Fifteen years ago, my husband-to-be called me at work to say he’d gotten us another dog. We had two Dalmatian show dogs (one of whom predated my relationship with him), and he’d taken one of them to the vet. There, he saw a tech walking a little foxy-faced red puppy. When he said that the puppy was cute, the tech asked “Do you know someone who can give her a good home? We found her tied to the doorknob here yesterday morning.”
So it was that Katie came home to live with us. She was unlike any dog I’d ever had. She wouldn’t leave the cats alone … not in a vicious way, but in a constantly tailing them way. She scent-rolled. She was constantly making sure of where everyone was. She didn’t bark, but occasionally emitted what we called a “barrooo,” a howl that could express either joy or upset by its mere intonation.
When I learned that I had an Australian Kelpie and not some random mixed-breed dog, a lot of things fell into place. They’re one of the oldest herding breeds, even though they’re somewhat uncommon in the US. The Australians developed them by outcrossing Border collies with the local dingoes (which explained a lot of her more wolf-like behaviors). Katie wasn’t pestering the cats, she was herding them. She wasn’t being neurotic, she was making sure she knew where her entire herd was.
I knew that herding dogs had to be kept busy, so I decided to teach her to play fetch. I took her outside with a tennis ball and threw it … and she ran, brought it back, and dropped it at my feet. I figured it would be a piece of cake. I threw it again, with the same result. The third time I threw it, Katie laid down at my feet and gave me a look that plainly said “If you don’t want that ball, I’m not going to waste any more time getting it.”
She never was keen on fetch games, although she did like a stress ball I had and would pick it up, lie down, toss it into the air herself and catch it. Unlike the other two dogs, she also never did learn to catch popcorn if you tossed it, although she can take it so gently from your fingers that you forget her inch-amd-a-half canine teeth are even there.
Like most of her ilk, Katie is smart as a whip. When she watched the squirrels leaping from our mulberry tree to the roof, she figured out that if she wanted to catch one she had to get up there — and was halfway up a ladder before we were able to stop her. She could turn in mid-leap if she wanted to change direction while she was romping outside. I often said that if we’d put her into agility competition training, nothing in our house would have been safe.
She worried about puppies, even though she never had any. The sound of a puppy crying on TV would send her looking frantically for the little animal so she could comfort it. She recognized dogs on television and liked to watch dog shows and agility competitions.
She loves to keep her people company. I had severe stomach problems at one point in my life, and they often kept me home from work. I would stay in the master bedroom on those occasions, because there was a bathroom immediately available. I was watching a diving dog competition and eating some crackers. Katie ran in and hopped up on the bed, looked at me and then ran out again. When she came back, she dropped a mouthful of kibble on the bed, laid down, and watched TV while eating her snack one piece at a time.
Of course, time has taken its toll. Katie lost her hearing a couple of years ago, and cataracts now cloud her eyes. She has had arthritis for a couple of years now as well, but the last few days have seen a serious decline. She can no longer make it easily up the single step from our living room to the rest of the house without assistance. The same dog who could leap a four-foot baby gate with ease needs help to get on the couch.
Yesterday, all of the usual rules went out the window. Katie had ham, sausage, roast beef, all of the dog cookies she wanted … and even things that are usually off limits because of her grain allergies. Things like cinnamon rolls, crackers, and gingerbread men.
Because today, in just a couple of hours, we will be saying goodbye to her at the same veterinary clinic from which she was adopted. I will give her Reiki as she goes, and sing her the waggy-tail dog song that I have sung to her since she was a little foxy-faced puppy.
And, for the first time in 17 years, tonight I will go to bed in a house without a dog.