Part 2 – On Grief and Border Collies, Introducing “Cross”

So in my last blogpost, see On Grief and Border Collies,  I explained my reasoning behind why it had to be a border collie. With my grief over the loss of my mother likely pushing me forward, I set out to find our puppy.  I searched for a couple of months.  My first inclination was to go with a border collie rescue association.  Sometimes too much research can be detrimental as I read posts warning first-time border collie owners who lack experience with the breed not to go this route for fear of either further ruining these dogs or taking on a dog whose previous owners created difficult-to-break “bad habits.” More recently I’ve come across advice that one should foster a border collie and be certain they fit into your lifestyle and family before adopting or obtaining one from a breeder.  (Now that I am the owner of a 17-month-old border collie I agree wholeheartedly with that opinion.)

For those unfamiliar with border collies, they are one of the top breeds brought to animal shelters when owners come to the realization that they cannot handle their dog.  In addition to reading that, I also read countless “horror” stories about their behavior if they are not properly trained, socialized and both physically and mentally exercised…and really I don’t know what propelled me forward.  I will say that if you google “border collies and horror stories,” (oh yes, I’m not exaggerating, they are there) the majority of those stories discuss the incredible intelligence, persistence, and sometimes neuroticism possessed by their dogs which lead to such behaviors but, more often than not, the stories end with a statement along the lines of, “But I love my border collie and wouldn’t trade him/her for the world.”  Unfazed, I began looking for reputable breeders, made a few phone calls, visited and settled upon a breeder and just about went nuts anticipating when we would eventually have the puppy I had put so much hope into.

If you recall my previous blog about Brandy, you understand why I initially set my heart upon a black and white border collie.  I know, I know…we should not be looking for a particular color when finding a pup to suit our family.  We decided we wanted a male instead of a female (like Brandy) after reading that the females can sometimes be more “domineering.”  Ultimately, we found out that only 2 male pups were born into the litter that we were waiting for…a black and white and a blue merle (think salt and pepper-colored fur).  In my mind it was fate that there was only one black and white male and I took it as a sign that I was on the right path. Yet another inspiring point to me was that there were therapy dogs in the lineage.  I had envisioned training this puppy into adulthood with the ultimate goal of him becoming a therapy dog to visit and inspire at-risk children. Furthermore, and bearing in mind that I had recently lost my mom, what practically gave me goose bumps was that the dam (mother dog) was named, “Nevaeh,” which is heaven spelled backwards…in my grief-stricken mind at the time, I thought to myself, “how could this not be the destined dog of my dreams?!”

It was fortuitous that we happened to be driving through the area of the breeder’s home (several hours from us) shortly after we received the news that the puppies had been born, so my children were able to visit the pups.  I watched them, oh so gently, stroke the puppies silky little heads, knowing that one would come to share our home, our lives and grow up with them.  I felt a stirring in my heart such as I had not felt in the months after my mom’s death and I felt that I had received a gift of something to care for, moments to look forward to, and if I’m being honest, a distraction from my grief process.

Here is the first photo after they were born:

Clearly, the previous photos I’ve posted don’t depict a black and white puppy, so I’m sure you have an inkling of an idea as to which of those pups ended up with us.  I’m unaware of the precise reason why, but the breeder stopped sending photos of the black and white male very early on.  When I continuously pressed her for more photos of our black and white puppy (as she was sending photos of the entire litter at play once they were a bit older), she finally emailed me back stating that he would not be a good choice for a family with young children.  I’m not going to lie, initially I was a bit distraught with this news.  I imagine it’s pretty apparent that I had irrationally set it up in my mind that all events leading me to that particular pup were fated.  She apologized and gave me the option to take the merle pup or wait a few more months and consider another litter from another dam.  Over time I had seen this little merle grow in photographs from somewhat of a rodent-esque creature to an adorable bundle of fur.  I had to admit that his unique, tri-colored split face did wind up charming me. I literally prayed on it…hard…and ultimately came to the decision that he would come home and join our family.

I had my first indication as to the type of temperament our puppy would be demonstrating when this picture, taken when he was a little over a month old, was sent by the breeder:

I remember telling my husband that I was a little concerned about the somewhat hard or “stink-pot” look in his eyes at such a young age, but I also knew that border collies all get a “locked-eye” look when focusing intensely on something as they are bred for herding.  It may not even have garnered my attention except that the photos of his litter mates, in contrast, showed pups with soft, sweet “love me” looks in their eyes.  Looking at this photo now I would bet the look on his face is exactly what someone looking for a working dog would have valued.  My preliminary research led me to several posts by “working” border collie owners who believe it is unfair to this breed of dog to simply be kept as pets as they have been selectively bred over centuries for intelligence and working ability. Whatever position a border collie owner takes on that subject, all are in agreement that border collies were bred to work, need to be given a “job”…and if you don’t give them a job…well…common knowledge is that they’ll create a job of their own.

My husband, who is to dogs what the Pied Piper is to rats, was not really keen on the idea of a border collie, he has actually wanted a golden retriever for many years.  Several of my neighbor friends can attest to seeing my husband lay himself flat on the ground in the middle of our neighborhood park (full of people, mind you) to coo to and love on a few of their goldens.  Although he made his concerns clear to me about my (teetering on obsessive) choice of a border collie for our household, and although I know he really wanted to sway me to the idea of a golden retriever, he saw my pain and what I had been dealing with emotionally and he truly wanted to find a way to alleviate some of the grief that he admittedly couldn’t personally understand.  In other words, he gave in.

Before he even came home to us, we set about finding our puppy a name.  The last time my husband and I were throwing names around I had been pregnant for our son.  At that time my husband was pretty determined to name our son “Cross” (after a tough and savvy fictional character from a novel he’d read in his younger years).  And in case you think it couldn’t get better, “Cross” is actually short for Crucificio (did I mention my husband is half Italian?).  I frantically sought out every known source of boy’s names on the planet in an effort to find a name compelling enough to woo my husband away from one certain to bring adversity of some sort into my future son’s life.  And luckily I was successful (we can all collectively wipe the sweat off of our brows in relief).  Reminiscing upon that time (and the bullet I’d dodged) I actually began to reconsider the name.  Initially I did so because I was so grateful that my husband was willing to take this adventure of puppy ownership with me.  I thought, “Why not name our puppy Cross if it makes him happy?”  But then I had to admit, although it may have been a mouthful for a little boy to bear, it intrigued me as a name for a dog…for our dog.  And then it hit me…the puppy’s dam’s name was Nevaeh…what more suitable name than Cross?!  I took it a step further (because we already know that’s what I do) and found an engrave-able dog tag in the shape of…you’ve got it…a cross.  Now I had fully embraced the name, was excited, and could make my husband happy all at once…

A time or two since, my husband and I have recognized the irony that he may have been aptly named as he’s been somewhat of a “cross” to bear with all of the attention he’s required…but looking upon it now I also realize that I was the one guilty of laying a huge cross upon him to bear…I was asking a puppy to fill a void in my heart, to be what I needed and to relieve me of the grief I couldn’t address.  That’s a whole lot of expectations for a pup to be asked to fulfill…and how could he possibly succeed?

(Further updates to follow…next, Cross comes home)


One thought on “Part 2 – On Grief and Border Collies, Introducing “Cross”

  1. Pingback: The ABC’s of ME | Mom of 3 with a PhD

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