March 14th, 2010

My first big mistake was picking out the liveliest pup in the litter. My second was choosing a border collie instead of, say, a nice, easy-going golden retriever. Anyone who has ever owned one will tell you that border collies are high-energy, high-strung animals that require a great deal of exercise. It’s also been said that they are the smartest of all breeds, but I have no way of confirming that. What I do know is that they are a willful lot, and in their own minds convinced that they are, without a doubt, top dogs.

Not so very long ago they were wolves—and believe me, they haven’t changed all that much. What they did was strike a deal with the beleaguered herdsman: “Feed me, and I’ll stop eating your sheep. In fact, I’ll even herd the flock for you, which isn’t hard for me because I can strike terror into their ovine hearts just by crouching low and giving them the stink eye.”


We got the dog from my brother-in-law, who is a rancher and who assured me that Tippy could sleep outside, same as all the other farm dogs do. So I built him a dog house, a nice one with a shingled roof, porch and insulated walls. Alas, it didn’t have cable TV or central heating or running water or any of the creature comforts that we humans enjoy.

“Why should I sleep outside?” Tippy wondered. And I, being the spineless fool that I am, caved in. That was my third mistake.

Before we knew what was happening, Tippy had become a regular member of the family. Think of Pecos Bill, who was adopted by a pack of wolves—except the other way around. Tippy was a wolf that had been adopted by a family of humans.

By and by he learned our ways even as we learned his. Sheepishly, we began doing things his way and before we knew it, he was no longer a pet but a lifestyle.

At least once a day I would take him for a walk, and by walk I mean a long, long hike. Along the way I discovered a lot of places I would never have discovered otherwise. I became intimately familiar with Bonneville Glen and Laird Park, which is where we became acquainted with a personable American Eskimo named Homer, the de facto park host. By and by we were joined by Scout and his friend Abbie, and then a boxer named Baylen. Those dogs, like mine, all had “masters,” and in short order the four of us became friends. I mean, when your dog is avidly sniffing the butt of some other person’s dog, it kinda breaks the ice.

By and by Scout and Abbie’s owners moved away. Homer was run over by a car and Balen also died. Nicole, Balen’s bereaved owner, stopped coming to the park, so I moved on to Wasatch Hollow, where Tippy and I made some new friends, including a German shepherd named Silver. Between Laird and the Hollow, Tippy introduced himself to the kindly Mr. Hess and Christina, two non-dog-owners who nonetheless stocked dog biscuits in case Tippy should come trick-or-treating, which he invariably did. We also became acquainted with a widower named Jim and his beloved dog Julie. Julie et Jim. One day Julie got sick and had to be put down. Jim confided that he would have preferred to take the lethal injection himself. Not long afterward, I saw Jim’s picture in the obituary pages.

One day Tippy discovered that not all automobile trips lead to the veterinarian, and after that his territory was vastly expanded. Thus he discovered Tanner Park and a whole new bunch of canines, one or two of which not only smelled good but also tasted good! As a result, he and I were banished to the “bad dog” section of the park, which is where we met Carl and his very bad dog Kyla. Kyla and Tippy immediately hit it off. They took turns pissing on every bush around until finally word came down that even bad dogs were not welcome in the bad dog section of Tanner Park.

We tried meeting at various places around town, but there was always a problem. Neither Kyla nor Tippy are familiar with the concept of public space. In Australia (where Kyla the Dingo comes from), if you piss on something, it’s yours. In Scotland’s border country (where Tippy’s ilk hails from), it’s almost always raining and so you can pee to your heart’s delight because nobody can ever be sure which are rain puddles and which are piss puddles.

Now, some dogs like to play fetch, but not Tippy. Border collies are infielders, not retrievers. So we two invented a game that I call boredom ball, in which I bounce a tennis ball off a tree trunk and Tippy snags it. But he does NOT retrieve it. Instead, he’ll drop it about ten feet away from me, and only after I beg and plead with him to bring it closer will he pick it up and move it approximately one inch. This game will continue until finally I give in and fetch the ball myself, proving once again that he is the boss.

There are some dogs you can just never dominate. Instead, what you do is form a partnership, same as the sheepherder does with his erstwhile predator. So it came to pass that Tippy and I became partners, and our partnership endured for almost fourteen years. The past few months have been the hardest. Half blind and barely able to stand, he nonetheless made a game effort to go for a daily walk, even though our walks had become very short, just far enough so that he could sniff around and check his pee mails. Then yesterday morning he could no longer stand, so Anne and I were forced to make a tough decision.

I was hoping my dog and I could make it through the winter, and we almost did. If it ever warms up, I plan to go for a long, long walk through the dogforsaken streets and parkways of my neighborhood.. This time around I won’t be taking a leash, or a tennis ball, or a plastic bag. I’ll walk briskly, ignoring the fire hydrants and the UPS trucks, the fragrant shrubbery, the tasty weimaraners and rascally mailmen. That cottonwood tree where Tippy and I used to play boredom ball for hours on end? I won’t have to go there because all I have to do is just close my eyes and I can picture it from memory–along with those familiar floppy ears, that determined gaze, that crazy old dog patiently waiting for me to go fetch his stupid tennis ball.

-Richard Menzies