“There’s an old female Collie down at the shelter with infected eyes and really bad skin.” Our shelter reporter Evelyn’s message left no doubt as to her opinion. “I doubt you’ll want to get her,” she finished.
I’d always wanted a dog just like Lassie. As a new volunteer for Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue, I had never fostered a dog seeking adoption before, and was eager to save my first one for the group. Maybe I’d just go down to the shelter, look at the Collie, and confirm that she was too old and ill to rescue.
The next day I went to see her, and she looked pretty awful. Baseball-sized hunks of matted hair 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. If her owners didn’t come to claim her, I told the shelter officer, I would foster her until we could find her a home.
The following Tuesday I picked her up from the shelter, and found out she had been a stray 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? Was her family still looking? How could anyone not be looking for her?
Obviously I was new at this, and very naïve. The shelters are full of dogs that no one comes looking for. Just because she was a collie didn’t mean she was more special than any other dog.
I took her to the vet, who pronounced her spayed and only about five years old. She had trouble climbing into the car; it appeared she had some arthritis. He gave me medicine for her eyes, and we went home to start her recovery.
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, the rescue got a new breed rep for collies, Sharon, who started telling people about her. 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 I just brushed a few minutes 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 her eye infection cleared up, her inner eyelid was still showing, so I took her back to the vet. He said 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. He sent me to a specialist, who said she wasn’t in any pain, and agreed with my vet that the problem was congenital and there wasn’t much to be done 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, though, so I kept a pretty close eye on her.
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 her eyes anymore. What I saw was the sweetest, gentlest, most 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 loved at one time. I wondered if her family missed her.
Each time Colley Girl went out to see new potential families, it got harder and harder to let her go. After about a month of this, I told Sharon to come get her for a meet-and-greet while I wasn’t at home, so I wouldn’t have to say good-bye.
Sharon called me 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 25 miles home, frantic that Colley would disappear.
Silly me. When I pulled into the driveway, there was Sharon, arms folded, glaring at Colley Girl. Colley was standing by the dog run, barking defiantly, daring Sharon to come after her. Of course Colley came straight to me. As I knelt down, she hid 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. Sharon called later to say Colley Girl had a new home. I cried myself to sleep that night. My husband tactfully ignored me. He’s no fool; he knew what the problem was. I was realizing I was too soft for rescue work.
The next day, Sharon called. The family wasn’t keeping Colley Girl. “They didn’t like her funny eyes,” she reported, “Everyone wants Lassie.” Sharon offered to keep her at her place so we wouldn’t have to transfer her around so much. “Fat chance,” I replied.
That night my husband came home from work and raised his eyebrows in surprise as he recognized Colley Girl coming to greet him. Then he saw two giant cardboard ‘dog tags’ hanging from her neck. One said “I love you,” and the other, “Please keep me.”
He smiled. “I think it’s already been decided.”
Colley Girl was a beloved member of our family for almost 5 years. Her arthritis kept her from jumping on people or running away faster than I could chase her, and her eyes always looked strange. But in her 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.
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