Saturday, November 23, 2013

Home Sweet Ever-Lovin' Home!

.Yesterday was our wedding anniversary. 26 years together! It was a pretty darned good day. We went into town, saw some friends and had a very nice breakfast and dinner out. We also bought a few needful things: a vacuum cleaner, some bedding - and a house.

This house. Mountain House. Where we've lived for the past five and a half years.

Yup, the realtor just called and said we are done. We're done? It's ours? Just like that? Shouldn't there be .... I dunno, bugles or drum-rolls or something?

I have never had this. In all my life, I've never had a piece of ground that I could sift the dirt through my fingers and say, "This is mine. I belong here." But now we have just that. This 2.05 acres with the funny little house and all its quirks, from the bedroom door that's older than the house (it has an old fashioned keyhole and a colored glass door knob) to the downstairs room that's probably needed baseboards for 20 years, and the doves and blue jays and sparrows and chickadees, the finches and thrushes, the kingfisher and redwing blackbirds, the coyotes and bears and the pear eating, tree climbing, porch rail walking foxes - even the chicken killing bobcat ... they're ours. Or we're theirs.

And now we can do and fix and rearrange Stuff to totally suit ourselves, because we are our own landlords. That is so freaking groovy. I think I'm gonna celebrate with a cup of tea and a shortbread cookie. Welcome home to us.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Our Trial Did Not Suck

I haven't blogged here since way back last spring, mainly because I'm not very bloggery, but today I have something to say.

This past weekend, our local sheepdogging club, the High Desert Sheep Dog Association, hosted its first-ever sanctioned USBCHA field trial. Very little about the Open trial went as planned and I've winced and cringed and moaned. But now I want to write about it one more time and be done with it.

First of all, our Open handlers are not alone in thinking, "Wow, that didn't go very well." Of our 29 to 30 Open competitors, only 9 or 10 per day walked away with scores. That is absolutely not what we had in mind!

But our trial did not suck. Let me go over this with a few bullet points.

  • The exhaust pen was in an awkward, inconvenient place, creating a crappy draw for dogs bringing sheep down the fetch. Why didn't we put it back in the corner behind the handler's post and the judge?

    Well, that was the plan. The ranch recently sold and all those acres of beautiful grass hay fields are being ripped and replanted with alfalfa, but they were reserving that particular field for our use. We reckoned on maybe 60-70 acres. The exhaust pen doubled as our night pen, so it had to be where someone could park an RV and keep watch over the sheep at night. However, with all that acreage, we could just put the pen at the end of the blacktop and the handler's post would be out away from it. The course itself would lay east-ish well beyond that.

    But a couple weeks before the trial, I got a phone call: "Will 40 acres be enough for your trial?" 

    Errr ... oops. Now we had a little square field into which we must squeeze an Open course and still allow for an RV to watch sheep. We daren't risk someone bogging down in the field, nor could we camp someone on the trial course, so the exhaust pen had to stay where it was. That, we are well aware, was not ideal. But that didn't make our trial suck.
  • What the *bleep* was going on at set out, with a crowd of half a dozen people and two or three dogs on the field at once?

    Well, simply put, dogs alone could not pull those sheep away from the set out pens, nor hold them once at the drop off point. They simply were not very impressed by dogs, and we learned that people actually exerted more influence than our dogs. Maybe that's how the Rafter 7 flock is handled at home. I don't know. But I have never seen (and certainly never set) sheep so adamant about running back to set out. Once these yearlings broke and bolted back, they would run right over a dog - and if the dog gripped to stop them, they would just drag it along behind. So, we had to march them out like a platoon of Marines because not one other damn thing worked. But that didn't make our trial suck.
  • Yeah, and what about those sheep? Most of our dogs couldn't even finish the course with those lousy things.

    Yeah, we kind of noticed that. Especially when we took our turns at the post and fared as poorly as everyone else. They had two speeds: run like hell or stand there and stare.

    But you know ... we had no idea. We hired range ewes. We got range ewes. I've worked set out for a few trials so I thought I knew a little bit, but these were different. Rafter 7 has also sold and these sheep will be moving to some other ranch, so maybe with all the sorting and selling they've been doing lately, these ewes just kind of went dead-headed. Heaven knows, because I don't. But we truly wish more people could have enjoyed success and come away happy. That right there is suck.
  • So, why didn't you put them out in sets of 5? Maybe that would have settled them down a little.

    True. But we only leased so many sheep and allowed for sets of 4, so had we tried to change to sets of 5, it would have meant re-running some of the sheep each day. I don't think anybody would have liked that. If done, that would have been suck.
  • Alright, then why didn't you get the sheep a couple days early and move them around the course in groups with dogs?

    You're kidding, right? The HDSDA spent over $900 to lease those sheep for 2 days, plus the cost of hay at about $20 a bale. If we'd got them two days early, those expenses would have doubled. I guess we could have doubled our entry fees, but who really wants to see that? Plus we'd need someone to camp out there to babysit the sheep those nights, too. Simply put, getting the sheep early was a financial and logistical impossibility. But that did not make our trial suck.

    Did elements of our trial suck? You bet they did.

    But did the trial itself suck? I say NO. We did the best we could with the situation we had. The trial field shrank, the sheep were difficult, the exhaust was in the wrong place and set out looked like a circle jerk. There are a number of things we'd love to have done differently, and things we'd change and improve if we do this again.

    But for this first time ... by golly, we pulled the damn thing off. We held our first Open trial and handlers went to the post and dogs went up the field, and some of the time they came back down with sheep. I'm proud as hell of our crew and all the volunteers who stepped in to keep things rolling. From our judge who dragged and fed hay Saturday evening to the handlers who came up to help at set out, from folks who fed the sheep Sunday morning before the trial crew even got there and stayed to help tear down pens Sunday afternoon, to everyone who, in countless ways, offered help and kindness and hard work ... our trial freakin' rocked.

    So, maybe it wasn't pretty and maybe our dogs got sucked into the Vortex of Wrongness, and what should have been good runs just died out there in the grass. But so it goes. I saw a lot of good happening out there, even if it didn't involve the sheep's behavior. I'm proud of everyone who stepped in and pulled together and did their bit to make things right.

    If you were there and you are unhappy with how things went for you and your dog, I understand. Believe me, the trial we got is NOT the trial the HDSDA planned, wanted or envisioned. But we tried. We tried our damnedest and worked our butts off, and good people showed what they were really made of.

    That's what I'm taking home from this. Our trial did not suck. Maybe the sheep did. We had no control over that. But given the situation, I think we did pretty damn good.

    And that's all I'm gonna say about that.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ode To a Violet

(In which I attempt to channel some old dead poet or another.)

Oh, tiny flower amidst the winter's grime,
thy tender petals
fierce and jaunty bloom
though storm clouds crouch, glow'ring,
on the peaks and ice
clutches fast the stones just feet away.
Let the tempests rage and whip the boughs
of thy tall brethren,
naked yet with cold,
for thou art the bane of all
things chill and cruel,
and in thy fleeting sweetness lies
for new life waking just
beneath the frost.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Someone On The Internet Is WRONG


If you're on Facebook, and possibly even if you're not, you may  have seen the unedited version of the above meme floating around. The big red X is mine, because ....

... What the HELL was the creator of this thing thinking? Wounded Knee? School shootings? All they have in common (that I can see) is the fact more than 10 shots were fired in each and innocent people died. I can't imagine what possessed anyone to make a further connection.

To start, that "meme" is a  mash-up of total lies and fabrications. Yes, this photograph may be of an Indian school, but it is just as apt to be Christian missionaries among whatever tribe they were working to convert. At any rate, the photo is entirely random. Secondly, the incident in 1890 was on a frozen patch of prairie beside Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota - which was most definitely not a school. And finally, there was no "deadliest school shooting" in 1890 - by anyone.

It. never. happened.

Here is where I get angry. I was in my early teens when I learned about Wounded Knee, and it struck me as profoundly as learning about the Holocaust. Are you unfamiliar with the massacre at Wounded Knee? Let me give you the thumbnail version.

By 1890, the American frontier was closed and the last Native tribes were pretty well shoved onto the reservations. Their way of life was dying, the buffalo were all but gone, and many of their children were being forcibly removed to boarding schools far from home. (Where, I must point out, no U.S. gov't agent or agency ever fired a shot.) In their despair, some of the People seized upon a new home-grown religion, the Ghost Dance, whose Messianic prophesies promised resurrection of their dead and a great rebirth that would restore the old ways.

The Ghost Dance swept through the Dakota reservations and when agency powers-that-be saw their Native charges fervently pounding drums and dancing in the snow, they grew afraid - and they called for backup. The U.S. gov't responded and its first casualty was the great chief, Sitting Bull, shot during an attempted arrest.

Upon learning of Sitting Bull's death, a Minneconjou chief named Spotted Elk, also called Big Foot, , led his people on a march towards hoped-for safety at the Pine Ridge agency. US cavalry intercepted them en route, where they surrendered peaceably and the commander ordered them to camp at Wounded Knee Creek. This they did and posted a white flag of truce. The next morning, the commanding officer demanded the surrender of all weapons and soldiers began a search of the Sioux encampment, some 350 people.

(Please note the utter absence of any "school.")

Accounts differ as to what happened, but a shot was fired and the close-quarters struggle devolved to shooting, and then the rapid-fire Hotchkiss guns surrounding the camp opened up and rained hellfire. The shooting continued until between 150 to 300 Sioux (estimates vary widely) lay dead or dying, including men, women and children. Some of the dead were found two miles away - chased and shot down as they tried to escape. A blizzard blew in shortly after and so the Native bodies were left to freeze for several days, before being gathered up and buried in a common grave.

And there you have it. So, when I turn and look at the unthinkable tragedy of Sandy Hook, I have to ask, what in blue hell is that meme talking about? What does Wounded Knee have to do with any school shooting?

Sad thing is, I can guess. I mean, Sandy Hook and Wounded Knee both have the word "massacre" appended to them, right? Innocent people and little kids died in both, right? So, somewhere out there in Internetzland, some myopic twit looked at Wounded Knee, spat tobacco in his paper cup and said, "Well, ya see? If you give up your guns, that's what the Gummit does to ya."

But ... I'm still confused. Schools?  How much tequila did this guy have on board when he decided to connect Wounded Knee to school shootings? The plain fact is, the U.S. government had NO PART in any "deadliest school shooting in US history." Ever. Forever. Period.

I can't even begin to grasp how that silly bastard came up with this. What is he trying to say? That Sandy Hook wasn't so bad, because the U.S. Government did worse? That because a horrible thing happened at some point in history, it's less bad if a similar thing happens now?

Except the horrible thing he's using as his example never ever happened, and to say it did is not only wrong, it's just plain sick. Like, please-don't-have-children-because-your-gene-pool-scares-me sick. It's a stretch of logic that hurts my brain to even attempt.

Look, I own guns, I have a CCW and I have no intentions of giving up either. But when someone vents their dissatisfaction with, or their distrust of our government by spreading blatant lies and bald displays of gross insensitivity ... brother, you've lost me. That someone needs to take the tinfoil off their head a little more often.

So, if you, gentle reader, have however-innocently stuck this thing to your Facebook wall or blog page, please consider taking it down. Whoever made this was one twisted, insensitive puppy, and you don't want to rub against his stink.

 Know your history. Know your facts. And don't be a Facebook lemming.

~ * ~
Here is what Wounded Knee really looked like. (And it still had NOTHING to do with school shootings.)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Happy birthday, Jesse-dog!

I am such a bad dog mom!!! :( While everyone was eating chocolates and posting pink hearts, my good old dog, Jesse, was having his 14th birthday.

Yup, Jesse turned 14 on February 14, which was Valentine's Day this year. (Somehow I was thinking his birthday was the 17th.)

My, how the years have flown. From the handsome 2-year-old who lived tied to a tree at Reds Meadow Pack Station, until we took him on, to the rather neurotic young fellow who PEED on everything and who, under any perception of pressure while training, would quit the field and run to find the nearest human friend, to the steady good boy who could handle anything from lambs to recalcitrant ewes to silly heifers ... he has been my dog.

If I knew then what I know now, I don't know if he would have made an Open dog. Pro-Novice, sure, but he wasn't about the big outruns and flashy moves. He just wanted to work. Give him a job, show him a task and he soon made it his own. He was a darned good farm dog, a pretty decent cow dog and, over time, he and I got pretty handy at local arena and farm trials. In fact, eventually we started winning them. It wasn't due to my minimal skills: it was Jesse, who knew what I wanted better than I did - even if he didn't always believe that Stop meant Stop. ;)

He's old, now, about 97% deaf and going out in the hind end, and little things distress and upset him. He's happy sleeping around the house all day, but when the sun starts to go down, Jesse wants his family indoors and within his sight, or he barks his protest at full volume. Actually, being deaf, his bark only *has* one volume, now. But that's okay. It also tells us when he's happy, when he's out frolicking with the young dogs and falling on his butt and getting back up again to frolic some more in his tangle-legged, arthritic, bark-barking way.

Jesse is a happy old dog. He has what he always wanted, a place to belong and a family to call his own. He's the last of our old string, the last of the cow dogs, the trail dogs, the dogs who savvied the mountain trials and knew the high country camps. The sands in his glass are starting to run low, but his days are gentle and warm and well-fed. It's going to hurt when he leaves us, but he's raised our puppies and taught ME more than I can ever say.

I do love you, Jesse, you funny old man. Happy belated birthday.


Monday, January 28, 2013

HELP! My Puppy Just Stole the Space Shuttle! (Or, some thoughts for first-time Border Collie owners)


Alrighty, then. I've had a request to share some points from a discussion with a very nice lady on Facebook. This very  nice lady is a first-time owner of a well-bred (working bred) border collie puppy. She's had Aussies and understands how they tick, but this little bundle of energy, instinct and intellect has been tying her in knots. I know the feeling.

I'm no expert or a professional trainer, and I don't pretend to be. I'm just a gal with working border collies who has way too much time to think, in particular, about my relationship with my dogs. How does what I'm doing, or not doing, affect the way my dog responds to me or the requests I put on him and the tasks I ask him to do?

So, what I'm going to expound on, here, is the Care and Handling of Baby Border Collies: How Not To Do It. Now, bear in mind that there are as many schools of thought about raising puppies, including border collies, as there are minds to conceive them. But when it comes to border collie puppies, my personal theory that less is more. The mistake I sometimes see first-time border collie owners make is that they fall into the trap of thinking they must constantly train, constantly engage, constantly interact with their puppy.

To you, dear frazzled BC puppy owners, I say: relax. Don't TRY so hard. That busy furball you just brought home is only a baby. He is the babiest of babies, his attention span is about 30 seconds, and he has the WHOLE WORLD to try and conquer in 60 seconds. Having a busy, bright, super active Border Collie puppy does NOT mean you have to constantly feed his brain. In fact, I think that is more apt to backfire and instead create a dog that requires (or demands) constant stimulation. 

Do Not Over-Stimulate the Border Collie. What puppies need is to learn how to relax. How to be. How to hang out. How to spend time with you but not have it always be About Something.

Now, is the little terror driving you up a wall, to the point you're continually stuffing him in his crate so you can have a little peace? Don't do that. A 9 or 10 week old border collie should not spend hours a day in a crate. They need to run. They need to explore. They need to play with other dogs. They need room and time to learn their own bodies. They need to hang out with you. And they need to learn how to just chillax near you with a good chew bone or chewie toy.

And yes, in this modern age, where not all collies can grow up on the farm, I personally believe in giving puppies toys. Not everyone does and that's fine, but I do. I don't mean toys that you have to engage with. I mean toys that they can use to entertain themselves. Kongs. Nylabones. Those chewie bones that smell like bacon or cheese or whatever. Things that work those puppy teeth.

(By the way, any time my puppy starts gnawing a chair or the carpet, he gets a little "NO" and I immediately stuff an acceptable, correct chewie in his mouth. Chewing is okay. Chewing the furniture is not.)

But my dog's toys are for their use, not mine. I don't play tug, I don't play Frisbee and I only toss the ball a few feet. I don't want to risk them tweaking their backs or damaging their legs leaping in the air after toys.

And again I will say, I don't believe border collie puppies need scads of training and tons of classes and constant Things To Do. Yes, of course they need to get out and see new things. But border collies have been around for over 200 years, and they evolved without anything magical or special done - other than nurturing the working instinct.

Personally, I won't take a puppy out in public until he's had the first 2 sets of shots. I have never done puppy classes. I haven't seen the need. I simply take my puppy out to visit friends who have other dogs, or let those dogs come visit them. I let them have freedom to play, freedom to be. And yes, I do let them play with my older dogs. How else is a puppy to learn how to be a dog? Think of all the things dogs hand down to each other, even things we may not realize: the rules of the house, how not to pester the cat, how to avoid and respect old grumpy dogs, how to read the scents on a fence post - important things for a dog.

Of course I make sure my puppy bonds with me, as I don't want him so attached to the other dogs that I don't exist. So, my puppy and I do lots of hanging out together. That's the main thing I do with a puppy. We don't train all the time, we hang. We eat/share treats together. We sit together. We go out in the yard and take walks together. We do belly rubs and I'll hold one end of a chewy while he gnaws the other. I'll watch while he beats up all his toys or chases leaves and ignores me completely. It's what puppies do. It's how they grow.

But besides the fact that I don't accept the risk of parvo, (all someone has to do is walk in with shoes they wore somewhere parvo was present) I feel that that taking them out in the Big World too soon is fraught with risk. Border collies are sensitive to noise and motion and being overwhelmed, so why would I want to risk frying his puppy brain? Why take my little guy out somewhere, only to find out he's in a fear period and now I've made him forever terrified of yellow coats or people in blue hats? Let them learn from older dogs, yours and those of your friends. Let your friends come to meet them, or take them to safe homes for play dates.

But you don't need a lot of frantic dashing about to puppy classes or obedience school or whatever. We're raising dogs, here, not Chinese musical prodigies who are destined to be groomed from birth. The smartest dog on earth does not need to be bombarded with things to make his brain more active.

I feel my pups get way more out of one-on-one time with me, than they ever would with a class full of distractions. Obedience training from me means that every day, several times a day, we take 60 seconds and practice one thing. Do two or three sits. Call him to me by name. Work on baby stays. But just one thing. And then we're done. A couple hours later, we may do it or another thing again. But I never ask for more than 2 or 3 repetitions of ANYthing. Just a few seconds and class is over.

Now, if a pup is overly independent and the recall is a continued problem,
I become a walking treat dispenser. I keep a pouch with chopped hot dogs or cubes of cheese with me all the time. The puppy is free to do what he wants, until I want him, and then I bribe his little puppy butt with food. Sometimes I may have him drag a long line, about 20 feet of light clothesline with a knot on the end, if I want to be sure I can catch him. Also, a wise friend recommends that sometimes hide from the puppy, just vanish from sight and peek to see when they notice and start to worry if they're all alone. Then we pop out and voila, we're the savior.

But I do not require all his focus on me. That's not what a border collie is bred for. They are SUPPOSED to be independent. That's how they learn to think and adapt to our training, when on sheep. I teach him to look to me, but not at me. I don't want him to fixate on me to the exclusion of other dogs or other things. 

A border collie is a partner. You are the leader, but he's beside you, not behind you. Let him have the freedom to be. Don't keep him crated. Don't keep him isolated. Don't over-train him. Don't bombard him with things to stimulate and entertain him. He doesn't need more. He just needs time to be a puppy and grow up. Make sure he has enough freedom to just "be." Well-behaved older dogs are the best tutor he'll have in how to behave in the bigger world. After all, we don't speak dog. We're just the bumbling human who's trying to shape what the border collie already is.

And that, to quote Forrest Gump, is all I'm gonna say about that. :)