I wrote this a couple of year ago and it was published in the Working Border Collie Magazine. It is one of my favorite pieces. Tess sat next to me on the couch, put her head in my lap and the words flowed out and this was written. She told me and I just wrote it.
Her Greatest Adversary
by Diane Pagel 2010
Often we look at our dogs and think they are being disobedient or fighting with us on the field. For years, I had thought that myself. I wished that I had opened my eyes a lot earlier to see that was not true.
USBCHA 2001 National Sheepdog Nursery Finals with Scott GlenMost of you know of my love for Tess and her love for me. She was a blessing sent to us many years ago and she came into our lives and fulfilled it with joy and happiness. She was a very talented sheepdog and went to Scott Glen for training and under his guidance, she placed 6th in 2001 USBCHA Nationals Nursery Finals, got her papers on ROM, placed high in the combined at the Bluegrass, ran in a Double Lift, ran in the Finals and was a consistent placer. With Scott, she shone like a diamond.
She came back to me and I began to run her with not much success for the first few years. I would call Scott, with tears in my eyes, and ask him “Why?” and he would offer words of encouragement to me. Then Tess and I would trek to another trial and we would struggle again. We would battle loggerheads on the field and never would be consistent. She was a talented dog and I couldn’t run her well.
I knew she loved me and I loved her but on the field, we would flail. She would bring the sheep on the fetch at warp sheep, settle them at the post, and then struggle on keeping straight lines on the drive. We would do the pen with ease yet sink in the shed. She is an awesome penner, all you had to do was open the pen and she would put them in. I would make a gap as wide as the Grand Canyon in the shedding ring and we still wouldn’t get the shed. I felt like a failure.
For a couple of years, we tried and tried. It seemed like she would buck me on the field. “Why” would be the question I would ask myself after each run “Why, why, why?” I could not find the answer.
At one trial, after a struggle around the course, she was fighting my commands and I was angry with her; however, we finally made it into the ring. I set up the shed and my eyes were furious at her. I looked at her from across the ring and saw love coming from her eyes. I stood still and in a moment of clarity, saw it all.
I was her greatest adversary. She was not the failure but it was I. She still loved me no matter how much I scolded her on the field. She tried to do, as I wanted her to do, even though I was in the wrong. She tried to cover up my mistakes. She carried me on her broad shoulders, with my mistakes and wrongs and never complained. She lived to do right by me.
I looked at her, the rage left my body, our eyes connected with love and I spoke softly to her. There was the tiniest of gaps and she came through and held the shed. I called to her after the run and she ran up to me, a slight smile on her face and her tail wagging. I embraced my brave little dog and cried into her fur at that exhaust gate.
“Will you forgive me?” I asked her and her reply was to lick the tears from my face.
From that day on, our relationship changed. We became a team. Soon the calls to Scott were about we placed and how proud I was of my Tess. Scott, who spent countless hours and miles riding on the hood of the truck, following along with Tess teaching her to drive her sheep. Scott also spent hours with her on the shed so she would be a great shedder as she was not talented in shedding. He put all the pieces of greatness in that little dog so I could shine with her. And so we did.
Tess was a wonderful driving dog, and we had become great driving team, and at one trial only lost three points on the drive. I would open the pen gate, she would walk them in, and if an ewe tried to break, she would slip sideway like a cutting horse and cut off the avenue for escape. She was not a flashy dog by any means and had medium eye. At times, her drive would seem sometimes boring, with Tess trotting behind the sheep and the sheep just ambling along, but online. My favorite part was the shedding ring. We would do a magical dance in the ring, our eyes would connect, a sly smile would appear on her face and she would come in and do the shed. She didn’t need a wide gap but a nod of my head and me saying “These ones” or “That’ll do” and she would slip in like a hot knife through butter.
We developed a ritual before our runs. We did a country western dance and then walked onto the field. Once as we were dancing to “Big and Rich”, an Open handler came by and made fun of us. As we left the field after our smoking run, he met us at the gate and asked, “What was the name of the song?”
Walking to the post was also one of my favorite parts of our runs. We would stroll up and she would be trembling with excitement We would do our dance and then I would ask her “Do you see your sheep?”, and her soulful eyes would scan the field and when she saw them, she would turn to me and lean forward just a little bit. I would smile at her, send her, and watch the tufts of dirt fly up behind her.
Running her was easy. We didn’t fight anymore and our bond deepened on the field. If I had stop her short for a dogleg fetch, she would do it. She would do the flanks for a dog leg fetch while other dogs ignored their handlers . Soon Tess had her own cheering section, and became known as the brave little dog that had a huge heart.
Our favorite part was in the shedding ring. We would dance and glance at each other. It was as if she could read my mind. I would set up the shed , sometimes with no opening and our eyes would connect across the sheep’s’ backs.. She would give me her sly grin, her eyes would glow, and then she would come in. After the shed, I would pet her, she would say, “Wasn’t that fun?”, and off we would go to the exhaust. Waiting at the exhaust, I would take her muzzle in my hand and slowly rub her ears.
One hot summer as we finished the course we walked off the field. I sat and she put her head in my lap. I rubbed her head and thought of our past; the past where I was the fool, where I did her wrong, where I was her greatest adversary. I looked down at my little dog and softly asked her again, “Tess will you forgive me?”
She replied, “There is nothing to forgive. You see, I love you for who you are. You needed to see the light. I have carried you on your journey before and now it is the time where we walk together in our journey, together as a team”
And thus, began our journey, of true partnership. Of the brave little dog who taught me about life and unconditional love. Of the brave little dog who taught me how to open my eyes and truly see what was in front of me all this time. Of the brave little dog who taught me how to be a real partner. And most of all, how to live life to the fullest.