Beckie, our Australian Shepherd

6/24/11

Becky, our herding Australian Shepherd, is now around 15 years old. She was a rescue, so that’s just a good guess. We know about the last 13 of those years. She’s getting a little gray, and had a stroke last fall which has left it’s residual deficits, but she’s still our pet, although retired from herding now. She still vigorously defends the borders of “her territory” against wandering neighbor dogs, and against the trucks coming and going from the house next-door–a foreclosure that has ended its 1.5 year tenure of vacancy.

Her eyes still watch our every move when we’re eating, the magnetism seems powerful enough to lift the food from our plate into her mouth. Her red fur I value to spin with, both alone and combined with wool for very cozy hats and mittens. Since I can’t ever keep up with it all, I have to brush it off the rugs she has decided are her personal beds.

Since she’s not as strong or as coordinated as she used to be, I commiserate with her in the frustration of her not being able to use the “doggie door” to go in and out of the house, which has kept us home for many months. We’ve finally figured out a way that she can come and go, which is a relief to both us and to her. However, I well recall her younger days, before she had spent a year with us calming down somewhat, getting over her terror of anything that was over her head, even a tray of supper, or the broom when I swept up around the wood stove, slinking off to hide, looking so disappointed in us. This incident occurred before we had taken her to obedience classes, and was one of the incentives to do just that.

Growling, snarling, two dogs locked together with teeth embedded in each others’ necks, frothy saliva flying through the air as they struggle and lunge. John has his Husky, who a moment before had her tail straight up in the air, dog-talk for, “I can lick you!” on a leash, and is hauling her front end up off the ground trying to get Becky to fall off of her. Becky, our two-year old rescued Aussie, recently arrived at our home, unbeknownst to me, had “protection issues,” they called it. I learned that meant she’d fight to protect me, her loved owner who fed her, brushed her, gave her treats, let her sleep beside my bed, helped her to learn not to be afraid when we carried a tray of food across the kitchen over her head and she cringed under the table and slunk away. My sweet Red Merle battles for my safety in the traffic lane of our country road, her back feet dancing a rapid jig around the owner of the  dog twice her size, who has his dog by the neck. My husband stands by speechless. I dance around with Becky, reaching for a back leg to pull her off the other dog. John delivers mighty kicks to Becky’s shoulder, but Becky’s tenacious. My heart beats a rhythm I could never count as I finally grab that back leg and start to haul Becky back, while John is pulling on his dog’s leash in the opposite direction. Suddenly there’s a “POP” as the two dogs are pulled apart, their teeth yanked out of the flesh of the other.

That terrifying dog fight cost us around $400 by the time we were done. Another abscess or two turned up that the vet hadn’t found to irrigate on the original visit, there were antibiotics, dressings, twice daily wound soaks…

We decided after that that the “magic fence,” a wire all around the yard, and a collar that shocked Becky if she got to close, wasn’t going to keep her inside if she decided she needed to do some protecting! We gave that up, and bought two more sections of electrical mesh sheep fencing, so we could enclose the entire front yard, keeping her in, and visiting canines out. That has worked for many years. After a couple shocks on that fence, she never challenged it again, so the electricity has been off for many years.

We took her to obedience classes after that first year, and all of us learned better ways to communicate. When an aggressive dog appears, a 45-degree turn in any other direction works well, as long as I see the other dog coming before Becky does. Thanks, Caesar Milan! I don’t know what I’d have done without his shows and book.

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