Barley (written 12/22/21 & 1/4/22)
Just before Christmas, and I'd known this day was coming.
To all appearances, it was a routine vet visit. Gem was due for shots. A couple of quick jabs, check her weight, listen to her heart. "Any problems? How is she doing at home?"
"Fine," I said, "she's fine. Happy, active, eating and drinking, and visiting the great outdoors normally."
Good, good. Listen to her lungs, check her teeth, check her eyes. . .
"Did you know she's developing some cataracts?"
No, I hadn't known. And at Gem's age -- eleven in February -- it really wasn't a surprise. But it still meant making a decision. A major decision.
Just after New Year's, and I'd known this day was coming. I had narrowed down the breed options. I had selected a breeder. For crying out loud, I had even chosen a name.
But somehow, sitting down and tapping out that email, actually contacting the breeder. . . "Hi, I'm interested in getting a puppy from you. . ."
Taking that plunge. . . it was a big step.
Her name is Barley. She's a Scotch collie, just like Tassie. She hasn't been born yet, but there are big plans for her when she does arrive. She is my next dog. If all goes well, she should join the family in about a year.
I know, that's a long way off. But when you're a dog junky like me, someone who trains and competes and gets very specific about breeds and genetics and the timing of all the details, these things take planning.
The clincher in this case were those cataracts beginning to cloud Gem's vision. I had already been telling myself that I needed to get motivated and seriously consider my next herding prospect. Homesteading a working dairy farm means that I really do need a working stock dog. I need a dog who can be counted on to corral and/or move the goats when required.
At nearly eleven, Gem's working days were already numbered. If you figure one year to be on a breeder's waiting list, that would make her twelve. Then add to that at least one, and more likely two, more years to train the new puppy into a reliable stock dog, and Gem would be fourteen. Assuming she's even still with me at that age, fourteen is way too old to be working livestock.
So the clock was ticking even before this vet appointment. Afterward, the clock feels more like an hourglass. We are truly on a downward spiral now. For the moment, Gem is still willing and able. Nothing in our daily routine has changed. But it's a reality check. Without good vision, no dog can gather and herd goats.
As much as I love and enjoy dogs, getting a new one is never fun or easy for me. I hate upsetting the status quo. I hate the interrupted nights and the random chewing and puddling, and the disruption of the pack hierarchy. Everything is harder with a new puppy. And so, while I love the finished product, I really dislike the initial process of integrating a new baby into the existing rank and file. Translation: I've been dragging my feet.
But you gotta do what you gotta do.
The time is right. The breed is right. The breeder is wonderful.
For various reasons, I elected not to go with another border collie. Instead, Tassie's trainability, her versatility, her quiet demeanor in the house, and her eager energy outdoors, all drew me back to the more rustic, more workaday Scotch collie.
Scotch collies are essentially the original Lassie collie. They are what the breed used to be before the show ring got hold of it back in the early twentieth century. They have a lot of herding ability on livestock, and they can do anything else you want them to do as well.
They love to learn, love to work, and they love their people. They are very nice dogs, and they're a superb match for me and my canine needs, hopes and dreams. I have a year to get ready.
So welcome, Barley. You have some big shoes to fill, little girl. But you can do it, and I'm looking forward. I'm looking forward to knowing you.
If you have a new puppy or are thinking of getting one, be sure to read Reyna's newest book: How to Train Your Best Friend: 20 Things Every Owner Should Do to Raise a Dog Right.