Thursday, February 13, 2014

One year later...the heart is healing....

It’s been a year since my heart was ripped apart and the world came crashing down. Even now it still is painful. I started to write about Tess many times but never could finish the words. But today, I felt it was time. It seems like yesterday when she died in my arms, my tears cascading down her still but warm body and my heart was bursting. The worse ache one can ever feel.  I had incredible pain when I had my heart surgery but this pain was ten times worse. I grieved for weeks and the nights were unbearably lonely without her cuddled next to me. Getty was just as heartbroken as he loved her as much as me. 

We loved her so much that we gave up our city life and bought a sheep farm for her second birthday. On her birthday as we drove into our new farm, Getty turned to me and said “Look honey, I got you  this sheep farm for your birthday.”
I replied that my birthday was next month and he coolly answered, “I was talking to Tess.” She was sitting between us, her head peering over the dashboard, ready for her new adventure.   She was probably the only dog that ever got a sheep farm for her birthday. She was that special.
Over the years, we learned a lot. We had our trials and tribulations, our wins and our losses. Many stories were written and published about her. The farm was named after her. She enriched our lives and all those she came in contact.

She arrived two years earlier, a scared puppy. Afraid so much that ever time anyone looked at her, she would pee. Afraid of dogs, she would run behind us in terror. She didn’t have a good start in life. She came from a backyard breeder.  She was shot with a shotgun at 6 weeks as the puppies didn’t come when called so the breeder shot at them. She was peppered with pellets that resided in her body for her entire life. We bought her as a pity buy, as she was going to be shot since the breeder was going to leave town and didn’t want to take them along and refused to turn them into rescue. Our thought was to buy her then find her a good home. She had no papers and we picked her up and we melted in her large, sad eyes. By the weekend, we decided she was going to stay and our lives took a new path.
Her nickname was “pee pee princess” as she peed every time she saw you but as she grew confident she quit. She was afraid but yet brave. She didn’t leave the porch aside to go potty and in the house was next to us. Prior to us, she never had any real human contact. She loved us deeply. Once she saw us plant 20 plus Azaleas in three rows, lovingly planting each one with care and tenderness. We were proud of our work and they looked stunning in three rows in the far side of the backyard. Tess watched us from the porch as she was too scared to leave the porch. Later that night, she crawled out to the far darkness of the back yard, and dug up every single one and put them at the back door for us. She saw how much we admired them and wanted to please us. It took great courage for her to cross the backyard and dig up all 20 plus plants. Sheer terror must have been her friend.  We saw the plants next to the door and saw her happy face and realized how brave she had to be to get every one of those plants. Her tail wagged and we scooped her up and told her she was a good girl. She peed with delight.
We discovered herding and then made the plunge to the country. She went to Scott Glen for training and under his tutelage; she got registered on merit, the third dog in ABCA history. She placed 6th in the USBCHA Sheepdog Nationals Finals with Scott.  She became social and outgoing as I would pass her to folks at trials with treats and soon she realized people were her friend. She became a social butterfly at trial, often working the crowd for treats and finding a warm lap to hop on and snuggle.
We grew up together on the trial field. I was her handicap, often giving her rapid fire commands, wrong commands or just doing everything wrong. She was patient with me and if I gave a particularly bad command, she would sit down, turn her head back to me as if to say, “Really, try again” and then I would give her the right command and she would bust out to do it. Over the years, we became a fine team and went to the Finals. Me so being green and her being seasoned. Just prior to her run, my mentor told me the sheep were tough and if she couldn’t move them; don’t be upset as many dogs could not move them. Even far tougher dogs. So we went to the post, she scanned for the sheep, leaned forward and I sent her with a grip command. We had one of the fastest time going into the shedding ring. Later I told my mentor, I sent her with a grip command because I knew she would show them her teeth. The sheep bolted down the fetch line and the setout crew told me, she came in at the top, her  jaws opening and closing and they could her the clicking of her  teeth. 
She loved to please me and would do anything I asked, even thought she sometimes would have no idea what to do.  She had great instinct and was biddable.  Courage of a lion but gentle with lambs. Playful but serious. A bright light in our lives. She went everywhere with us and enjoyed her birthday and Christmas gifts with delight. She took great care of me, both on and off the field. When I had my heart surgery, she never left my side and would lick the tears of pain off my face and was my nursemaid during the entire ordeal. I knew the day that I would live as it was touch and go, when she left me to go play ball.
She has the deepest soulful eyes and could read our emotional and feelings.  She was my soul mate. We never were far apart and she was my sounding board. Often when I would get stuck writing, she would snuggle next to me, lick my hands and then the words would flow out. She was my inspiration to be a better handler. She forgave me for my numerous mistakes and when we would leave the field, she would look at me as if to say, don’t worry, next time we will get it. And we did.
We became a good team, winning and enjoying our runs. In the shedding ring, our eyes would met, she would give me a small grin, then fly in for a shed. She was a masterful shedder which was ironic as she started off being the worse shedder in her training. I would eye a single and she would snake in and hold it. She would always find her sheep and rated them well and we had some incredible runs. We had some awful runs as well but we had the time of our lives. We had a ritual of doing a dance before our runs.
She was the queen at the farm. She was the best when it came to ewes and lambs, showing patience and settling the ewes. If a lambs didn’t move she would put her nose between the back legs under the tail and wheelbarrow the lamb to the location. The ewe didn’t seem to mind. She helped raise bottle lambs. She would take on the ram, holding her ground meeting the charge with teeth and turning the ram. She loved to work the chickens and later loved working cattle. She knew her job and did it well.
Over the years our love for her deepened and she had a hold of my heart. I had dogs all my life and loved everyone but never as much as I loved her.  She was a ray of sunshine that came into our lives when we had some darkness. She made us laugh and smile and learn to love life.  She had her opinion and was more than happy to let you know it, especially if you were wrong.  She brought joy into many people’s lives.  She worshiped my mother and would follow her around the entire time when she was at the farm. My mom spoiled her and taught her it was ok to beg at the table and get fed at the table.  We let my mom do as she pleased with Tess.

She had several litters of puppies and was an excellent mother. She didn't care how old her puppies were; to her, they were her pups. Once Rainey came in the house, soaking wet and Tess held her down and licked her dry. Rainey was over five years old but she let her mom take care of her.. She would let her pups (at any age) take food or toys from her mouth.  She also helped raise bottle lambs and was a devoted mother to Danny, our pet sheep. When we would get puppies, she would take them under her paw and raise them as her own. She loved cats and Rigby, our black/white cat, was her best buddy and they would take naps together. She had a huge heart and took all baby animals under her paw. If any of us were sick, she would crawl into bed and lick our faces and stand guard. Woe to any animal who dared hurt her puppies. One time, one of her pups was shrieking. Tess busted out of the barn with her teeth in full force and ready to kill. She reminded me of a she wolf. Her pup at that time was over 6 years old and had his foot caught in the fence. To her, once you were her pup, you always were her pup. She even let her pup, Dan, who was almost three years old, nurse on her. She just had puppies about two weeks earlier and was outside for a potty break and Dan ran up and she let him nurse. It was quite cute to see a full grown male dog nurse like  a pup. She loved her pups no matter what. She slept with us on the bed and that was where she had her puppies. She thought the whelping box that we had built for her was for common dogs. She had her head on my lap while she gave birth to her first litter on the bed. After they were born, we put them in the whelping box but she snuck them back in the bed and under the covers.
Tess carried me on her broad shoulder for many years making me look like a star, when it fact it was her. She handled the sheep and made it look easy. I went from a fumbling handler to someone who placed and qualified for the Finals. She also taught me how to manage the farm and train the other Border collies. She was very patient with me.
She retired at 11 plus years, going out in a blaze of glory. Winning or placing high in the last six trials to win a coveted quilt for high combined for the six trials. She had qualified also for the Finals as well. She took to retirement well and was a teacher for upcoming students. She took some of them under her wing and ran in PN with them and did well.  She went to every trial with me and was my lap warmer. At the camping site, she would wander and visit the other trial folks to see what treats they would offer her. She found that that Marroni’s were the best and often their trailer was the first one she would seek out. She managed to get the hardened judges who said they never feed dogs, slip her pieces of their lunches.  She would thank then kindly by a soft wag of her tail and quick lick.
In her twilight years, we discovered she had congestive heart failure so it was a matter of time, She went on meds and supplements and still had the fire in her belly. We found cancer in her front leg and she got herbal supplements for that and was reduced to almost being gone.  She still was the queen of the farm and woe to any dog that tried to take her jolly ball away. She no longer swam but let the young guns swim to get the ball and then appropriate it from them as they reached the shore and proudly carried it to me.  She still lived life to the fullest.
We knew it was getting close  as she was over 14 years and her heart was slowly failing. She would get tired quickly  but it never damped her spirit. She would snuggle next to me at night when I would read and peer over the pages as if she could read as well. She had her own pillow next to me and slept next to me.  She never took advantage or acted spoiled but took on the role of mentor towards me. She was good about all the meds, evil tasting as they were, and never complained. She still insisted on doing chores and I humored her and let her do them.
On her last day, she was full of fire. I had let sheep out to graze and she did some tending. Then  it was time to put them away and as I walked back to the gate, she bolted back to the sheep. She brought them back at warp speed and pretended not to hear me so I had her do a short course and ended with a shed. She came in brilliantly and it was good to see that eye connection and that sly smile. We went to the pond and I tossed the ball and she wrestled the ball from the young pups as they brought it to the shore. She ran around with the ball in the air, barking and  waving her tail in unabashed glory.  She had to do the chores and put the chickens away at full speed and was having fun. Then raced up the driveway and barked at me to run up the hill faster. I think she knew it was her last day and wanted us to have the time of our lives together. I called her a willful bitch as she raced around the sheep and she relished that. I laughed at her antics that day.
We hung out together later that night and watched Animal Planet. She leaned into me and fell asleep with her head in my lap, loud snores and twitching of her legs, perhaps thinking of running down a wayward ewe in her dreams. She wanted off the couch and then began to tremble.  I jumped off the couch and held her in my arms and she had a heart attack and died in my arms. I knew when I grabbed her that it was over and I cried and cried. I called Getty as he was at poker and he raced home. We held her in our arms and our hearts were broken.   Our lives were shattered. The love of our life died. It seemed so surreal. But she was put in our lives for a brief time; to show us a new life, to learn to live and love and learn to go on.  We grieved for months.
I lost my passion for trialing for the longest time. I would go through the motions but lost the feeling. Over time, my raw, gaping wound in my heart began to heal. I let the other dogs put pieces of their love  in my heart and my passion slowly began to slowly come back.  Maid saw the pain in my soul and she gave herself to me. She let me into her heart and became soft and funny. Then one day as I was running her, I felt a deep connection to her. She turned at looked at me and I saw the love flow to me. I began to cry and the passion for trialing came back. She ran brilliantly and took every command and was pliable. After the run, she wagged her tail and buried her head in my chest. I wept. Then I ran Nan and she ran her heart out for me and again, I wept with her head in my lap. The hole in my heart was filled by the love of the other dogs. Tess still lives in my heart and soul and now I feel, a year later, that healing finally has occurred and thank her for the time she had with us. She was a great dog, perhaps not the strongest but one who gave every I asked for and them some more.  I am so grateful that I was blessed with a wonderful dog and hope that I can honor her by doing my best. I will always love her.
It’s been a year, my sweet Tess and now I can say “That’ll do, Tess.”


oddman said...

Beautiful tribute, and may your heart continue to heal.

Bryant Bowman said...

Just read this and got all emotional.... no I didn't say that; big guy like me!

Iñigo Casado said...


Mary Ann said...

Well done. I've been blessed by a girl like Tess, lucky mothers we are. Thank you for the beautiful heartfelt tribute.

sheepdog said...

Lovely tribute, Diane. Our Tess's were such an important part of our lives. We were very lucky to experience such a relationship.