This blog isn’t about something new, its about something old: our Shetland Sheepdog (Sheltie) Calvin who took suddenly ill this week and died just a few days before what would have been his 13th birthday. I’m sure I could come up with analogies to make this topic fit the overall “New Experience and Learning” theme of the blog: new sheltie facts, or changing doggie dynamics or something but I’m not up for that. Instead I’ll revert to a childhood response for that observation…….”So sue me.” (do kids even say that anymore?).
In the summer of 1998, we had just moved from Cleveland to Ft. Wayne, Indiana. We had 2 brand new important jobs, a nice new house with a big fenced in yard, 4 active daughters ranging in age from 2-13, one sweet but neurotic rescue dog, and 2 cats. What more could we possibly want? Well, a puppy of course! While visiting relatives in Illinois, we saw a classified ad for a litter of sheltie puppies. Might as well just LOOK, right? So we headed out to the farm in the middle of nowhere (also known as Carlock) where they had kennels full of Shetland Sheepdogs with pedigrees and titles and fancy names. And soon the shaking nervous little puppy in the back of the crate was thrown into the chaos that was the Lewis family. We named him some long official name that I can’t even remember anymore, and sent in his paperwork to the AKC. I’m not sure why we did that since we also had him neutered as soon as possible but I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Here in no particular order are a few top Calvin memories and pictures:
- Calvin took his job as a “herding dog VERY seriously. Any creature, human or animal, was expected to stay with the herd. If one went outside, we should all go outside. If the rest of the children were in the family room and one wandered into the dining room, Calvin would fret. Calvin was quite good at fretting. For years he would grab our pant legs or shoelaces in his mouth and try to pull us back in if he caught us trying to go out the front door. Failing that he would stand and bark wildly at us, letting us know how dangerous it was out there. He always positioned himself on the periphery of any given situation, often near a door or gate—presumably so he could keep track of his flock and be immediately alerted if one tried to escape or a wolf tried to get in. Now Calvin was the wimpiest dog on the planet so if a wolf DID get in you were sunk, but he’d feel responsible. A risk-taker he was not.
- Since we were busy people, when Calvin was about 6 months old we decided to send him to a local “Canine Boarding School” for training. We had thus far found him to be a nervous dog who didn’t want to do “dog things” and barked all the time. The trainer was supposedly going to teach him commands. Instead, we got a call to come get him within a week or two—-it seemed that he couldn’t even get Calvin to come out of his crate, much less do any of the typical things dogs need to be trained for. The trainer decided that he needed to start by learn to walk on a leash. Except Calvin was too afraid when they walked outside, so he just taught him to walk on the leash inside. From then on, we had a dog who would walk INSIDE on his leash perfectly. Outside – forget it. And he still wouldn’t stop barking or sit & stay or stop peeing in the house or any of the other things we’d hoped he would learn. Lesson learned for the Lewis family: no more boarding schools, we bought our own dog training books. And we potty trained him along with Anna (2 at the time). M&M’s or liver treats for both….neither ever seemed to care which they got although it was confusing to both when Calvin got a treat for peeing in the shrubs while Anna got in trouble for it.
- Speaking of walks, one of my funniest-ever Calvin memories was several years later in Virginia. Jim & I decided that it would be healthy for Calvin, who was battling a weight problem, to go for walks. Calvin was the eldest dog by then, and Hobbes, the younger one LOVED to walk. When we got out the leash Hobbes would go crazy with excitement. But not Calvin. He still hated anything having to do with a leash and thought there was no reason to ever leave our yard. But that particular day we put a leash on Calvin and set off. We got about 4 blocks away but then, because he had a big fluffy neck with a small pointy-head, he slipped right out of his collar. Once he realized he was free, he turned around and started running back home. But Calvin couldn’t really run—-his legs were too short, and he was too fat, so it was really more of a waddle-trot. He had absolutely no desire to go anywhere but HOME, which is exactly where he headed. We called him and he ignored us, neighbors who were in their yards and had previously admired how pretty he was when we first walked by now turned to laugh at him and he ignored them too, we waved treats in the air and ran behind him. Other dogs barked at him and a couple even ran out to greet him and see if he wanted to play as he ran by, but he focused SOLELY on his goal of getting back home. He ran all the way, getting there long before us, huffing-and puffing and very indignantly clear that walks are NOT acceptable. So that ended the “going for a walk” experiment.
- But we didn’t give up easily. Our other dogs liked to go to a local dog park. They ran and played and socialized. There were lots of humans and dogs there, in a big, huge fenced in play area. You can see where this is heading, right? This was not FUN, it was work! A HUGE flock, full of unknown sheep, all misbehaving! Humans and dogs all coming and going and no one staying where they were supposed to. So Calvin decided to handle this by staying as close to the entrance as possible, checking out whether the fence was really strong enough to keep out the wolves that were surely out there. He fretted the entire time. I thought we were going to have to give him Doggy Prozac.
- Even though he worked hard, Calvin also liked to play. But only for short periods of time, on a pre-arranged break of course. One of his favorite games was the “flashlight game.” He would chase the light around the floor, try to get it on the wall, and bark like crazy at it. And even later in life he would go through playful periods where he’d try to engage the other dogs or join in on a game of ball. He didn’t quite know what to do with a toy once it was in his mouth and when we played ball we had to hold the other dogs back occasionally so Calvin could get it. As long he was off the clock and there weren’t any wolves around, of course.
- Luckily for us Calvin relaxed and mellowed a lot in his old age. He stopped barking so much, stopped worrying so much and welcomed whatever humans and/or animals that might come to visit without feeling like he was responsible for their entire well-being and probable imminent wolf attacks. He learned important tricks, like “lying my head on someone’s lap while they’re eating dinner, because they’ll think that’s adorable and reward me.” He still, however, kept many of his old habits. Even up until last week, our morning routine was for me to get up and shower, then all the dogs to accompany me downstairs. Calvin was convinced I probably couldn’t find the way unless he followed along behind me, herding and barking at me the entire way. Good herders never go first—-they have all their sheep in sight at all times and Calvin was a good herder.
- Calvin has a diet named after him. As I mentioned before, he got kind of heavy when he was younger and Jim took him to the vet who informed him that our dog was overweight. Jim asked him earnestly, “What should we do?” thinking there was probably some special doggie diet food or routine, or even a medication he would recommend. The response was, “Well, you control his food—–feed him less!” (thinking, “DUH, that will be $75 please.”) So that’s what we did. And lo & behold he lost weight. So now we occasionally put our other dogs and ourselves on the Calvin diet, which basically consists of this complex principle: eat less.
- Calvin HATED to be brushed, so he was usually “overly fuzzy.” Every once in awhile we’d take him to a groomer who would chastise us and tell us we had to brush him every week or we were horrible, awful doggie-parents, but we never did and I like to think he thanked us for that. Like most Shelties, once the weather got warm he’d do what they call “blow his coat” which basically meant he would shed and shed and shed and shed and shed. The rest of the time he just shed (and shed). I love you Calvin, but I will not miss your hair.
- He LOVED snow. When he was young he would play and roll in it; when he was older he’d eat it and lounge happily in it. We’d bring the other dogs in and just leave him on the deck to enjoy the feeling of the snow. I’m happy he got another couple of snows this year.