I love dogs. When I was growing up, we always had at least one dog around the house. Penny, my mother’s dog during my childhood, was my earliest definition of “Dog.” She died at the ripe old age of 16. After that, the dogs were mine. Penny was followed by Burr, a collie mix, then Finnian, an Irish setter. Then Lightfoot—who went to live with Jan—and Nigel, K.D., Bashō, Liam, . . . you get the idea.
My Mother’s Dog
But Liam taught me something I just hadn’t figured out with the other dogs. Liam was a seven-year-old border collie who clearly had professional herding experience when he fetched up on my doorstep. My mother had just lost her long-time pup, and I thought she might like Liam. Penny, that dog of my childhood, had been a border collie and she was the best dog ever, according to Mom.
Penny had belonged to neighbors back when Mom was pregnant with Jan. Through the long, humid summer, in the days before air conditioning, Mom spent her afternoons in her relatively cool garage, reading and resting. Often Penny, left outdoors and not confined, came over to keep her company. Mom and Penny bonded. Then, one day, Penny disappeared. Mom learned that the neighbors, tired of a dog they never paid attention to, had dumped her out in the country.
Two weeks later Penny came back—not to the neighbors who had neglected and abused her, but to Mom. My mother promptly went next door to inform her neighbors that Penny had returned, but she was no longer their dog. Mom claimed her, as Penny claimed Mom. The two of them remained loyal to each other through two children, three moves, a crumbling marriage, and all the rest. Along the way, Jan and I grew up with a strongly imprinted archetype. In the deepest parts of our brains, “Dog” equaled a black and white border collie. I didn’t fully understand this until I saw Liam, and realized he was the definition of “Dog” for me.
The Definition of “Dog”
Since that time, I have only looked at border collies. I first noticed Tam at an adoption event because he had border collie lines. He turned out to be a border collie/golden retriever mix. After Liam died, I started volunteering with a border collie rescue group.
Chess was my first foster, and first foster fail. Zoe was the dog I was really looking for—a classic black and white female like Penny—and Kata . . . Well, okay, Kata looks like a smooth-coated sable border collie if you get her in the right light. She was stranded at a high-kill rural Texas shelter and got classified as “border collie enough” so she could get out of there. The four of them became my Texas Pack.
An Opening in the Pack
Back in October, however, Tam, at age 13, lost his battle with lymphoma. His passing left a huge hole in the Texas Pack but opened up space for me to start fostering again. I wasn’t eager to get another dog, but I did check the shelters for border collies from time to time.
Which is how, in mid-November, I happened onto a photo of a sweet young border collie boy who looked like he was smart, a little wary, and more than ready to get the heck out of my local dog pound. Those big brown eyes hooked me, with his direct gaze and knowing attitude. I called my current rescue group’s coordinator. She said it was okay if I wanted to evaluate him, but she warned that she didn’t think we had any fosters available.
Harvey Needs Help
I went to the shelter anyway. Once I saw the overcrowded conditions, I knew this dog—shelter named Harvey—needed rescue. It seemed everyone in my county had decided to surrender their pandemic pups in time to have a dog-free home for the holidays. I like my local shelter. The folks there do a good job of keeping it clean, treating the animals well, and moving them through without euthanizing healthy animals to create more space. But they were bursting at the seams, and crating dogs in the hallways. They needed some help to clear the shelter before Christmas.
The shelter worker was happy to show me to Harvey’s kennel. He seemed to be a calm, friendly dog. I asked to meet him in a private space and was led to an outdoor exercise pen. When the shelter worker brought Harvey out, she warned that he hadn’t been out all day, and was a little slow to warm up. As if he knew why I was there, Harvey came directly to where I sat and put his head in my lap for a friendly meet-and-cuddle before he trotted off to do his business like a house-trained guy who had been holding it for a while.
I knew right then I was not leaving this dog behind. I called the rescue coordinator again and offered to foster him through the holidays, until she could find a long-term place for him.
Harvey Goes Home
How could she refuse an offer like that? Harvey left the shelter with me—then spent fifteen minutes refusing to load into my car. Apparently getting into cars meant strange, bad things were about to happen.
Once home I discovered that the recently-neutered Harvey still had the urge to do a lot of territorial marking. Which spurred the long-neutered, completely house-trained Chess to mark his territory right back. Great. But we made it through Thanksgiving week, which included a lot of outrage from the cats and an emergency trip to my vet to treat the upper respiratory infection Harvey had picked up at the shelter.
It also included a name change. Rescue groups handle a lot of dogs, but we try not to repeat names, so we always know which dog we’re talking about. They can’t all be Zoe, Molly, or Max. This guy couldn’t be Harvey, either, since the group had already had a Harvey. And a Shiloh. And a Dylan. I dug out my name book and he became Slater.
Slater Meets the World
And eventually—probably inevitably—he became Slater Norwood. The cats are still adjusting, but the rest of the pack has agreed to tolerate this new guy. Slater is slowly coming out of his shelter shock and learning the ropes of his new life: pottying happens outdoors, it’s okay to cuddle on the bed, but he can’t chase the cats. Ever.
He is discovering squirrels. He is learning his new name, and that he really should come when I call him. Things are starting to make sense to him. One thing he definitely knows is that I am a kind person who will reassure him if he gets confused and love him even when he transgresses.
Border collies are smart about things like that. That’s one reason why they are my definition of “Dog.” As Jan so wisely observed, our mother would have loved him.
Many thanks to G. S. Norwood and Jan S. Gephardt, who provided nearly all of the photos for this post. The montages are all Jan S. Gephardt’s fault.
We would like to thank Lucy A. Synk for her wonderful painting ©2020-2022 of XK9s Elle and Tuxedo at play on a meadow high above Rana Station’s Sirius River Valley (characters from Jan S. Gephardt’s XK9 novels). Our gratitude goes to Evgenii Lashchenov and 123rf as well, for the “Multicolored-Magical-Rainbow-River” digital illustration that provides a backdrop for the “Memorial to Tam.”
We deeply appreciate Collin County Animal Services for the two photos of Slater when he was known as “Harvey” and was up for adoption. And we’re very grateful to Jessica Prout of Little Arrow Design via Spoonflower, for the cute “Squirrel Patrol” fabric pattern for the “Slater in His Domain” montage. Prout’s design is available in fat quarters or yardage on Spoonflower.