I met her in January of 2008. I don’t remember what name they gave her, but to me she was and is, Meggie. She was rescued from some ranch where she had been tied up the first six months of her life and abused because she was “incorrigible.” A visitor to the ranch saw her and asked about her. She was told they were just going to poison her because she was worthless, so she took the dog off their hands and found a kind couple to adopt her.
This couple then came to me for some training lessons . . . they weren’t quite sure how to deal with such a high-energy dog. I put Meggie through the basic lessons, and found her to be a quick study . . . brilliant by dog standards. It was clear that she liked the wife and was somewhat leery of the husband . . . a clue that her abuse was male related. As I questioned them a little more about problems they were having, it was obvious that each had different expectations for the dog. The husband wanted a “good” and obedient ranch dog, and the wife was content to have her as a house dog that would snuggle.
Apparently, Meggie chased the horses and would not respond to any commands. I explained to them that first of all, she’s a herding dog and that’s what they do . . . herd things that move –their “built-in” job is to herd. Secondly, herding “in control” has to be taught and wasn’t going to happen overnight. The husband sounded exasperated, so I offered several humane solutions such as walking her on a leash around the horses, clearly marking her appropriate behavior, etc.
It became sadly evident to me that the husband wanted a “quick fix.” Following a gut feeling, I added almost as an afterthought, “Do not use a shock collar on her because you will ruin her.” I explained to them that if they shocked her when she moved toward a horse, she would associate the shock/pain with the horse and it would cause her to be highly reactive. Dogs are masters at association and unfortunately, it often works against them when humans don’t understand this concept. His response was, “Well, I’m not sure if we’re going to keep her yet,” to which I added without a second thought, “I’ll take her if you don’t want her.”
On Valentine’s Day, the wife showed up at my gate with Meggie at her side. “We decided to let you have her.” I have never regretted taking her in. . . she became and is my little Valentine girl.
To go into the house we have to pass through the barn, and the horses were in the stalls. Psychotic or manic is the only way to describe her reaction when she saw the horses, and it was clear that they had done exactly what I had told them not to do . . . used a shock collar when she was around horses.
It took a good 6 months to undo the damage . . . to teach her that good things happen when she’s around horses. Today, she can walk through the barn and have a “conversation” with them. They make eye-to-eye contact and come to an understanding. Does it mean I can let her out in the pasture when the horses are out? Absolutely not. Her herding instinct and memory are so strong, that the horses running could trigger a relapse. I never want to set her up to fail, and I have to be smart enough to not put her in a situation she cannot handle.
So, we play ball, go for rides, play a LOT of Frisbee, and when the horses are put up, she gets to patrol the boundaries of the property.
Of course there were mishaps along the way. High energy and high anxiety usually go together. I’ve had to replace window shades in the house when I left her alone as well as the inner lining of my truck cab. I lost a couple of peony bushes one spring, because she noticed them “sprouting” and decided to dig them up. Sadly, a couple of ducks became victims when she jumped into the pen and decided to “herd” them right into the fence. But all of these were my fault for not anticipating . . . with smart dogs you have to stay a step ahead of them.
So my little Valentine girl has learned, has adjusted and lives happily at my side. She’s loyal and protective . . . I have no doubt that she would give her life for me if needed.
Dogs have a way of finding their way into our lives . . . sometimes when they need it, but often when we need it the most.
My precious Nicky died in August, 2009, and I remember everything so clearly. One day, he and Meggie were both in the house. For a very brief moment, Nicky initiated a nose-to-nose meeting with Meggie. Both tails wagged and then they went on about their business. Who knows what they “said” to each other, but I have a pretty good idea. The next day, Nicky died.
Death is hard for me to deal with, and Meggie on that day as well as others, was my “saving grace.” I love her dearly and always will, no matter how many peonies she uproots! She is one of my most treasured blessings.
How lucky for me that someone didn’t want her.
There are other dogs like Meggie . . . some are trapped in animal control centers/pounds, others suffer in silence while being chained and abused. Please consider adopting a “death row dog” or helping us to save lives by contributing what you can or purchasing photo products to support our mission. Death Row Dog Rescue.