Children reading to ME

Yes.  A Border collie as a Therapy Dog.  My Dad is often asked, “How did you train him to be like this?”  At least my Dad doesn’t take credit for my behavior, my personality, my Border collie-ness.  My Dad always explains, “Cody has always been like this….he was adopted from Great Lakes Border Collie Rescue in January of 2004…he has always been this sweet-soul….considerate, respectful, of all people and all dogs, very intuitive, a great sense of right and wrong.”

Thanks, Dad.  I couldn’t have said it better.  One of my more frequent “assignments” has been working children-reading-to-dogs programs.  The concept behind these programs is that the child reads to the dog…there is no judgment, correction or criticizing taking place.  The handler (my Dad) holds my leash and watches for dog-safety issues, but for the most part IGNORES what the child is reading.  That’s what makes this program so relaxed, what happens is just between the child and the dog.  Got it?  So, two years ago, I was working the program at the Mount Prospect library, I had my Dad with me.  Every Thursday night for five weeks, six different children would read to me over and hour and a half.  Every Thursday night for the first four weeks this same boy chose me.  He was Asian, probably 4th grade, dressed up as…a skater dude.  And every night for the first four sessions, Skater Dude would kneel about 5 feet from me.  No petting, no looking.  Just reading to me from five feet away.  (are you afraid?  am i dirty?  why are you choosing me?  im’ very cool, i play frisbee, i bet i am faster than you, i bet i can catch a frisbee better than you! c’mon, look at me, pet me, talk to me)  Nothing.  Just reading…to…himself…

I was there for the 5th and last session of the winter term.  I have a plan.  Skater-dude comes in with his green skateboard sweatshirt.  He kneels five feet from me.  But I am not laying flat, I have my head up, ears up, I am paying attention.  Does skater-dude notice something is different?  Skater-dude begins reading.  I stand up, walk over to skater-dude…….and LAY ACROSS HIS LAP – ON MY BACK – SO I AM LOOKING UP INTO EYES.  (here i am, i am very sweet, it’s ok to touch me, it’s ok to pet me, i like everybody, i won’t hurt you)  MMMM…NOTHING…NO RESPONSE, NO TOUCHING, NOT EVEN A LOOK.  I move my left paw onto his right forearm and let it relax.  (ahhhh, i saw that, you looked into my brown eyes, you know i am here)  SUCCESS! SKATER-DUDE HAS TOUCHED ME, HE HAS LOOKED AT ME.  Border collies like to be successful at their job.  And this is a true story.

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Off leash with the Red Fox

My first home with my Dad was on Central Road, in the town where my Dad grew up.  This home was on the public golf course.  The grass, shrubs, trees, ponds, fairways and greens were like our private estate.  The land baron and his trusted Border collie patrolling, wandering and exploring.  Early mornings, dusk and before-bed evenings were wondrous times of freedom and discovery for an off-leash Border collie.  Yes, off-leash.  OK, let me bring you up to speed on this concept of a leash…on-leash and off-leash.  I’ve mentioned this earlier.  My breed, BORDER COLLIE, has a reputation for intelligence, for paying attention, for knowing what to do – automatic, self-regulating, instinctive, unforced.  Yes, it is pretty cool…and until a human experiences this aspect of my breed…sorry, I’m babbling.  My Dad saw that I had this ability to respond quickly, well, let’s say immediately, to the slightest cues – a subtle whistle, a hand signal, perhaps just a look.  I always like to be in the lead – first out the door, leading the way, on the lookout for danger, for grizzly bears, clearing the way.

Mid-September is a wondrous time of the year.  The air is starting to transform, the sun is low, shadows are long.  There is a cooling, a hint of change, of what is to come.  The after dinner rounds of the estate, a mist, ethereal, above the damp grasses.  The sun is below the trees, below the horizon, dusk approaches.  I am in the lead.  Every few moments I look back, check-in with my Dad, we make eye contact.  A subtle whistle, “this way,”  “wait.”  I am paying attention – always.  West for awhile, north for awhile, then a gradual course change to the east, along the edge of a fairway.  Bunkers, bushes, thickets, hazards, all require an examination.   We’re not alone, we’re being shadowed.  A determined trot, silently approaching from behind, footsteps on our footsteps.  My Dad notices my interest.  “Wait.”  Now facing west, I take a seat on a damp green.  She approaches with caution but also with an obvious interest, a red fox. She is a bit timid, but there is no fear.  She is interested in me.  She approaches within an inch of my tail, to smell, to examine.  I do not move.  She has no fear of me, I have no fear of her.  She lays down on the putting green and eye-to-eye, she rolls onto her back.  A pink tummy.  I thinks she’s trying to impress me, make friends.  My Dad is watching this very unexpected meeting of the so-called wild with the so-called domesticated.  While she is orange-red and I am mostly white with black, tan and gray markings, our alike-ness and similarities cannot be denied.  Life is about moments like these.

Negotiating for a ride in the car

It’s a trait of my breed – always paying attention, always in a position to monitor my Dad.  Some examples.  When he is taking a shower, I lay on the bath mat.  When he is working at his desk, I block the doorway from his office.  When he is making the morning coffee, I’ll rustle up some toys to place around the kitchen.  But, when my Dad starts doing certain things like picking up the keys, putting on a coat, changing shoes, putting his cell phone in the jacket, I have to engage in some serious politicking.  Stare at my Dad, keep getting in the way, pick his gloves up to help him, stand in the way some more, look at my Dad and tilt my head to the right, just a bit (that’s the way I ask questions).  I only need that quick whistle to know that I am going with.  He opens the door, I step out on the walk and always look back…waiting for the key to turn in the lock…then I am certain of going with.  My Dad’s new car is an xB.  You know what that is?  He was thinking of me when he bought that car.  He folded down the rear seats, bought an area rug from Target to cover the flat space.  I can stick my head out the left rear window (my Dad puts these little orange things in his ears, don’t ask why) and bark and bark and bark at all of the delivery trucks menacing our path.  I know them all – Fedex, UPS, the (hated) mail truck, any white delivery van.  I’ve heard my Dad tell people that I can pick out a UPS truck from several blocks away.  When the car is in motion, I            N-E-V-E-R sleep.  Things have to be monitored…does my Dad really know the dangers on the road?  My Dad and I drove down to Georgia several years ago.  He was amazed I stayed up during the entire drive – how fun!

Finding “the right place”

My Dad (that’s what I call him – my Dad) shows signs of weariness with the winter.  Here it is, February, almost March (I think) and he is muttering about record low temperatures.  Personally, I don’t mind the cold.  I love to lay in the snow.  But, finding a place, just the right place, can be a problem.  My Dad can tell when I am looking for “the right place.”  My pace quickens, I move off the sidewalk (at least most of the times) onto a patch a vegetation exposed by the sun, or some pine branches.  I have always been very aware that I should move off of the “beaten path” when I choose “the right place.”  The amount of snow on the ground causes difficulty, often GREAT difficulty, in finding the right place.  In spite of my canine-ness, I have a strong sense of decorum and privacy.  Just stopping suddenly on the sidewalk – because I can’t find an appropriate “right place” –  is very disconcerting, even a bit embarrassing.  My Dad still does his thing with the plastic bag, hands me my carry-squeaky toy for the walk home and I know what to do, I know where to go.  I don’t need anyone to tell me, I just know.  Several years ago, my Dad had to run to the grocery store in the morning.  It was very cold, the wind was blowing.  He didn’t take me in the car.  I gave him “the look,” but he said he’d be right back.  So he leaves the apartment and I heard his truck drive off (he was listening to RUSH).  The door to the apartment blew open.  My Dad was gone, the door was open.  I stepped outside, looked around and sat down.  Why go anywhere?  When my Dad returned, he talked and talked and talked to me, praising me, loving me, petting me.  But I knew what to do – what’s the big deal.  I do NOT like the ice that has taken over the sidewalks…my rear legs are not as strong as they used to be.  I do not like falling on the ice.  I will choose a path without ice, and sometimes I end up in snow that is deeper than I can negotiate.  My Dad will tramp through the snow over to me, making a path that I can use to extricate myself…and I continue my search for “the right place.”