Jeff Berger —
Saphire is my collie. For 33 years I have owned collies. Or to be more precise, collies have owned me. My collies have owned a house with a large backyard, hardwood floors and leather furniture. My collies have owned Subarus with leather seats in which I chauffeur them around.
Saphire forces me to walk around the neighborhood at least twice a day. That’s how I have gotten to know my neighbors. Over my life hundreds of people have warmed up to my collies. They all say they grew up with a collie, but they never see them anymore. Many of them tell my collie that Timmy is in the well. Timmy was the little boy in the classic story of Lassie, though Timmy was never really in the well.
I was one of those little boys who grew up watching Lassie on television. Thus, my image of a collie was of a heroic dog. Lassie could distinguish good people from bad people and would defend the good people from the bad people, rescuing people or animals in need of her assistance. Besides being very intelligent, Lassie was very sensitive and serious. She never did goofy things like fetch a ball or a stick just for the fun of it. And Lassie was never guilty of what I would call neurotic behavior.
When I actually started owning collies I discovered that they were a lot like my image of Lassie, but they were also somewhat different. They were less neurotic then a lot of canines, but that may be precisely because I have given them the freedom to walk without a leash. I believe that en-caging a dog or always tying them to a leash is the best way to make them neurotic, the same way that imprisoning a child will turn a child into a neurotic adult. Like Lassie, if Saphire were ever abandoned somewhere in our neighborhood, she would simply come home.
My collie prior to Saphire, named Tosca, did exhibit an unusual type of neurotic behavior. Tosca hated to be left alone in the backyard. Since I didn’t have a doggie door in those days, I used to leave all of my dogs in the backyard when I went to work. For six years I did that with Tosca, but she became an escape artist. She would either dig under the fence or eat the fence. I tried to barricade the yard, but she escaped more often than I could count and then I found her sitting on the driveway waiting to greet me. But then one time she got herself stuck between the gate and the fence and I found her suffering from dehydration. Finally after six years I gave up and let her stay in the house while I was at work. Tosca was happy and I was glad that her bladder was strong.
Saphire is a lot like Ed Asner’s dog in the movie “Up” who was obsessed with chasing squirrels. However, Saphire only chases the squirrels in her own yard. That’s her territory and she patrols it vigorously. Squirrels elsewhere have nothing to fear. Cats also have nothing to fear, but heaven forbid a cat should run from her. A small animal who runs away from Saphire is an invitation to be chased. That is also why I could never run with Saphire. If I try to run, she will try to tackle me. Chase is her game.
Saphire is the first of my collies to be a “leaner.” That’s what people call her. She likes to lean against people. In the evenings we hang out with a group of people with their dogs at the dog park. Some dogs chase balls and others like to wrestle with each other. Not Saphire. She just likes to hang out with the people, always hoping for a handout. And she will lean against people, hoping they will pet her. Occasionally Saphire will play with another dog if she likes him or her, but she is picky and is strictly monogamous. Three’s a crowd.
As we walk the streets we pass by many people walking their dogs with a leash. Saphire and I try to distinguish the friendly people and dogs from the unfriendly people and dogs. It’s easy to distinguish the unfriendly dogs; we stay away from them. Saphire likes to greet her dog friends, but the people interest her more. Occasionally the owner turns out to be less friendly than I expect, and I hear a nasty remark if I try to approach them with Saphire. I feel sorry for their dogs, but some people just want to be left alone.
One of the things that impresses me most about Saphire is that she is fearless in the face of unfriendly vicious dogs. One time I was awed by her courage as she stood her ground against two strange German shepherds who were without owners and who viciously confronted her on the street. Saphire would neither run away, nor attack. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I prepared to help Saphire defend herself. Saphire simply stood there eyeing the other dogs until the other dogs backed off. It’s too bad that people don’t act that way. If everyone owned a collie, there would be world peace.
Saphire had two eyes that day, but sadly Saphire’s left eye went blind two years ago and it had to be removed. Now she has a prosthetic eye. Occasionally she bumps into things when she doesn’t look where she is going, but she can still hike a mountain trail without a leash. It’s almost impossible to tell that she is a cyclops.
Saphire is a little crazy. She barks to express joyous excitement. But she only barks at two things: squirrels in the back yard and me. When she was only three months old she broke her leg when she tried to wrestle with me. She loves to bite my ankles and she loves my French press. She knows every one of my rituals. The one she anticipates the most is my morning breakfast of cereal and coffee that I brew using a French press. She gets excited as soon as I finish my coffee and rise with my empty coffee cup and move to the kitchen where I fill the French press with water before I dump the grounds in the backyard. If she is in another room, Saphire will recognize the distant sound of water filling the French press. Her excitement causes her to jump around, bark and nip at my ankles. At other times of the day if I open the backdoor, she will get excited and run out searching for squirrels. But there is nothing quite as exciting as a French press. I wonder what she would do if I made coffee later in the day. I might confuse her.
Recently I visited a beach and walked a few miles with Saphire, oblivious to the fact that it was against the law. Saphire doesn’t swim, but she loves to walk on the beach and prance in the shallow water. Saphire never bothers people or fowl at the beach. But the next day at the same beach I almost got a ticket from a patrolman for breaking the law. I understand that some beaches should be off limits to dogs because some people don’t like them. However, there weren’t many people around that day and Saphire wasn’t bothering anybody or anything. I just don’t understand why the laws discriminate against her. Saphire is not a dog. She is a collie.
Jeff Berger (Author) – Tech writer, public speaker, and engineer. He earned Masters degrees in statistics and operations research from the University of California, Berkeley, and was employed by IBM for more than 30 years. He developed an interest in history and economics during the 1990’s and now wonders if he might have chosen the wrong career.