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“A Wee Bonnie Lass”
by Chad Thorne

The first thing you need to know is that on August 7, 1997, I lost my beloved Border Collie companion, Teddi, when she was struck by a car. In the weeks that followed, despite my grief, I knew I would get another dog. When I was asked “What sort of dog do you think you want?” I answered, “Well, a Border Collie, for sure. I like the females for some reason, but maybe a bit older, a year or so [I had raised Teddi from a pup]. I don’t have time to housetrain and I’d like to avoid the cost of spaying.”

Well, I looked. I searched. I checked newspaper ads and the bulletin board at Pet Quarters. I asked around. I went to the local animal shelter near where I lived (in Portland, Maine) and got such a snooty reception I stalked out. Finally I asked my dad, who was the Animal Control Officer in town if he’d go with me to the shelter he worked out of, in Augusta, Maine. Of course, he said. So off we went.

As we stepped in the door of the shelter that Saturday morning, September 6, 1997, I saw a couple just handing over a lead, attached to a Border Collie, to the shelter attendant. It looked to me as if they had taken a look at the dog and decided not to adopt her. “Wait!,” I yelled. “Don’t – Bring that – let me see…“ To no avail; the attendant took the Border Collie back to the cages.

After checking in at the counter I went out back, following Dad who was already out there. In a minute or two I found the Border Collie. When I took her out to look her over she licked my hands, put her front paws on my arms, and generally looked to ingratiate herself with me. It worked like a charm. She growled at Dad, and shied away from everybody else, but me she appeared to like. It was mutual. This dog was going home with me.

She was a female, a year and a half old, housetrained and spayed. It was as if I had called the shelter ahead and placed my order! Remarkably, the people I had seen turning the Border Collie over were not prospective owners, but her former owners. Bonnie never spent more than a half hour in a cage at the shelter.

Before many days I became convinced that Bonnie had been abused in her former home. She was timid and jumpy. (To this day she doesn’t like angry voices and will flee a room where people are arguing.) The first time I went to rinse her muddy paws off with the hose she went nuts, thrashing, trying to get away, biting my arms. It seemed clear she thought she was going to be beaten. And whenever I tried to call her, she’d run away. Not too far, but definitely out of hitting range. I was glad I had turned down the shelter’s offer for the former owner’s name and phone number.

Lots of work followed, lots of trying to ease Bonnie’s fear and gain her trust. In Portland we were near the beach and I’d take Bonnie down there to run. Nothing I did would convince her to come when I called. I’d have to run her down to retrieve her. But to make a long story short, the first time Bonnie, way down the beach, raised her head, looked back, and came running when I called, was August 7, 1998 – a year to the day from the day Teddi died. It was only one of many special little gifts Bonnie was to give me over the years.

Now we live in East Pittston, Maine, a little town of 2,000 souls, my home town. Now I’m the Animal Control Officer, following in my late Dad’s footsteps. Bonnie, who has finally learned not only to come when called but to “stay the hell out of the damn road” when so instructed, goes with me just about everywhere. She’s often invaluable in coaxing in or calming a stray dog who otherwise might not be all that keen on going for a ride with me.

Except for that, Bonnie is not a "working dog", i.e., we don't herd sheep, which is the Border Collie’s traditional role.. (We do have neighbors who have sheep and will let us chase them around - what we lack in expertise we make up for in enthusiasm - but that's not the same thing.) One could describe Bonnie, even kindly, as a "biscuit eater" and not be far wrong.

I was thinking about this as Bonnie and I took our routine 3-mile hike through the woods recently. I thought about how nobody comes in my dooryard without my knowing it, as she lets loose her ferocious roar. I thought about how Bonnie stands by the door at night, hackles raised, growling low in her throat, listening to the coyotes howl out back, and ready to go out and do battle with these upstart canines who dare to threaten her home and people.

In March 2002 I was diagnosed with diabetes. That spring and summer Bonnie and I walked every day and knocked 50 lb. off me (and a couple off her). I went from possibly needing insulin shots to not even needing pills because our daily exercise and my weight loss drove my blood glucose levels down.

In January of 2003 I had a major heart attack while hiking in deep snow with Bonnie. I got to the house, drove myself to the hospital, and walked in under my own power. Later I jokingly said to my cardiologist, "Damn dog. If I hadn't had to walk her I wouldn't have had a heart attack." He asked, "Do you walk her often?" I replied "Every day, 45 minutes to an hour." He smiled and said, "Well, the fact is that except for the arterial blockages your heart is very strong. Your little dog probably saved your life."

The day I got out of the hospital after having the heart attack my wife told me she wanted a divorce. I subsequently learned that she had been meeting, and having assignations with, various and sundry men on the Internet. In the weeks that followed those discoveries Bonnie stuck close to me, often gazing into my eyes with concern and love. Sometimes she licked the tears off my face.

Bonnie went to Texas with me in June 2003, and I've never had a better companion riding shotgun. In September 2003 I ultimately needed bypass surgery. Afterward I had several small incisions on my leg where doctors had "harvested" veins to use in the bypass. One incision in particular just wouldn't heal for months - until one night when Bonnie started to clean it, and for some reason I let her. That incision closed and started to heal from that day and I never had another problem with it. Though it might seem a little gross to some, I don't doubt the healing power of "mama dog spit" now.

Now every night Bonnie waits obediently for the invitation - that always comes - for her to hop up on my bed. It's a great comfort to me to feel her warm little body curled up next to me and I sleep better for it.

So Bonnie isn't a "working dog", but she is the way she is because she's a Border Collie. I don't know what I'd do without her, my constant companion, my truest friend. And I think that even without sheep she still lives up the noblest purposes of her breed.

© 2004 Chad Thorne. Used by permission.

* Because of my experience with Bonnie I have had the opportunity to work with other abused dogs and to learn about their needs. Many (though no all) can be rehabilitated. I would be happy to share any help I can at no charge; contact me at chad_thorne@yahoo.com.


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