“There's an old female collie down at the shelter with infected eyes and really bad skin, possibly mange.” Evelyn's message on the answering machine was loud and clear. “I doubt you'll want to get her,” she finished.
We didn't have anyone representing collies in our all-breed rescue group, and I have always loved them. Like every little girl in the fifties, I wanted a dog just like Lassie.
But we didn't have room for a big dog, and my mom didn't like dogs anyway. Maybe I'd just go to the shelter, look at the collie, and confirm that she was too old to rescue.
The next day I went down to see her, and she looked pretty awful. Huge wadded up mats the size of baseballs hung off of her. Her third eyelid was covering most of each eye, and both eyes were oozing green pus. She barked endlessly, along with all the other dogs in the kennels.
But when I took her out, she was quiet and friendly, wagging her tail and rubbing up against me. If her owners didn't come to claim her, I told Leah, the shelter officer, I would take her out and foster her till we could find her a home.
I had never fostered a dog, and was eager to help the rescue group. I called the president, Lyn, and told her what I wanted to do, and she said okay. The following Tuesday I picked her up from the shelter, and found out she had been a stray on Tiger Mountain, right near my home. What was her story? Had someone been hiking and lost track of her? Had she been dumped? Did she just wander away from home? Were they still looking? How could anyone NOT be looking for her?
Obviously I was new at this, and very naive. The shelters are full of dogs that no one comes looking for. Just because she was a collie wasn't anything special.
I took her to the vet, who pronounced her spayed, and healthy, and only about 5 years old. She had trouble climbing into the car or getting up on the table at the vet's office. It appeared she had bad hips, or arthritis. Her teeth were also badly in need of cleaning. He gave me medicine for her eyes, and we went home to start our new adventure.
Since I wasn't going to keep her, I didn't name her. I just called her Collie, and pretty soon that became Colley Girl. In the meantime, we got a collie rep, Sharon, who started telling people about my dog. While Sharon worked on finding homes, I worked on brushing out all those awful mats. I ended up cutting them out, leaving a few bare patches. I couldn't bear to shave her, so we just did a little brushing at a time, until she'd get fed up with all the tugging, lumber to her feet, and walk away. As the excess fur came out, I discovered the end of her tail had been blackened by frostbite.
Once the eye infection cleared up, her inner eyelid was still showing, so I went back to the vet. He decided that her eyes were too small to push the eyelid back into the proper place in her eye socket, and that she was probably born that way. She had bad scars around her eyes, so I thought maybe she'd had surgery or been injured. He sent me to a specialist, who decided she wasn't in any pain, agreed with my vet that the problem was congenital, and there wasn't much you could do about it. Her field of vision was limited, but she seemed to see well enough to get around.
Colley Girl adjusted beautifully to our home, ignoring our four cats, and getting along famously with my two dogs, Sherman and Tank. Within two days she was following my husband everywhere off leash, and never wandered away. I never forgot that she had been a stray, so I kept a pretty close eye on her. Chew toys exercised her gums and started to clean the tartar off of her teeth. Her gums bled a lot at first, but soon they looked good enough that the vet said I didn't need to get them cleaned.
Sharon called several times, and came to take Colley Girl to meet potential new owners, but they always turned her down when they saw those funny looking eyes. I didn't even notice them anymore. What I saw was the sweetest, most gentle, loving dog I'd ever known, who slept by my bed each night, and moaned with happiness whenever I rubbed her tummy. She had been well-loved at one time. I wondered if her family missed her.
Each time Colley Girl went out to see new potential adopters, it got harder and harder to say good-bye. After about a month of this, I told Sharon to come get her while I wasn't at home. She called me that morning at work.
Colley Girl had come out of the yard easily enough, but when she saw Sharon was going to take her away again, she took off and wouldn't let Sharon catch her. After about a half hour of keep-away, Sharon gave up and called for help. I drove home, 25 miles, frantic that Colley would disappear in the meantime.
Silly me. When I drove up the driveway, there was Sharon, arms folded, looking totally disgusted up at Colley Girl. Colley was standing by the dog run, barking defiantly at Sharon, daring her to come after her. Of course, she came straight to me. As I knelt down, Colley Girl tucked her head under my armpit and wagged her tail slowly, as if to say, “Please don't make me go.”
Tears in my eyes, I loaded her into Sharon's car, and away they went. I sat in bed crying that night. My husband tactfully ignored me. He's no fool; he knew what the problem was. I was deciding I was too soft for rescue work.
The next day, Sharon called. The latest family wasn’t keeping Colley Girl. “They didn't like her funny eyes,” she reported, “Everyone wants a perfect Lassie.” Sharon offered to keep her at her place so we wouldn't have to transfer her around so much. “Fat chance,” I said. “Bring her back and she's not going anywhere again. She's perfect to me.”
That night my husband came home from work and arched his eyebrows in surprise as he recognized Colley Girl coming to greet him. Then he saw two giant cardboard ‘license tags’ hanging from her neck. One said “I love you Dennis,” and the other read, “Please keep me.”
He looked up at me and smiled. “I think it's already been decided.”
Colley Girl was with us 4 1/2 years. To others, her eyes looked strange, but I saw the perfect pet and companion. She loved children and senior citizens, cats, and horses. I found my Lassie. Those other people didn't know what they were missing.