My beloved red Border Collie, River, U-CD Claudia’s Never Ever BC CDX TD RE HIC CGC, passed away Friday, October 5th, 2012. Although I knew this summer that his health was failing, there was always hope that he had some kind of ailment that could be fixed. But he became more and more lethargic and finally quit eating. I gave him hugs and tried to entice him with his favorite food. He looked at me with his beautiful, soulful eyes, wordlessly telling me he couldn’t eat.
In early September Dr. Perrett, of the Pine Forest Animal Clinic, ran a full series of blood work tests on River to look for something obviously wrong. But River’s blood work came back perfect. His heart was beating perfectly. His fecal sample showed a bit of a bacterial infection but nothing serious. In every respect River was a perfect dog for his age of twelve years. But I knew, watching him lose interest in the squirrels in the back yard, not running with the other dogs and sleeping all day, that something was seriously wrong. Could it be his teeth?
Friday, the fifth of October, I took him in to the Clinic to have his teeth examined. Or maybe I should have him x-rayed or a cat scan done? What were my options? The vet again found nothing obviously wrong with River, although it was apparent the dog was losing weight. Finally Dr. Perrett palpated River’s abdomen and noticed something odd. River’s stomach was rippling, a sign of fluid. His abdomen could be filled with blood, the vet suggested. There was a chance that River had an operable tumor and could recover to live a longer life. I started crying and left River in the vet’s capable hands for further tests.
Later that afternoon the vet called to say more blood work showed River was severely anemic; he suggested that it may indeed be blood inside the cavity. He listed my options of euthanasia or surgery. I choose exploratory surgery. River has given me twelve years of love. I wasn’t going to give up on him to save a few pennies. But a few hours later I received a call from a tearful staff member who let me know that River was filled with tumors. I choose to release River to heaven, to run where old dogs are free from pain and discomfort. He is now with his buddies, Shelties-Indy, Briggs and Hamster, Border Collie-Mickey, and his tracking friend, Golden Retriever-Trapper. While I wait this week to get his cremated remains it is a time of reflection.
River was an impulse purchase, from an ad in the July, 2000 Oregonian: Border Collie puppies for sale in nearby Cornelius, Oregon. I drove to the address which turned out to be a hog farm. River’s dad, who had heavy black and white fur, ran freely around the farm, rushing by us to be patted and then taking off again. The mom and her remaining puppies were lying in the straw in the barn. As I recall there were two black and white puppies and one red male puppy. I couldn’t make up my mind and finally threw my keys down on the ground suddenly as a quick temperament test. The red puppy did not run away but came over to investigate the keys. “I’ll take this one”. I said. Thus River came home with me and entered my life.
Border Collies need to come with instruction manuals. Even young Border Collies, especially young Border Collies are very high energy. I hadn’t a clue what I was getting myself into. My previous experience with dogs had been with Golden Retrievers, Shelties, Rottweilers and Labs. They are no comparison with a highly intelligent, high energy breed of dog like Border Collies. IMHO.
River was fun to train but terrible to live with, a housewrecker. I had a full-time job and three Shelties in my newly purchased house in Hillsboro, Oregon with a tiny yard. River needed long walks, a couple of acres to run around and intense training. My schedule didn’t give him much chance to release his pent-up energy. Finally, in frustration I took him to Salem to see my friend Marge Bishop, a dog trainer with years of horse training experience. River tried to push Marge around but he had met his match. With her help River and I became a team and went on to win High in Trial in a Non-Regular class our first time in the ring. River became, in fact, a great working dog. Unfortunately my schedule didn’t allow for the training and showing which would have made him an Otch titled dog. That fact still makes me feel guilty and sad. However, River was happy to be in the fields tracking, or on long walks in Champoeg Park in St Paul, Oregon, or attending training sessions and shows as time allowed.
In 2008 I retired and sold my home. With my Subaru crammed with my stuff and River comfortably lounging in his crate, we headed south on I-5 through California to Florida, our new home. (See Step Three of Four: http://oregondoglover.blogspot.com/2009_01_01_archive.html ) Finally River had his two acres to run around at his leisure, a huge garage to sleep in and two young Border Collies to boss around.
I retired River at the age of eight due to a limp he developed after crashing into a concrete bird bath, that disqualified him from the competition ring. But his career up until then included a Herding Instinct Certificate, a Tracking title, Companion Dog and Companion Dog Excellent titles, a Rally Excellent title and two legs on his Rally Advanced Excellent title, one leg on his Graduate Novice title, and a UKC Companion Dog title. He gave me a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift one year by winning an all breed AKC High in Trial and the following day, a run-off for High in Trial. He’s the first dog I’ve ever trained who earned a perfect score in off lead heeling.
In his old age, I’d take him to the training building and run him through the Utility exercises. He loved to train, loved the attention, loved to ride in the car and bark at the motorcycles who came too close to my car.
River was a character, the guard dog of my pack of Border Collies, an avid squirrel chaser, although he never knew what to do when he almost caught one, was deathly afraid of thunder and lightning but not afraid to put himself first before the other dogs at supper time. He was a bed hog, never moving an inch without a low growl and a grumble to let me know he wasn’t pleased. River participated in some square dancing routines and therapy work through the Five Flags Dog Training Club and showed off his obedience skills to the seniors. However he wasn’t a touchy-feelie dog with the strangers so I kept him by my side during the meet and greet part of the program. Feeling somewhat self-important, he would greet people on his own terms, not on anyone else’s.
River was an absolute joy to live with, a dog that I will remember as one of the greatest dogs I’ve owned. In fact, someday I hope to own another red Border Collie in River’s memory.
And now there are two Border Collies in my pack. So strange. Friday, the puppy and the cat were sitting by my side. Levi got up and looked behind the sofa, walking from one of the end of the house to another, sniffing, clearly looking for River. Levi has been with River since Levi was four months old. Last winter I took a movie on my iPhone of River running around the tree chasing squirrels. When I play it back Levi jumps up and looks around for his mentor, River. So sad.
Author Jon Katz, http://www.bedlamfarm.com, asked on Facebook, “Does your dog have a special song that you sing to him/her?” I wrote back that this is what I would sing to River since he was a little puppy. But now I can’t sing it without crying.
I love you and miss you, River.
- River’s Morning at the Vet’s Office (bordercollies3.wordpress.com)