It was hard to look at the tri-colored adult, male Border Collie sitting alone in the black wire crate inside my Honda Odyssey. “Cowboy” wasn’t upset or restless, as he was used to traveling to dog shows and had been in many strange situations. It was I who was upset, who felt pity for the dog, that would never see his beloved owner again. She had died recently of cancer, leaving behind a husband and their four Border Collies. Cowboy is co-owned by the breeder, who also co-owns two of my three Border Collies. Would I drive to Huntsville, Alabama to pick up the dog, the breeder asked?
Cowboy was an exceptional puppy even at the age of seven weeks. The breeder brought him to my dog training building where another friend would do temperament tests on the entire litter. Cowboy was off the charts good on every test. He retrieved easily and returned the toy, he was inquisitive and outgoing, lovable and appealing to the eye. If the person who was to be the future owner didn’t want him the temperament tester or I would be interested, we joked somewhat seriously. Cowboy was the chosen one even at that age. The tester noted that a dog that intelligent and inquisitive had to go to a working home. Bored Border Collies can get into a lot of trouble. This puppy could do it all in whatever job he was given.
The new owner, Linda, and I had met years ago ringside at a northern Alabama obedience trial. We had the same breed, Border Collies, so naturally we would start talking about our love for them and their accomplishments. When Cowboy’s breeder mentioned that day at my building that Linda was getting this gorgeous puppy I knew he was going to the perfect home.
Over the years Linda and I met at other northern Alabama shows and I saw Cowboy grow into a dog that could easily have been a breed champion as well as an Obedience Trial Champion. His black coat was thick and shiny and his demeanor was confident and outgoing. Cowboy won many obedience awards and eventually competed against my Infinity Border Collies, his cousins.
At one show while Linda and I were chatting she mentioned that she was a breast cancer survivor. But she was still taking some drugs that were helping her to keep the cancer from returning. I didn’t think much of it because although she mentioned the drugs made her very tired, she was very outgoing, positive and made light of her health struggle.
We made it a tri-yearly ritual to meet at the Murfreesboro (Tennessee) Dog Obedience Trials with our dogs and have steak dinner at an outstanding restaurant nearby. Their April trial 2019 trial was coming up and as usual we were planning on meeting there again.
In March I texted Linda about something stupid and received the reply that she was at that moment in the Emergency Room at the hospital. The cancer had returned and was on her spine. Although she was in severe pain she kept in touch with her friends via Facebook, sending pictures of herself smiling, with her bright red hair combed neatly. Then she said that she was not going to have further treatment and was going to a Hospice facility. Naively I thought she was going to still be fine. She could beat this. She sent pictures of herself again looking great.
One day at an obedience trial in early April I was approached by one of Linda’s friends. I was told that Linda had died that morning. Shocked, I took my dog into the Utility A ring and flunked. In record time I tore down my crates, loaded my dogs into my Odyssey and drove south on Interstate 65.
How can this happen? How can someone so positive and upbeat not survive cancer? It didn’t seem fair. Somehow I managed to drive home almost two-hundred miles while crying, picked up one of my dogs from the boarding kennel, still crying and arrived home. I tore up my entry for the April Murfreesboro trial. It wouldn’t be the same without Cowboy, Linda’s other dog, Valor, and Linda herself.
I contacted our breeder and told her about Linda’s death and also contacted the Huntsville Alabama Dog Training Club about funeral information. In time I worked with them to find someone to meet me halfway up Interstate 65 to return Cowboy to his breeder.
It’s still hard to talk about Linda’s death. We who show dogs are a family. We see each other weekend after weekend, month after month, year after year. It doesn’t matter if we are separated from one coast or another. We keep in touch and celebrate our accomplishments as well as life’s travails. When one of us dies it affects us as one, whether it is an exhibitor or judge. And each time it doesn’t seem possible that time has marched on, that someone we knew has left us.
Do we know for a fact that a dog feels the loss of its owner or do we like to anthropomorphize and imagine that they grieve? Cowboy did not seem distraught. He jumped from one vehicle to another as I drove him south on Interstate 65. He rode quietly in one of the crates in my van. He ate some treats with no problem. When the breeder arrived at my house Cowboy jumped up into her truck as if he did that all the time. Dogs are much more adoptable than we give them credit. Me? Not so much. I’m still mourning a great dog trainer and friend. It won’t be the same without her at the upcoming shows. But I know she is without pain and whatever is in heaven I’m sure she is happy.
As for Cowboy, he still has a great future. I mentioned to the breeder that if she decides to breed Cowboy I’d like a puppy, in memory of Linda. I’m sure she’d like to see her beloved dog’s beauty and work ethic continue.
In Memory of Linda Lewis Hall.