he was off after seagulls, or else looking for a goat that he could round up.  Patch was a white dog with black patches (doh!) – a kelpie/collie cross, with that wonderful black and brown face typical of the tri-colour border collie.

Patch 1

He lived as a classic Australian dog of the fifties: he wasn’t really ‘walked’ much as such, but just lived around the place, taking himself wherever he wanted to go.  Because we lived at Nelson Bay, those places included the beach, where he would swim out hundreds of yards towards the fishing boats, silently sneaking up on seagulls.  The only time his great ambition was realised and he actually caught one, alas, it escaped by flapping and squawking, and he didn’t quite know how to deal with that.

The view from the beach towards the heads.

The view from the beach towards the heads.

As a puppy, Patch did a real vanishing act.  One day he just wasn’t there any more.  We were devastated.  We searched high and low.  My mother suggested he might have been ‘stolen by gypsies’ – rather an Enid Blyton solution – but we grieved and came through.  Then there came a day on the beach, maybe a year later, when we saw a dog in the distance and Mum said “That’s what Patch would look like if we still had him,” – and, lo and behold, the dog pricked up its ears and looked at us.  So we called and he came running.  And in that way, Patch came back to us, full of the spirit of independence and joi de vivre.   He was his own dog, for all his loyalty, and if he came for a walk it was his own choice.  If he left the walkers for a while to explore the bush or round up a couple of goats (memorably once) and bring them back to us, pink tongue lolling with delight, that was his choice too.  He must have known how to deal with snakes: the bush around there is full of them.

Patch among trees -

Patch among trees –

He lived life to the full, and we loved him passionately, as only kids can.

When the decade closed, so did our childhood life by the sea, and we moved away to Queensland.  In Ipswich, life was much more suburban, but dogs still ran free.  Our eventual house had a little white fence that he could hurdle easily – about a three foot fence, I guess.  With no sheep, goats, or seagulls to herd, Patch turned his attention to cars.  He was pretty good at keeping them from coming and attacking us – for years he kept guard, he growled and ran alongside, nipping at the wheels, but of course it was always going to be the death of him.  In Australia a dog like that is called a ‘car-chaser’ and people wag their heads sadly and wisely. ‘Ah, a car-chaser,’ and no more needs to be said.  When you’re older, you just don’t have the reflexes of a young dog.  I was watching him the day he was hit: I watched him vault the fence with his easy style and grace, and arrive in the house.  He lay down on his side, and was gone.  Not a mark on him.

Patch with my father.

Patch with my father at Nelson Bay, 1959

Trouble amongst the dogs

July 27, 2013

It is just after ten o’clock at night and there is still some light in the sky.  Behind the roiling mixed greys of the storm clouds some pink lingers from the sunset, and a few patches of sky show pale blue.  Down here on the earth there is still enough light to see by, but it is fading quickly to black.  None of this delicacy could possibly be caught by a camera – and even words are barely adequate.

The dogs are out with me – calm and friendly as usual – with no sign of the row they had earlier this evening.

I am worrying about my dogs – the young female has taken to being aggressive with the older female, who just happens to be her mother.  That relationship means nothing to them of course, though it’s very tempting to try to anthropomorphise it.  The growling and general dissent is mainly focused on food, so we have decided to feed them separately, hoping that that will sort things out.  But I think that the food-attacks are just a symptom of some wider competition.  They don’t always live together – but it’s often enough that they need to get on with each other.

very fine dogs - June

The original hierarchy: Bella front right; our calmly submissive boy, Bandit in the middle; Shadow at the back, ears pricked, getting ready to make a bid for power (?)

I’ve been reading around online.  The problem could be that Shadow is growing up (now 18 months old) and is trying to re-structure the hierarchy, especially as Bella is getting a bit more elderly.  Maybe the fact that Bella has been spayed about a year ago, while Shadow is intact, could be giving Shadow the edge.  Anyhow, all is fine except when they are fed their dinner – and Shadow rushes fiercely at Bella, behaving as if she thinks Bella needs to be driven off.  All the advice says that we should let them sort it out – and perhaps Shadow will end up as the dominant dog.  Bella is very tough, though, and I suspect she will put up a battle. This might not be pretty – or fun for anyone.

Questions – truth or dare?

December 27, 2012

I am keen on telling the truth to children – for lots of reasons, but the two main ones are: because I want to set a good example; and because I want them to find me reliable.

My grandchildren asked me two truly difficult questions this morning.

Their Dad had gone to work early, and they were staying on with me till their Mum came to collect them after breakfast.  Anyway, they came and sat on the bed while I drank my cup of tea.  We chatted of this and that in a friendly way.

They asked ‘Why do you love dogs so much?’  That was where I stumbled – maybe there are too many reasons, and I felt under pressure to answer quickly and truthfully, but also to get the really best answers out first, as I know they will stop listening after one or two reasons, and move on to the next ‘why?’  So I said that I grew up with dogs (scepticism here – they have dogs, but don’t interact with them very much), that dogs always tell the truth (even though sometimes they steal stuff) and so you always know where you are with them.  (That led to a pause.)  I think I might have slipped in some banalities about dogs as loyal, and as company.  Then they said ‘But it’s boring having to walk them’ and I answered that I liked to get out into the fresh air.  After they had gone, I was still wondering whether I had really given the truthful answers.  More and more responses came to me – how good it is to have something to look after; how snuggly they are (even when ‘a wet dog is the lovingest’); how they look me in the eye and I feel that we know each other across the gulf of species; how it might be about power and obedience when I enjoy training them; how proud I am of them when they are praised by strangers.  How they might be child substitutes – I don’t think so.  Maybe children are dog-substitutes – has anyone suggested that?  How they teach us to live in the moment; to bear adversity and old age; to be joyful for small cause as well as for large.

Of course, that answer took moments to say, and even fewer moments for the rest to flash through my mind.  The conversation was moving onwards briskly.  The next question was  fairly easy: ‘Why do you have pillows on the other side of the bed?’  (A. For when Grandad comes to stay.)  And: ‘Why does he sleep on that side of the bed?’  (A.  He likes the right-hand side).  OK – I know there are lots of answers to that second one – the feminist answer; the noble, or ‘sword hand’, answer; the ‘Adam’s Rib’ answer.  But I felt fine with the mild evasion as offered – it, too, was true, even though superficial.  It triggered a ritual sequence: one of these kiddies is right-handed, the other left-handed, and they often tell me this.   Bored, I suggested writing with the wrong hand, and reached for a notebook and pen beside the bed.  (‘Is that your diary?’ – ‘No, just a notebook I write things in.’)  We had fun with that, but time was knocking on and their mother was due at ten.  I jumped up, followed by the dogs (who generally come with me to the shower), to hear a real stumper: ‘Why do you love books so much?’

The best response might be something like ‘How much time have you got?’  But what, dear reader, would you have said?  Take a moment now before you read on – bear in mind that you have at most one minute in which to think and speak before their thoughts will have flown off elsewhere.  After all, they don’t know when they have hit on a big question.

So I said: ‘You’re right.  I love books.  I think nearly everything useful that I know has come from books.  And [oddly faithful to my theme of the day] books tell me true things.’  Now – I know that I needed to modify that last one – but there is something in it, too.  Think of Bruno Bettelheim and The Uses of Enchantment if you believe fiction to be untruthful.  I didn’t mention their rôle as comforter, companion, escape-route, inspirer.  What would you have said?

Next, I said briskly, ‘I’m off to the shower’.

‘Why do you like showers?’  (Easy one – no thought needed.)

‘I like to start the day feeling fresh’

‘I don’t have showers.’ (He runs interference a lot – another no-brainer.)

‘You’re fine – you had a bath last night.  See you in five.’


Later, tap tap, their mother came for them.  The nine-year-old said (among other things, of course): ‘And I got a DVD of The Witches.’

‘You got what?’ her mother said

‘The Witches’

‘The what?’

‘The Witches, Roald Dahl, you know.’

‘Oh – yeah – .’

I’m not convinced that the name was familiar to her, but maybe she was just thinking of other things.

out walking with the dog

June 9, 2011

She was sitting on the concrete wall outside the parcels bay at the Post Office, smoking a tiny roll-up.  My dog brushed past her, rushing up to the door of the collection office, where we’ve been before.  She reached a vague hand towards him, as people sometimes do.  So I called him back, and got him to stand nearer to her.  It took a little doing, but eventually he was there and quiet.
‘Beautiful dog,’ she said, patting and stroking.  ‘Lovely coat,’ she said, ‘really soft.’
‘He had a bath the other day.’  I felt a need to explain.
‘He’s a . . . .?’
‘Border Collie.  . . .  You’ve got a dog?’
‘I’ve got a Springer.’  Pause.  She was a little, slightly hump-backed woman in a navy body-warmer.  Looked like a hard worker, and her accent was pure Midlands – somehow a very familiar voice, sharp-edged but comforting.
‘But it’s hair isn’t it, not fur?’  I wasn’t too sure what she was saying.  ‘Well – they don’t moult, do they?’
‘Oh yes he does – there’s hair everywhere.  You only have to turn around and there’s huge skeins of it.  Have to hoover all the time.’  (Exaggerating – those dusty skeins don’t get hoovered enough – they roll about the corners of the kitchen like tumbleweeds.)
‘Do Springers moult?’  (My turn to take an interest.)
‘Not much.  Hardly at all.’

 And then her punch line:  ‘We had an old dog used to moult everywhere, trails of it all up the stairs, wherever he went.  And then he died.  But then one time I was decorating and I started to find little bits of his hair.  So I just tucked it under the skirting board.’  (a little sliding, scooping gesture of tucking)  ‘There you are: you can stay there.’

She was showing me a private moment, masquerading as tidiness, when she gently made a memorial to the dog, to the nuisance of keeping a dog, to not minding about the nuisance. There was something slightly wicked in her voice: narrating a secret.


Doggoes visiting the floods

January 16, 2011

Bearing in mind that the floods were preceded by weeks of heavy rain, it was hardly surprising that the parks on that first dry morning were full of children fizzing with their released need to play. Adults drifted around with umbrellas, and brought their dogs.  I took just a few photos – a wonderful way of striking up a conversation: ‘D’you mind if I take a snap of your dog?  I’m collecting photos of dogs visiting the floods.’

I can tell you that dogs, by and large, are not very interested in floodwaters.  Horses (on Prior’s Pocket Road) watch water with great interest when it is rising, but not afterwards.

Two Rottweilers on Montanus Drive, near Bellbowrie shops

I didn’t ask their names – note their disdain for floodwater? They are looking in exactly the opposite direction.

a very friendly bouncy young dog also on Montanus Drive - the owners tried really hard to get him to pose for me

same doggo - posing better now

small fluffy dog near Bellbowrie - your guess is as good as mine

Jack - a beautiful Border Collie we met near the flood where Pullen Pullen creek was covering the Mt Crosby Road - just near Dolman Road

I like the way that a photo of a dog generally also involves some pictures of peoples’ feet. I wouldn’t crop them for worlds.

Jack again - this road is in bushland and I was really pleased to see that he was let off the lead as we walked away

There were lots of insects and large worms swimming to dry ground on this road.  We had been trying to find a way around the flooded bit of Moggill Road (after the floods were beginning to go down) – but no luck here.

This is, described by her owners as a 'media whore'. Location: Moggill ferry, where a track had been beaten through the long grass to a vantage point where people could see the ferry, riding the massive flux of brown water, and refusing to sink or to be swept away

the lovely, alert Kelsey - a young female Alsatian-type puppy on her way to see Moggill Ferry

'Mister' was extremely well-groomed with a most beautifully softly fluffy topknot - the owner assured me that he is really a proper poodle, even though quite short-legged.

Mister, being so glamorous, seemed accustomed to quite a lot of attention. He, too, was on his way to see Moggill Ferry. I love the way this photo also shows you his owner’s painted toenails and the little container for dog-poo bags, so efficiently located on his lead.

Daisy, deliriously happy to be out and about, was said to be a beagle-cross, and she was ‘the cheapest in the pets ads’.  Her owners seemed a little apologetic about her patches of mange – we tried to turn her so that they wouldn’t show.  They agreed with me that it could be mites or perhaps some allergy, but they had tried everything.  Daisy had been to see Moggill Ferry.

How I wish I had taken more photos, and made better notes about the conversations I had with all the dogs and their owners!

(Thanks to my friend Val for the lovely word ‘doggoes’)

adventures in Arcy

October 8, 2010

My opinion of the folk at Arcy is becoming very mixed. Yesterday there was a dog barking all day (no exaggeration ) – quite unremittingly, and eventually heart-rendingly. That persistent barking of a dog left alone. When I took our two dogs out for their walk it was a little after five on a beautiful evening, with the warm sunshine slanting across the fields and lighting them up with that special clear green of early autumn. I followed the sound – and there she was chained up around the back of the house on the corner in Arcy. A skinny black Labrador-type, young-looking, rather nervous, and on a short chain attached to a rusting lump of old farm machinery, she was quite likely coming into season.  Maybe that was why she was separated from the other dogs. Out the front were the usual two ferocious black dogs, ramping and roaring at the ends of their chains, and no sign of any occupant in the house. Bandit disgraced himself by rushing at them barking, so I had to haul him off and hurry away in confusion. Thinking back over it, I don’t believe I saw any water put down for any of them. I walked on down the hill, mulling over how I might express a stern letter in French – or even a kindly, concerned letter in French. After all, this isn’t my country – meddling Eengleesh, I hear in my mind’s ear, and think of the plays of Henry VI that we’ve been watching on DVD over these last few evenings. By the time I came back from the walk (after other adventures) there was a car there and the dogs had clearly gone inside. They probably had water by then. Today I went back along the same route – same situation, and the dogs definitely have no water down for the whole day. A dilemma.

The road drops down the hill through Arcy, with wonderful views across the little valley to wooded slopes beyond. Another barking dog – but I’ve met this old chap before – and a woman leaned out of her house to see what the commotion was about, and greeted me warmly. The door and windows were opened wide: major renovations were happening and workmen were going in and out. It looked welcoming and accessible. She made some joke that I didn’t quite catch – something about wanting to go for a walk with me – I think she meant her dog. ‘Lui aussi?’ I responded, and she laughed.  I hope I got it right, or near enough.  Then the road leads more sharply downhill, onwards to a large field.  To the left, at a little distance, is an old mill, set in grounds with newly planted trees: it looks properous and cared-for.  There is a little rushing stream at the bottom of the field: another of the many tiny tributaries of the Indre that wriggle through the valleys around here. When there are no cows in the field the dogs love to play there. – They chased sticks and rushed through the water in the glowing late afternoon sun.

On the way back up the hill, I was a little unnerved to see cows coming toward me. The cattle around here are mainly Charolais: huge white beasts with big horns. 

cattle at a fair in Ste Severe

 They are often driven along the lanes from one field to another, usually with a car in front and one or two people walking and shouting at the rear. These, however had no-one at the front. But if I turned and walked back down the road to avoid them, they would probably follow me, as that’s what they are used to doing. Imagining that someone was droving them from behind, and realising that cows don’t much like dogs, I ducked sideways through an opening into the nearest field – a field of lovely dark green lucerne. The cows started to follow – oh no! I felt dismayed and slightly panicked. – What a silly mistake – they must be being taken to this field to be fed on the lucerne, I supposed, and now I couldn’t get out. Or perhaps – and this looked increasingly likely – they were on the loose, and were following me. It was frightening, and unpredictable. I quietly took the dogs along the inside of the field beside the hedge of brambles, until I came to a thinner patch. The leading cows looked at me occasionally, but seemed calm as they havered and then gradually started to file through the gateway in ones and twos, moving knee-deep in greenery towards the far side of the field. I still felt very trapped and rather silly. I got the dogs to jump through the gap, back down over a deep ditch onto the road. Luckily they are very obedient, and used to being asked to jump, to stay in one place, and so on. Uncertain whether I would be better off in the field or out on the road, I slid through a slightly less brambly bit and perched above the ditch – excellent – feeling much more comfortable with a good view of both sides. The large group of maybe twenty or thirty beasts included cows, young cattle, and a huge bull.

this one is nicely under control at the farming festival - but you get the idea

There was no-one with them, and some of the calves were idly munching on acorns, while others realised that the troop was moving into the field. But at least now it seemed less likely that I would be trampled or gored.

young cattle in woodland

Eventually they were all in the field and I could risk a jump down into the ditch (mercifully no deeper than it looked) and then onto the road. Discreetly the dogs and I made our way back up the road, hoping that they didn’t see me again, and start to follow. I was feeling increasingly certain that those cows had taken themselves out for an unscheduled wander. Some Arcy idiot had failed to close up their electric fence. Someone needed to be told before the fodder crop was destroyed, and maybe the cattle harmed by rich food. (Hardy-esque visions  inform my understanding of animal husbandry – I readily recall those sheep dying of gas and Alan Bates trying to save them; and horses die of colic, don’t they?) I practised French phrases as I walked back up the hill, past closed-down houses. Luckily the friendly woman with the elderly (now amiable) dog  grasped what I was trying to explain, and knew who to phone – the yard across the way also contained a free-range cow and calf. Who knows whether they were part of my herd or not?

So maybe now you can see why I have my doubts about the quality of animal care in Arcy. But then again, a casual inhabitant there had been helpful, sympathetic and willing to struggle to understand my halting French. Even the cows were only fierce in my imagination. A little later I could hear the persistent lowing that goes on when a herd is on the move, and I imagined their herdsman working hard, trying to persuade them to go home.

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