July 19, 2014 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: Border collie up to task of writing

By The Spokesman-Review
 

In honor of the dog days of summer and in response to Cindy Hval’s recent columns written from the perspective of her cats, Milo and Thor, I asked my border collie Tippy if he’d like me to submit a column from him.

As with all the “do you want?” questions I pose Tippy, he answered by barking and jumping up and down. As a dog bred to work, he’d rather be doing something than lying around.

Unfortunately, editorial oversight overruled my Tippy intoned submission. They must not be ready to let this paper go to the dogs.

That’s too bad. I often wonder what goes through Tippy’s head. Take last week, for example. While I was finishing breakfast I got a call from my mom.

“Your dog is here,” she said.

I looked around as if I’d find Tippy lying at my feet, even though my mom, who’s always been truthful, had just told me where he was – ¾ mile away.

My parents had been enjoying the shade of their deck when their golden retriever Bear began bouncing around and running between the door and gate. When she checked, she found Tippy on the front porch, as if he’d arrived for a scheduled play date.

“You don’t have to get him right away. He can stay and play with Bear,” my mom offered, even though the dogs had wrestled in our backyard sprinkler the night before after Bear (and my parents) returned from an extended vacation in the RV.

When Ian and I walked over to retrieve Tippy, we speculated about when our dog had decided to go to Bear’s house after he’d discovered someone left the garage door open. While Tippy has left our property without permission before, he’s never gone more than a block or two.

We decided he probably went to visit the dogs at the corner house first, since he barks at them every day. Then maybe he caught a whiff of Bear’s scent and followed it across the busy arterial. I just hope he looked both ways before crossing.

We also figured there weren’t any motorcycles or squirrels along the way. For unknown reasons, Tippy wants to attack all motorcycles and wouldn’t likely survive that fight. And a squirrel wouldn’t survive him. The last one didn’t.

For years Tippy has patrolled our yard, enforcing its boundaries against intrusion. He barks and playfully chases whatever squirrels taunt him from the safety of our 6-foot fence while they talk smack and scold him in high-pitched voices.

This spring one of them went too far and not fast enough. It breached our borders and came into the yard, where Tippy caught it. Unfortunately, the rodent emitted a sound uncannily like a canine squeaky toy.

When I heard the commotion and yelled at Tippy to drop, he did so immediately, running to the house with his tail between his legs. But it was too late and the squirrel died about an hour later after I didn’t have the strength to follow any of the life-ending suggestions offered by my Facebook friends.

I felt awful for the squirrel, but was pleased Tippy had obeyed me without hesitation. I’m still seared by the childhood memory of my beloved dogs killing a cat while I screamed and unsuccessfully tried to pull them off.

Since the moment I met him at an animal rescue home in Idaho, Tippy has wanted to please me. He follows me from room to room, strives to obey my verbal commands and hand motions and shows with his whole body how happy he is to be with me. Dogs are good at unconditional love.

Still, I haven’t trained him out of several idiosyncrasies. He’s learned to stop barking at the aerosol cooking spray can as if it were an illegal explosive and he’s learned to avoid, rather than attack, the vacuum cleaner, but I’ve yet to convince him that our family can survive the shower.

Every day, when he hears one of us turn on the water, he jumps on the bathroom door and barks, as if the water were lethal. He also barks at the television. Any televised animal gets the intruder treatment. He can go from a full sleep behind the couch to sharp barking with his paws on the entertainment center if a horse, goat, dog or other animal makes normal noises on screen.

Not only is Tippy compelled to protect his pack from televised animals, he supports our sports sentiments just as vocally. Football, basketball and soccer games are often punctuated by Tippy barking at the screen while we yell in victory or defeat.

Or maybe he wishes he were the one with the ball. Tippy loves playing with balls. He bats around a basketball in the backyard and will happily fetch a tennis ball as many times as you’re willing to throw it, even if he’s hot and tired.

That’s the border collie work ethic. Give them a task and they’ll do it all day. I’ve often thought if I could channel that drive and make Tippy an employee, I’d be the most prolific writer alive. And on hot summer days I could sit back with a cold drink while he writes my column.


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