At various points during the years after Pepper died, my head kept telling me I should get another dog. My heart knew differently. I heard it whispering louder and louder until the whisper grew into a scream. It was only then that I listened. “I just want to be with Chandi”. Chandi told me repeatedly that she just wanted to be with me. While I was fighting with my heart, we went to meet various other dogs. Chandi showed her displeasure. And her teeth. Mostly though she was aloof.
On one occasion I allowed my head to reign supreme and regretted it as soon as I got the new dog home. Just not right. So far from being right as it is possible to be. The dog in question was a six month old, black Labradoodle called Holly. She was a great dog, but not my dog. Listen to your heart. I did. Turns out Holly was supposed to be my friend Debbie’s dog. She’s now called Daphne, is truly loved, adored and happy. The way I reacted to having Holly in the house frightened me. I truly love dogs, so why did I feel so desperate to get her away from me? Maybe I just love my dogs and she wasn’t supposed to be my dog. Sometimes things in life can be that simple, right?Isn’t it the same with your own children? Very different to other people’s children… Over thinking as usual, I started to believe that I wasn’t supposed to have another dog, and if I ever did bring a new one into the house, that I would react in the same way.
It was with great trepidation for this reason and others, that I picked up the phone when I saw the advert for a litter of ten Border collie puppies. There were four blue merle bitches and there were photos of each accompanying the internet advert. There was one that caught my eye. She has a large white blaze on her face between her eyes and I was surprised that I was drawn to her; my personal preference is for very little white on the face of a blue merle collie! But drawn to her I was, enough to pick up the phone to find out more about her and the rest of the litter.
The pups had been born on a working farm and both the parents worked the sheep. I asked whether the parents had been tested for inherited genetic diseases and got the answer I expected. No. However both the parents had been bred from lines of working dogs. It was a risk that I would only take with a working Border collie for the simple reason that farmers don’t keep or breed from dogs that don’t work or that are ill. It is a risk buying a puppy that hasn’t been bred from parents that are clear from inherited genetic illness, but if you know the risks then at least you are making an informed decision. Like I said, I would not even consider buying any other pure breed dog without seeing clear certificated evidence.
I arranged to go to visit the puppies on Saturday afternoon (May 4th). The pups were being raised outside with a shed to sleep in with an attached large-ish dirt run for them to play in. There was no bedding in the shed, just bare wooden boards to sleep on. Drinking water was provided in an old bucket which had definitely seen better days. So had the water. The cleanest thing in the bucket was probably the brick that was stopping it from being knocked over by the swarm of puppies that greeted me. Scratch that. The swarm of puppies that mobbed me as soon as I stepped into their enclosure.
Maybe I should back-track a little …did I say that I it was with great trepidation that I went to visit? No I didn’t. I said it was with trepidation that I picked up the phone to inquire about the puppies. I need to point out that I was terrified of going to see the pups – what if I bought one and then freaked out once I got it home? I couldn’t go through that. I just couldn’t.
I had said that I would be at the farm, which was about an hour and a quarter’s drive away, around 3 pm. I so nearly didn’t go. But, talking myself through each step and deciding that I was simply going to look and to see how I felt once there, I headed the car for the farm.
Strangely, the farm was just two miles away from where Chandi’s McTimoney Chiropractor lived, and I knew the way. All of it was strange, including the fact that I was going to see a pup that had all that white on her face…
It was a bright sunny afternoon and the drive down was rather pleasant, well it would have been if I hadn’t have been feeling a little stressed. Yep – over thinking (again). I was just a mile from the farm when my car started to make a worrying noise. I instantly knew what was wrong – the clutch. I had been waiting for it for a while, so had the garage where I take my car for repairs. I knew already how much it was going to cost to replace and it was money I just didn’t have right then on top of the enormous vet bill I also had to pay from 11 days previously.
I stopped the car on the side of the country lane and didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or just head for home. Was this the Universe telling me something? Was it a sign that I was doing the wrong thing even contemplating going to see the puppies, let alone thinking of buying one? Or, was it the Universe showing me that whatever I do, there will always be something going wrong, some enormous bill that needs paying and that I needed to live my life in spite of everything? Peculiarly, I felt very much that I should just go see the pups. It was remarkably odd that I felt that way, as this was my perfect ‘excuse’ for not going…
Managing to get the car into first gear, I drove, somewhat noisily, to the farm and met the pups. As it was only the merle bitches I was interested in, I asked the man who I had originally spoken to on the phone and who showed me the pups, if I could just have them out in the enclosure one at a time. This would involve putting the throng of excited puppies into their sleeping quarters. Apparently I was going to have to do that myself… the man, unfathomably (to me) went to the shed, opened the bottom half of the door (it was a stable-type door with the top half open), went inside and closed the bottom half of the door.
Stupidly, I had presumed that he was going to call all the puppies into the shed. But no, that would have been too helpful, sensible and easy. He just stood in the shed while I picked up all the puppies one by one and put them over the low door into the shed. I’m still not sure what he thought he was doing standing in the shed while I ran round the enclosure, but obviously he had a plan. The fact that is was badly formulated and its execution involved standing still in a small, dark shed with the door shut, was neither here nor there by this point.
I was left with white-face-pup who was excitedly jumping around my ankles. She seemed very sweet and so much smaller than the photo had led me to believe. I wanted to do some basic aptitude tests as designed by Wendy Vollhard in order to try (at least) to select a puppy that suited me. I didn’t want a really bold, ‘in my face’ type of pup, but a gentle, more sensitive character that wanted to work with me. I certainly wasn’t going to pick a pup on looks alone.
The Vollhard tests are designed to be used on puppies that are exactly 49 days old. These pups were ten weeks and two days old, but you can do variations of the tests on older puppies/dogs. The tests are supposed to be carried out in a room/place that is unfamiliar to the puppy, but judging by the help I so far received in just trying to get one puppy on its own, I knew that this was not going to be possible, so I didn’t even bother to ask.
The most important test as afar as I could see, involves assessing a puppy’s reaction to a toy, in this case a ball of crumpled paper I had brought with me. There are many things a puppy can do once you have gained the puppy’s curiosity and rolled the toy a short distance away from you. I was looking for a pup that keenly ran after the toy and brought it straight back. This, apparently shows a pup that ‘wants to work with you’, and was exactly what I wanted.
I rolled the paper away from me after gently teasing the pup, and she galloped after it. Great! She picked it up. Great! And ran off with it to the furthest corner of the enclosure. Not great! Not great at all. In fact an epic fail. And there were no second chances.
I managed to retrieve the paper from the pup, picked her up and popped her into the shed. I picked up the next one I liked the look of – loads of merle markings on her face – and ran the same test, along with others, to see how she responded.
She scampered after the paper ball. Fabulous! Picked it up. Fabulous! And ran off as fast as she could. Fail! This time, it took me a while to get the paper back off a seriously determined puppy. Every time I got close, she would grab the paper and charge off and sit with her back to me. I out witted her eventually, and delivered her back to the shed.
The next pup was sweet looking with a slightly crooked line of markings on the one side of her face. I gently put my hands under her to lift her up and felt her cower down towards the floor. Not a good sign. I was very gentle with her and cuddled her, which she liked and responded by giving my face a lick. The onto the tests…. ball of paper rolled and she ran after it. Yay! She picked it up …. and ran straight back to me, dropping it at my feet! Pass!
I was concerned about her cowering and obvious fear, when I picked her up and I was given much more cause for concern later when all the puppies started barking and the woman that owned the farm hit with a broom, the metal gates forming the pup’s enclosure. All the pups were startled, but this little pup was scared out of her wits and took a long time to recover and to trust the humans that were present. I did point all this out to the woman, but she seemed both oblivious and not to care. My head ruled this pup out, despite what my heart said. I do hope she found a home where she would be encouraged and understood.
I tested the final merle puppy, one that I had initially not really liked the look of from the photos. Funnily enough though, as soon as I saw all the puppies for the first time in the flesh, she was the one that instantly caught my eye.
I played with her, teasing her with the paper ball to get her interested and then rolled it. She ran after it. I held my breath. She picked it up. I continued to hold my breath. She turned and … ran back to me with the paper in her mouth. She stood in front of me, looking up, and said ‘Woo, woo, woo!’, which I understood to mean ‘Woof, woof, woof!’ It’s hard to enunciate clearly when you have a mouth full of paper…
I laughed as she ‘woofed’ at me and bent down to see if she would willingly hand me the paper. I held out my hand and she keenly dropped it into my hand. She had of course passed the test with flying colours, but I just rolled the paper again to see what she would do a second time. She did exactly the same thing, including ‘woo, woo, wooing’ at me as she brought it back. As far as I could make out under the limited working conditions, her tests appeared to show her as the type of puppy I was looking for, and I liked everything about her, including how she looked with her one brown eye and one half brown/half blue eye. Striking, and very pretty.
I discussed the price with a woman who came out to see what I was doing with the puppies, and negotiated a discount. I did point out that the price they wanted for the puppies was wholly unrealistic given that the parents hadn’t been health tested, the puppies themselves hadn’t even been checked over by a vet, they were neither KC or ISDS registered, and didn’t come with anything you would expect when paying that amount of money (a few week’s free insurance, food they were used to eating, vaccination etc).
Even though I managed to reduce the price, I didn’t have enough money on me to buy the pup. This was probably a good thing as it meant I could reserve her and go home and see how I really felt about her, rather than buying her on the spot in the spur of the moment. I was taking note of how I felt, and it was hard to leave. Considering I didn’t know how I would feel even going to see puppies, let alone contemplating buying one, this was an interesting turn of events. So was my reaction when I held her for the first time. So soon after losing Chandi, my soul mate, I wondered if I might resent the puppy, but no, as I held her to me, I felt a great deal of comfort as the tears streamed down my face as I thought of Chandi. This pup certainly wasn’t a ‘replacement’ as many people that don’t realize dogs are family, might think. She was totally separate from the overwhelming grief – I knew that I would be able to love her whilst grieving for the one I’d had loved and lost. It was all a huge revelation to me.