Back in the late 1980’s, Jean Roberts and I founded the first Collie Rescue organization in Northern California. We had a great group of breeders, fanciers, and other Collie enthusiasts involved for a number of years before I moved out of the area, and our once wonderful group was infiltrated by animal rights interests. Back then, Sandy Tuttle was with us to lend a hand; Rick and Debbie were always there at the shows selling incredibly good food to raise money; Jean had mugs made featuring my pen and ink Collie drawings to give out to everyone who helped; and rescue dogs were pony expressed to their homes all over the north state by everyone from all breed handlers to relatives of puppy buyers. It was a good time for Collie Rescue, and a time of political innocence we are not likely to see again in this state.
I was living in Mendocino County in those days, and Jean was based in Napa. She would occasionally call me about a shelter dog from somewhere in the Bay Area, and we would make plans to have the dog released and rehomed from either her location or mine. As more people became involved, we would sometimes arrange for a dog to go to another foster situation until a new home could be found.
One morning, Jean called me about a “very elderly tri girl” who’s time was up at one of the Bay area shelters, and she wanted to know if I wanted to take her. The concern, of course, was that elderly dogs are particularly difficult to place, and the likelihood would be that taking her in would mean she would be with me permanently. Jean had already discussed this girl with all of our Bay area volunteers, and each had determined that they were not in a position to take on an elderly dog who was unlikely to find a permanent home. I remember the conversation clearly. I asked Jean “What’s wrong with her?” She said, “Nothing, really — No health issues. She’s just old.” I said, “Well, I have room here, and we don’t kill people just because they’re old.”
My referring to her as “people” was something I had picked up from working with Sandy Tuttle. Sandy ran a boarding kennel as well as raised some of the most beautiful show winning Collies in the country (under the Kasan/Arrowhill prefix). She would often casually refer to “all of the people in the front yard” meaning all of the boarding dogs who were outside playing.
Jean said, “Well, you’re the last one to be asked, so if you don’t want to let her go down, you get her!” I told her that was fine with me, and we went ahead with arranging shelter release and transport. It took several days before the sweet little tri girl arrived at my door with one of our pony express drivers. She reportedly rode very well in the car, and walked into the living room as tho she’d lived with me all of her life. She was a dear old girl, and I was happy to have her for as long as might be necessary.
As it turned out, that length of time was to be far shorter than any of us had anticipated. The events that ensued were completely unpredictable as well as thoroughly gratifying. My little grey muzzled girl was about to embark on a journey that would teach us all what Collie rescue, at it’s best, could be.
Being the co-founder of Collie Rescue of Northern California, I was very involved with my local shelter along with the effort to turn it into a no-kill facility. In those days, the shelter took advantage of the tourist area we lived in, and displayed available animals to the public in the park every other Saturday. By association, I had an open and ongoing invitation to attend, bringing along any dogs I had available and my own accompanying forms and paperwork, Again, this was in the days before animal rights interests had taken over most shelters, and the focus was squarely on the best interests of the animals rather than the intent to do away with as many as possible then turn the blame on breeders and pet owners.
Seeing the invitation as more of a chance to have a fun day in the park with the dogs than a genuine opportunity to find a likely home for the elderly Collie, I took her along with two of my own dogs to enjoy an outing the following Saturday. Everyone was brushed and bathed, and the little tri girl took it all in stride as we loaded the car, and ultimately set up our ex-pens in the grassy park.
There were many tourists there, as is usual in any California coastal town on a breezy summer Saturday. There were also a fair number of local folks enjoying the day with their families, their friends, and their dogs. The little tri girl was well behaved as usual, and not particularly interested in all of the other dogs, the cats, and numerous people in attendance, and lied down in the grass watching the scene with only casual notice.
Then all at once she rose to her feet, drew up her head, and pulled her ears to full attention. Someone was walking by with a Golden Retriever on a leash. It was as if she thought she had recognized an old friend. As the pair moved on, she went back to her disinterested lounging. Then later, again, another person with a Golden Retriever came by, and again, she responded with excited anticipation. Several more times throughout the day, a dog of this breed would appear, and every time she sprang to her feet to acknowledge them happily. It became clear that this Collie had a Golden Retriever friend somewhere in her past.
As the day drew on, people would come by and ask about the dogs, about Collie Rescue, and about the little tri girl. No one was at all interested in the possibility of taking her into their household, and for the obvious reason; “We want a young dog, or preferably a puppy.” That was okay. I hadn’t expected anything different, and we were just there to enjoy the day anyway.
Eventually, a couple came along, and remarked instantly at what a beautiful tri color Collie stood up to greet them. I told them her story, and they listened intently, never taking their eyes off the lovely little girl. “We’ve been looking for an older dog” they said, explaining that they had recently lost a dog they had loved for over twenty years, and that their now sixteen year old Golden Retriever was pining for a canine friend. “We don’t dare bring home a young dog which would be too much for our Golden” they told me. Somewhat astounded by the coincidence, I said, “You have a Golden Retriever?” and quickly explained the little tri girl’s affinity for the breed. The couple was clearly smitten with the elderly Collie, and she responded in kind.
That may well have been the end of a lovely story, but this one was to go on for many years to come. The little tri girl did go home with the couple, both semi-retired doctors who lived in a grand home in the Santa Rosa area, and they called her Mendi in affectionate regard for the county in which they had found her. I received letters of Mendi’s progress and adventures for a good number of years, and the love she and her new family brought to each other was nothing less than extraordinary. She and the resident Golden bonded almost instantly, but the couple initially thought they had one smart dog and one somewhat obtuse, as the Collie seemed to have a limited vocabulary. One day their visiting daughter inadvertently solved that mystery when she took the dogs into the den with her to watch some television. There was a sports program on in which the announcer was speaking in Spanish, and the daughter noticed Mendi responding openly to the words. She alerted her parents to the thought that Mendi, rather than being less than bright, simply knew a different language. A little experimentation, and it was confirmed that Mendi was, in fact, quite familiar with a plethora of Spanish words.
So, good dog owners that they were, the couple enrolled in night school. Soon they were speaking fluent Spanish to Mendi and enjoying her intelligent responses. Not only did they possess two highly intelligent senior dogs, but two who were quickly becoming bilingual!
A later letter I received had me somewhat concerned as I began reading. It seemed Mendi, as is often the case with older spayed females, had become incontinent. The couple was waking up every morning to a wet bed, which of course, was a situation no one could expect them to tolerate. As I read on, I began to smile as I saw, “So of course we had to go out and get a waterproof bed sheet because there was no way we could think of banishing her from our bed!” The next paragraph was yet even more heartening as they explained having a good friend who was in charge of pediatric research in conjunction with a major university medical school. Explaining their noting the size of the dog in seeking out help from a pediatric specialist, they asked him if a mild drug could be concocted to help with her urinary leaking. Sure enough, the research physician came up with a prescription just for Mendi, and the need for waterproof mattress covers ceased.
Mendi’s life continued to be full and happy for all of her remaining years. I often think of her, and always with a warm heart and a tear or two. We live, undeniably, in a society that foolishly worships youth and carelessly discards anything and even anyone that attains the fleeting gift of advanced age. Thankfully for all concerned, Mendi found her way out of that eventuality. We, here, don’t kill people because they’re old… nor Collies nor Shelties, either.