Over the years I’ve taken in a lot of strays, and helped many animals find good homes. In 2013, after I my beloved border collie, Liam, died, I contacted a border collie rescue group to find a new friend for my remaining dog, Tam. That’s when my adventures as a dog rescue volunteer really began!
WARNING: You may find some of the photos in this blog post disturbing. Please be assured this dog is now healthy, and has found his happily ever after.
I figured volunteering for a border collie group, and maybe even fostering a dog, would be a great way to meet a lot of dogs. After decades of having male dogs, I wanted a classic black and white female to befriend shy boy, Tam. But, to keep my options open, I regularly scanned the website for my local shelter. That’s where I spotted the picture of a dog whose face all but screamed, “Rescue me!”
Border Collie Enough?
I wasn’t even sure the dog was a border collie, although his overall conformation looked collie-ish. It’s hard to judge how large a dog is from a shelter picture, with nothing in the background to use for scale. I figured he was a big guy. His shelter name was Fontaine, but he looked like a Chester to me. He also looked like he was headed for big trouble. With no hair, he was a candidate for the Red List: marked as unadoptable and tagged for euthanasia.
Although I was living in a rented house at the time, my landlady allowed me to have two dogs. I only had one. So I contacted the rescue group’s intake coordinator and offered to foster this poor, unadoptable mutt. The intake coordinator agreed that he was probably “border collie enough.” I called the shelter as soon as they opened, and made a date to meet Fontaine. I even took off work early to make sure I got to the shelter before it closed.
Long Road to Recovery
My first surprise, upon meeting him, was that he was actually tiny—only 22 pounds. The shelter estimated his age at 1-2 years, but they really had no way of knowing, beyond the fact that he had all his adult teeth, and they were pretty clean. He was a mess, with very little hair and scabby, infected skin. Mange, we figured. That meant I’d have to keep him quarantined from Tam and my four cats. The rescue group had a local vet, so I could get Fontaine treated right away. I put a rescue hold on him, and all the shelter workers cheered. He was a sweet guy. They didn’t want to put him down.
I’ll Call Him Chess
I took that Friday off work and picked up Fontaine as soon as the shelter opened. We went straight to the vet. In person, this happy little guy didn’t look like a “Fontaine,” and was much too sassy to be a “Chester.” I decided to call him Chess.
At the vet, Chess’s skin scrapes came back negative for mange. It took about six weeks to diagnose his problem as severe allergic dermatitis. During that time he lost almost all of his hair. But, looks aside, Chess turned out to be an absolute doll.
Chess became my constant companion when I was at home. He played cheerfully with Tam, and was gentle with the cats. He learned everything I wanted him to do so quickly I only had to show him once or twice. And he grew. Starting at 22 pounds and about half Tam’s size, he eventually topped out at 44 pounds and every bit as tall as Tam, although much more delicate of frame. Making a quick calculation of adult teeth + half adult size, the vet and I figured Chess was only 5 months old when he was picked up by the shelter.
Right from the start, Chess decided he had found his forever home. He snuggled up next to me on the couch, waited for me outside the bathroom door, and slept by my side all night long. He loved to go for walks, but preferred I leave “that other guy” at home so we could savor our walking time together. I kept telling him I was just a stopover, and that someday, when he was completely healthy, we would find him an awesome forever home. His hair grew back, and I started taking him to adoption events. Nobody paid much attention to him, but I figured sooner or later somebody would see what an awesome dog he was.
Then, about ten months after I brought him home from the shelter, we went to an event at the Fort Worth Stockyards. Chess was Mr. Perfect that day. His hair was long, and starting to get wavy. He greeted potential adopters politely, and even let one little girl with Down Syndrome cuddle with him. As we roamed the Stockyards, side by side, he never pulled on his leash or barked at the longhorns. He even waited patiently until I was ready to share a bite of my burger.
The intake coordinator who had let me pull him from the shelter was watching us. “When I decided he was ‘border collie enough,’ I didn’t realize he’d turn out to be a purebred,” she said.
“Chess? A purebred?” I was stunned. I was used to the classic black and white look and larger frame American border collies usually have. Chess was a delicate thing, with long, thin legs and a thinner muzzle. He had tri-color markings instead of black and white. And yet, when I looked at border collie web pages, I realized Scottish dogs often looked like Chess. Could it be?
The Light Dawns
“You know he never takes his eyes off you,” the intake coordinator said. “Adopters aren’t asking about him because they think he’s your dog. You maybe ought to think about that.”
I thought about that. When I got home, I posted on Facebook about my day in Fort Worth with Chess. A friend of a friend—a woman I know, like, and am sure would be a wonderful dog owner—responded to by saying, “I want Chess!”
And I thought, “Like hell! You’re not getting my dog.” Which is how I finally reached the same conclusion that Chess, and everybody else in the world, had figured out months ago. The sad, ragged dog the shelter called Fontaine—the one they’d red-listed for euthanasia because he was unadoptable—had finally found his Forever Home.
Many thanks to Collin County Animal Services for the composite shelter photo of “Fontaine.” We also want to thank Julia Rigler Photography, Eva Loukas, and Cora Allen for other photos of Chess (see photo captions), and Border Collie Rescue Scotland for the photo of a beautiful Scottish Border Collie. Other photos, as noted, are by G. S. Norwood. “Naked Chess” and “Chess-Scottish Comparison” montages assembled by Jan S. Gephardt. With gratitude to all!