The Best Life is a Life Lived with Dogs, by Colin Rowland

The Best Life is a Life Lived with Dogs, by Colin Rowland

Meet Elly Mae. She is the love of my life, but don’t tell my wife; she might not understand. Dogs are a big part of my life, and always have been. The only time I can remember living without a furry friend was 8 years ago, when we lived in Hawaii for a little bit more than a year. My girl was left with my daughter, and I saw her only when we went back to visit. Elly Mae, or Mabel as I call her, is a Border Collie, a breed made up of canine geniuses. She is my constant companion, and spends her days at my side, by her choice, I might add. I think she considers herself my primary caregiver, and she’s not far wrong. The months that I spent pretty much confined to bed, she made sure she could see me at all times. If I moved, she moved.

The purpose of my post is not to wax rhapsodic about the qualities and intelligence of Elly Mae, although I could do it without much of an effort. In the story I am working on, dogs are mentioned briefly, and that got me wondering about the prevalence of canines as working animals in Regency England. I know that dogs were kept as pets, and/or status symbols, in London, but what about the rest of England?

It was common to find working dogs on country estates, especially if the owner was enamored of hunting. The gamekeeper would have some breeds trained specifically to retrieve game, which was most often birds. Some of the more common dogs were Spaniels, who were separated into water and ground retrievers, each trained for specific tasks.

What caught my interest was an article I read extolling the virtues of the Border Collie breed. Today, in order for your Border Collie to be recognized as a pure bred for show, you must be able to trace it’s ancestry directly back to one dog, named Old Hemp, but that only traces the breed’s history back to the late 19th century.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that Queen Victoria was a Border Collie fan, and owned some in the early 1860’s!

They originated in the border area around England and Scotland, where they were bred and trained to herd sheep, a trait that is still hard-wired into every. single. one. of. them. They can be directed without vocal commands, using only whistles or hand gestures. When I walk Elly Mae, I do it without a leash, because I know her and trust her. If she gets too far ahead of me, all I need do is whistle and point, and she comes right back to my side. When I tell her it’s time to go home, she turns around and leads the way back to the house, without additional direction from me.

The incredible intelligence of these animals made them extremely useful in the rural countryside of Scotland and England. The master could set the dogs loose with the flock at the beginning of the day and, for all intents and purposes, forget about them, knowing that they would keep the sheep from wandering off, and even bring the flock back to the home paddock at day’s end. For all of the doubters about the animal’s ability to do this, my Border Collie before Ellie Mae was a male named Elliott( I know, not much imagination in naming. She was named in honor of him).

I worked construction, and quit at the same time every day, which would put me back home right around 5pm. Elliott would assume his spot at 4:45  and wait by the front closet for me to arrive. He did this without fail for ten years! If you want to see for yourself just how smart these dogs can be, go to YouTube and look for a video titled: Extreme Sheep Herding-With Lights! I think you’ll be amazed. It’s less than 3 minutes in length but extremely entertaining.

With Border Collies, the livestock, usually sheep, was much easier to care for. Knowing that they were prized by English Royalty makes it easy to assume that the queen didn’t just stumble upon this amazing dog. As with many instances in the world, both past and present, it would not surprise me to discover that the breed slowly made its way south from Scotland, purchased and/or bred by estate masters or gamekeepers who were introduced to the dog’s genius and ease of training.

Between 2 daughters and myself, we have over the years adopted 7 of them, and I can honestly say that when I have to say goodbye to Mabel, I will look for another to replace her. Of course the dog will not be a perfect replica, because this type of dog, more than any other I have ever seen, has very unique personalities. Each one is a canine person in its own right. As a breed, they are not for the faint of heart. They have boundless energy and in a roomful of humans, they are often the smartest of the bunch, and yes, this includes me. They are easy to train but can be difficult to break of bad habits. They are inquisitive, sometimes too much, but they are highly entertaining.

After living with this breed for 20+ years, I can understand why they were so highly regarded and prized in England and Scotland. There really is, for me at least, no better breed of dog in the world. As far as I am concerned, the only acceptable replacement for a Border Collie is another Border Collie.

To anybody wondering about Elly Mae’s ears standing at half mast, she normally has them laying down, but I wanted them up so I could take her picture. To get her to raise them, I said one word: “Frisbee”. This caught her attention because to her, there is nothing better than a day, or a year, spent chasing one. Of course the down side to my little trick is that until I take her to the park and throw the darn thing for her, she will remind me of my foolishness in raising the subject. If I don’t do it today, she will expect it tomorrow, or the next day if I procrastinate. This will continue until she gets her play time. It’s my own fault for wanting a certain picture of my sweetheart, I guess.

Looking back over what I have written, it appears I did go on a bit about my pup. If I bored you, take cheer. I could have filled volumes with what I have seen these dogs do, like my eldest daughter’s dog Emma, who likes to watch TV, so much so that she learned how to turn it on! There’s nothing quite like coming home to see a dog, sitting in front of the boob tube with her ears standing at attention and her head going from side to side as she follows the action on the screen.

And, to no one’s surprise, she seems to prefer programs with a lot of, as you should have guessed, sheep in them.

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April 15, 2021 12:48 PM

Dogs are wonderful companions and Elly Mae sounds amazing!

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
April 9, 2021 5:48 PM

I love it when stories include dogs. It had always amazed me when a heroine goes missing and they call for search teams, they never call for a dog. Seriously? I’m usually yelling at my device… “call out the dogs.” It just seems stupid that … let’s say Elizabeth goes off and falls down [can’t the woman walk on flat ground?]. When she doesn’t come home… everyone panics. You’d think someone would think of the dogs.

It is only occasionally that I find a story where Darcy has a dog with him. Every once in a while an author will mention Bingley brought his dogs with him to Netherfield. If I remember correctly in the ’95 version of the film, we see dogs as they return from their day of hunting.

You have to do this Colin. With your love and affinity for dogs, you’d be perfect to include a faithful dog in one of your stories. Darcy and a dog. Perhaps it was a dog from Darcy’s Scottish estate. You know how it is… one look between a young lad and a dog and that was all it took. Love at first sight. This could even be a second or third-generation dog. If you do this… I certainly want a copy. Blessings, Colin, give your dog a good scratch behind the ear for me.

April 9, 2021 12:17 AM

Such a lovely dog!

The number of pets one can have (where I am from originally) was not regulated. I used to have 5 dogs , different breeds plus stray cats, birds, backyard chicken etc. I know what you mean about their smartness. The day I left for the US, my most loyal companion (dog) was blocking our gate/vehicle, she wouldn’t move. I think she knows I am leaving for awhile. And I am not sure how she knows, on the day I came back (it was a surprise for my mom), my mom said she had been pacing all day long at our gate as if waiting for someone. Love dogs!!!

Caryl Kane
Caryl Kane
April 7, 2021 6:08 PM

Elly Mae is beautiful! I also grew up with dogs. I love the Labrador and Golden Retrievers.

Riana Everly
April 6, 2021 10:04 PM

I remember a friend’s collie. We would take him out for a walk, and heaven forbid anyone of us should step off the sidewalk. That creature kept us all off the street and safe!

Linda A.
Linda A.
April 6, 2021 7:59 PM

Pretty dog. It is nice to see a well-trained one. My only problem with the breed is that bred-in herding trait around horses. The dog runs around the arena barking while you are riding and you can’t get them (or the owner) to stop it. Frustrating.

Teresa Broderick
Teresa Broderick
April 6, 2021 5:02 PM

She’s lovely and reminds me of my own guy. He’s a twelve year old black labrador cross. He’s always with me but unfortunately was diagnosed last August with a very bad heart. I don’t think the vet expected him to live so for too long more but he’s responded very well to his meds and fingers crossed we’ll have him for a while to come. They are such good company and it sounds like your lovely girl has helped you through a rough time.

Kimberly Wright
April 6, 2021 2:55 PM

This is Gianna Thomas’s daughter and I too have and love my BC. She is a BC/Lab mix but the brain is all crazy BC and she never leaves my side! Thank you for this great post about these wonderful dogs.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
April 6, 2021 10:14 AM

I love dogs! We have a ten year old Bichon schnauzer mix and we love him to bits! I can’t imagine my life without a dog in it!

April 6, 2021 6:03 AM

She is beautiful! I am not a dog person, but I do understand the unconditional love we humans have for our fur-people.

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