Monday, April 13, 2009

Dogs in movies...

Last night I finally watched "Marley and Me". I had read the book but had not gotten to the movie, and since Andy died I wasn't sure I could watch it. I have to say it was quite the tear jerker! I can't tell you how often I have lived those final scenes and been there to witness first hand an owner's goodbye to their dog. It tears your heart out every time and never gets any easier. Tonight it will be time for Maggie, my favorite little cocker spaniel; she is truly the epitome of what they mean when they describe the "merry cocker". Maggie is 12 now and for the past two years has been battling with a tumor in her mouth; she has far outlived the most optimistic projections but her time has finally come. I am terribly sad, but I am glad that she will pass here, among people she considers friends, most likely after a few yummy cookies :-).

Movies sometimes shape the direction of our lives more than we know...many years ago, back in probably the very early 70s, I saw a movie on TV called "The Little Shepherd Dog of Catalina". Google tells us it was an episode of "The Wonderful World of Disney" that used to air on Sunday nights when I was a child. It followed episodes of Lassie and it was a frequent source of friction between me and my parents that they found attending church on Sunday nights more important than Lassie and Disney. I must have won the battle that night, or been home sick, but I remember clearly watching the show. The story was about a champion sheltie who was lost at sea in a boating accident and swept up on Catalina Island where he became a farm dog who performed all manner of useful tasks; rounding up the goats, bringing the farmer his lunch box, riding around with him in his truck. I was instantly in love and knew I wanted a dog just like that!

My dog at the time was Winky, a mixed breed houndy kind of dog from the shelter. She was a great dog who was with me until my college years. When I was a vet student, at the beginning of my sophomore year I told my parents that all I wanted for my birthday was money to put towards buying a dog; if they wouldn't do that I didn't want anything (I wasn't spoiled much, was I?!). Initially I wanted a Newfoundland; but common sense prevailed. I was living in a trailer, as did most of the vet students, and likely would be graduating to apartment living at least for a while; probably not the most practical situation for a 100 lb plus, very hairy and drooly dog. I had been spending most weekends during the summer at dog shows with my friend and her family for the past couple of years, and I thought I would like to try a hand at showing in obedience. Mostly I wanted a dog to be my best friend, who could go everywhere I went. My "short list" of breeds to consider included a sheltie and when I thought back to that long ago TV show I knew THAT was exactly what I wanted. So I did my research and with a lot of digging and phone calls and a little bit of serendipity, I brought home Levi, my first sheltie. Not a sable, like the dog in the movie, but a blue merle; but in every other way I could not have asked for a dog who came closer to my ideal and my mental picture. Levi was one of those dogs who was just born to be a good dog; he learned quickly and lived to do anything I asked. He went with me everywhere but class, including accompanying me in the evenings to do my treatments at school. He was a wonderful dog to start into obedience competition with and ended up with advanced titles and high in trials, even though he was trained almost exclusively from a book until we were working in utility. When I bought my practice he came to work with me every day, and had a perfect instinct for who should be there and who shouldn't- he never barked at a client, but he let me know any time a delivery person came in, alerted me to shady characters, and once when I left the door unlocked after hours and was back in the kennel he cornered the maintainence man in the front hallway and wouldn't let him into the back of the clinic where, in Levi's opinion, he had no business going. He was incredibly useful around the house, and when I had only one working TV remote between the upstairs and downstairs TVs he learned to retrieve it for me, as well as books and shoes. If he couldn't find the remote, he would bring back whatever looked the most like it, one time unplugging my alarm clock from the wall and bringing it down the stairs to me (well, it WAS black plastic and roughly rectangular). He even got a basic herding title without the benefit of any herding lessons at all- he just did it. He did countless school demos and was one of the therapy dogs who started the program at Dayton Children's hospital. He truly did fit the ideal sheltie description of a small, sturdy, all around working dog- I can't remember ever asking him to do ANYTHING that he didn't do.

I'm not sure Andy and Cory were quite as useful as Levi, but they both have had their own tasks around the house. Cory has become obsessed with bringing me things that I drop (funny, it coincided with a weak moment where I rewarded him for holding the remote with a little piece of pizza- apparently it made a BIG impression). He hovers underfoot and as soon as something hits the floor he grabs it and brings it to me in hopes of another fabulous jackpot. I actually had to hide the remote for a few days as he wouldn't leave it alone. Last night before I got in bed I noticed the cat had knocked a pen off the bedside table and under the bed, but I was too tired to reach under and pick it up. I climbed in bed and a few minutes later, Cory dropped it on my chin...of course, that meant I HAD to get up and get him a cookie for being such a good boy! Cory is also a better watchdog than his dad, sort of...Andy only barked at people he considered "friends" (strangers could be clients, and you weren't allowed to bark at clients....however he also didn't bark at the stranger who slipped out with our cash box while i was in the office!). Unfortunately Cory does not have Levi's instinct for who to bark at and who not to- he tends to bark indiscriminatly at anyone who comes in. Not the best, but OTOH, no one is going to sneak in on us again!

All in all, I'm pretty happy they were showing "Little Shepherd" and not a show featuring another breed that night! I have found the perfect breed for me, even if it DID come from watching a TV show which, it turns out, may not have been as far fetched at least in its details as would first be thought!


  1. OHHHHHH I remember seeing The Little Shepherd Dog of Catalina too!!! I couldn't have recounted the story line as you have- but I do know that show made an impression on me too.
    I begged for a dog for 6 years before my parents gave in. At first I wanted a German Shepherd- but my parents thought they were too "dangerous". My sisters wanted a collie. One day while my father and I were ice skating on a pond at our local park, a sheltie came out onto the ice and followed us around. When I fell, that dog came over to me and licked my face. My Dad decided that a sheltie would be "just fine".
    Shelties are just the BEST!!!

  2. Becky

    I just have to ask you, while I was watching the movie Marley & Me (haven't read the book, so maybe this part differs in it), when the dog bloats the first time, they relieve it, but they say they can't tack the stomach because it's too risky .... I thought that part didn't make any sense. The dog wasn't that old or frail and it would have prevented the second, fatal bloat? Sorry for the vet question but that part didn't seem right to me!?

    I have run into some very Marley-like yellow labs lately....boy they are NOT the breed for me!!

    I always loved Collies (Lassie and all that) but the first time I saw a Sheltie....WELL, a little Collie, how cool was that? And that was it...

  3. Never get your medical info from the movies :-). If I remember right she said the stomach had torsed, but she was able to pass a tube and fix it. Doesn't can tube them and relieve bloat, but if they torse you usually can't pass a tube, and if you do, it only relieves the bloat, not the torsion so it is a very temporary fix at best.

    The dog needed surgery if it was torsed...the owner either took literary liberties or had a convenient memory to justify his decisions... or a truth somewhere in between. At any rate, an old dog who bloats for the first time may very well have an underlying issue anyway.