January 12 2008
A year ago today, I held my big brown border collie in my arms, and watched him die. I told him I loved him and that I was sorry I couldn’t save him, and that one day we’d see one another again. But as his chest stopped rising and falling I wanted to take it all back. It wasn’t fair. I wanted Briggs to see another birthday; I wanted my dog to have the chance to grow old. He was just a couple weeks shy of his 11th birthday – it was not long enough. Briggs was my best friend.
I got Briggs when he was about 5 months old, from a “breeder” in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. Before the ubiquity of the internet bulletin board, I occasionally chatted with other dog owners on rec.pets.dogs and this is where Briggs’ breeder found me, I guess … she emailed me one day, and said “I heard you were looking for a red & white border collie, and I have one. I can’t seem to sell him, so if you want him, he’s yours. Come get him.”
I wasn’t, in fact, looking for a border collie, but her email intrigued me. I asked her to tell me more. She’d imported an AKC male, a “champion” she said, from a breeder in Ontario, Canada, and then bred him to ‘the bitch up the road.’ She took a female pup as a stud fee, and bred her back to her father – linebreeding, this is called. At the time, I didn’t know what a good breeder of dogs was, or a bad one, or what an AKC title meant, and how that was different from the farm bitch up the road … or how many unwanted border collies there were in Idaho.
And I didn’t know that a puppy that was so shy and reserved that his whole litter sold in 48 hours except for him would be such a handful his whole life, or that his life would change mine. But when the breeder mailed me a VHS tape with video of 18 week old “puppy” bending in half in a full body wag for the camera, I knew he was going to be mine. We drove to Leavensworth Washington to meet the woman and my new puppy.
He was a mess. He had never been on a leash, or walked on pavement, or been in a car, or seen so many strangers – and the surreal Bavarian theme town of Leavensworth really freaked him out. He crapped in the car, and threw up in the car, and it was a long, long trip home. And it was a long, steep learning curve for Briggs and me.
There are many stories about Briggs I could share – the ones that make me laugh, like the morning I realized that every day when I went into the bathroom to brush my hair, he sneakily drank the rest of my coffee; or how when I got Tweed, he used to pile toys in front of Tweed’s crate every day while I was at work and then play with them not 9 inches from Tweed’s frantic face (‘ha ha! You’re crated, I’m not!’). There are stories of the times he made me cry, biting various strangers until I thought I was going to have to put him to sleep, and attacking the neighorhood dogs, or biting me when he was foiled by the leash and redirected his rage.
But the most amazing thing about Briggs was his complete willingness to do what I asked, even when it was his instinct as an abnormally shy, and unusually aggressive dog to do something completely different. I combed the internet for resources for help and found ways to manage and retrain him. We worked through his fear of people until the day Briggs rolled over for my bank manager to give him belly rubs with no hesitation, and I knew we’d licked it. I worked and worked on his dog aggression until he could even go to the dog park without incident on a daily basis. They were long hard battles, but they taught me so much – about Briggs, about dogs, and about border collies.
Because of Briggs, about 500 dogs have found new homes through TDBCR over the last decade or so. It was in my searches for help that I learned about border collie rescue, and the good work they did, and I started doing it myself. My experience with Briggs lent itself to helping other people who wanted to understand their dogs but could not, or to help their dogs when those people could not handle them anymore. In looking for things to do to keep Briggs occupied, I found agility, and then stockwork and flyball. Through these activities I met some of my best and closest friends.
Throughout the many highs and lows of our all-too-short time together, Briggs never changed. He got older, and slower – his hips began to fail him and his elbows crapped out on him. His thick curly coat became dull and thin, and half his face became paralyzed and saggy and droopy. He couldn’t run very fast, or do as much, but he never, ever lost his completely unshakeable faith in me. No matter what I did to him, or what I asked of him, Briggs gave himself utterly and completely to me – no dog I have ever had before or since has ever been so 100% my dog.
I’m not generally one to wax sentimental over much, but when I lost Briggs I really felt like I’d lost a piece of my soul. I looked at my other dogs and thought what pale imitations they were of The Great Red Dog and how unable they would be to fill the huge void his death left behind.
But they filled it. I have never stopped missing Briggsy, but now I remember him fondly, with much less sadness than before. Without his tyrannical presence – for while I loved him, he really was a bossy asshole of a dog – my other dogs have learned to be themselves, and they are comical, sensitive personalities of their own. The lessons I learned from Briggs did not leave with him, and many many other dogs have benefitted from them. Briggs’ time here on earth was not just for him, or for me, but for a greater purpose and the 500 dogs or so who have found new homes through rescue all owe a little tiny bit of their happiness to that big red border collie.
So today, hug your dog, or dogs, from me and Briggs. And if you have a Briggs of your own, a dog that looks right into your heart and sees himself resting there, then hug him a little tighter, from me.
In honour of Briggs’ passing, I thought it would be nice to give you an update on another old, grumpy, unwanted stinky dog that was a fixture of 3WAAW for a while. You know him as Sporty. His forever home sent an update:
There is no doubt however, that he is definitely in the twilight of his years. We take him in to see the vet every 30 days to have his medications adjusted. His heart problems are getting worse; he needs his daily Fortekor. We are now giving him Percocet (Oxycodone and Acetaminophen) to manage his arthritic pain. His medications have improved his quality of life to the point that he is able to go up and down stairs, walk and stand without loosing his balance. Actually, once the Percocet was introduced, he started to rocket around the house like a dog half his age. He finds it difficult to eat while standing up, but he loves reclining on his big pillow to have his meals served to him “Roman style”.
He has also learned to manipulate the younger three dogs most shamelessly. If anyone goes near “his” stuff, whether it be toys, his blanket or The Big Fluffy Pillow, he comes to one of us and whines most pathetically until we make “those guys” let him have what he wants. He has trained us very well. In people years, the vet estimates he is about 96. He is a very spry 96.
I love working with TDBCR because I get to do cool stuff like make an old abandoned dog feel loved again.
Thank you for taking the time to read such a long posting, but I really wanted to share with everyone how well Sport, aka Sporticus, aka Sporty Pants, aka Sporty is doing.
Sonja & Christopher
Barney, Max, Eric and Sport