Sunday, February 3, 2013

5/1998 – 3/2011

When we decided to look into a Border Collie as a pet we were aware of their high energy and need for lots of exercise. Upon visiting the breeder’s farm, our simple test was to find pups that were interested in us and then turn them on their backs to see which were the least dominant. Some pups will fight and nip in their effort to break free and turn over. Two pups seemed curious about us so we started with them. We played with them for a minute and then gently, lifting the female, turned her on her back and softly rubbed her tummy. She went immediately to sleep. This was our dog!

Abby came home with us two weeks later. From the time she arrived at home she fit in perfectly. Our 12 year old Lab adopted her and began showing her the wonders of retrieving a tennis ball. Our daughters were delighted with their new baby doll and would dress her up and pull her around in a wagon. One day when she was no older than 16 weeks we were all out in the yard and all of a sudden realized she was missing. Walking around the front of the house I heard splashing. She was in our garden pond trying to get out but couldn’t reach the upper ledge. She could not have been in the pond for more than several seconds and was paddling furiously. This gave us some idea of the tenacity that made up a large part of her personality.

At 6 months Ab went to obedience training where she became the star of the class. As the youngest dog in her class she picked up all of her lessons first. She seemed to enjoy the competition to complete her tasks. From this stage through 2 years she went through a very rebellious stage. She didn’t want to listen or recall. It seemed like every command resulted in a test of wills. I put a great deal of time into walking her and training with a leash. When I would complete a walk and undo her leash at the gate into the backyard she would do all she could to escape and run.

After several months of this battle I discovered a far more effective leash, her ball. As long as I carried her ball she would stay glued to my side or position herself 20-30 yards ahead of me in the classic Border Collie crouch waiting for me to approach and throw the ball. We live on a quiet cul-de-sac with very little traffic but when a car approached I would give her a soft whistle and she would obediently move into a yard and sit until it passed. All of our neighbors were moved by this little dog that seemed to know pedestrian rules. She would never move out of the street for our daughters as they learned to drive. She knew it was them driving and that she had nothing to be concerned about because they would stop and talk to her for a few seconds before wishing her a fun walk and departing. It was her street. Every evening during our last walk of the day she would sniff to determine what dog may have entered her territory and make sure that her scent was there.

Our destination was a small park at the end of our road. She would chase down a hard rubber ball that I would throw. It was hard enough to carry 80 to 100 yards per throw. This ball would be brought right back to me and dropped at my feet. After 7 or 8 throws she was ready to head back up the street to complete her walk. This routine went on for the rest of her life. One day within her last month a lady from the neighborhood stopped her car to tell me the joy she had felt from seeing Ab chase her ball in the park for all of those years. “I have enjoyed watching her. You two must have been coming here around 5:00 PM for over 10 years, thank you”.

She loved balls of all types. She would play basketball with our daughters, always bringing the ball back from the bushes or woods (the girls were not very good shooters). She would return a soccer ball for our oldest daughter which became a method of kicking practice. Ab was the perfect ball return.

In the evenings you were never safe from the Border Collie and her “Hedgy”. Hedgy was a small stuffed hedgehog that functioned as a sort of flyball. We would throw Hedgy into the air and Ab would catch it. She would play this game every day and could never get enough. You could throw here a treat and it would just bang off of her head but she could catch Hedgy in flight like she was Willie Mays.

Abby came with me when I formed my company in 2001. Every day she would ride with me to the office and take up her position under my desk. Every visitor was greeted by a madly excited Border Collie who would offer her tennis ball to likely prospects. This went on for a few years until we moved into a building to start manufacturing. Ab made the move seamlessly. My desk was simply in a new office but it still had her rug underneath and she was immediately at home. 

Every morning at 10:30 she would let me know it was time for her work. This meant a trip to the parking lot with her ball. After several minutes of ball play she would happily return to her spot under the desk secure in the knowledge that her job was done. Every Wednesday as we walked out of the shop to go home for lunch, she would stop by her favorite employee for a French fry. This is Whopper Wednesday after all. Sometimes it seemed like she had a clock and calendar in her head.

In January of this year Ab was diagnosed with lymphoma. As her energy ran down and the disease took hold she became less and less comfortable. She had slept on the bed with my wife and I for many years, usually with her head on my shoulder. Now she would start the night on the bed but quickly jump down to the floor to be more comfortable. A few nights before she passed, she stayed with me and wriggled into me making sure I was awake and knew she was there. I immediately knew in my heart she was saying goodbye and that she loved me. We held each other for an hour while gently offering kisses and I told her how much I loved her and that I would not let her suffer. I will never forget that night. Our love for each other was such a clear and obvious fact that I will hold it in my heart until my time comes.

She left us this week while curled into my chest out in her backyard. The birds were singing, the squirrels were chattering, she could hear all of the sounds that had made that place what it meant to her.