The harvest moon rises as a young border collie follows a scent through a field, recently picked clean of its haul. Thinking, sniffing, poking along … she makes her way over the furrows, not realizing how far she’s wandered from home. As darkness settles, a growing chill shakes her focus. She can’t see or hear anything familiar. She spends a long, cold night alone and waits.
The events that unfold next and in the coming days do little to assuage her fears. Strange man. Truck. Cage. Concrete floors. Barking dogs. Too much noise. Then, strange house. Nice people. Long car ride. Another strange place. Doctors, shots, surgery.
And, then she met me. I named her Lilly.
I honestly don’t know much about Lilly’s life before we adopted her from the shelter. I’ve imagined this scenario based on what I was told by shelter staff and on what I now know about how Lilly perceives her world – much like an autistic child, easily overwhelmed by noise, movement, and new situations. Saddled with crushing generalized anxiety and deep-seated fears, Lilly finds much of our modern world terrifying.
Lilly spent time in an old-fashioned, dog-pound-type shelter, probably in a rural area. She also lived with a foster family in the local border collie rescue network for a bit. (I have them to thank for her impeccable housetraining.) Through a transfer, she ended up at a progressive humane society near me.
She passed her evaluations, got spayed, then I adopted her the very next day.
People often ask why Lilly is so shy, so fearful. It’s easy to assume it had something to do with her life before us.
She’s absolutely terrified of paper rustling. The first time I tore a page from a notepad, I thought she would jump out of her skin. Did someone swat her with a newspaper for piddling on the carpet?
She hates to be pursued and picked up, cowering and shuffling along the ground like a little black-and-white hovercraft. Does that mean she was beaten?
Such skittishness is frowned upon in true working dogs. Was she cast aside, unwanted?
She can jump higher than my head without even trying. Is she merely an accomplished escape artist who gets bored?
Honestly, I do not know.
Then, again, what do we really know about the dogs in our lives? People with well-bred and pampered border collies joke about their dogs’ random fears – scotch tape, newspaper ads with animals on them, umbrellas … you name it.
Tell certain folks you live with a border collie, and be prepared for mock sympathy: “I’m so sorry.” People who know them know they can be a touch past crazy.
So, maybe Lilly simply is as she is.
An animal communicator talked to Lilly a while back. She asked about Lilly’s life pre-me. Her take was that perhaps Lilly’s first home included a young boy, who loved her but was not allowed to keep her.
The transcript of the session goes on to say: “Lilly has found her home, and rather than looking back, she looks to the future. She holds no grudge, no bad feelings. It appears she was happy in the shelter (to a point) and always knew that you would pick her up!”
And: “Your energy is good for her. She feels as though she has found her place … She really knows her role and embraces it fully. She feels that it will lead to greater messages for others along the way. Do not be surprised when she brings new things your way.”
Living with a brilliant, fearful dog brings life itself to a new level. There is the story and the story. Lilly is both. That, in part, is why I held out hope about what might be possible in her life and in mine … after Lilly became dangerously ill in January 2012.
We did the best we could for as long as we could. Alas …
Lilly died December 17, 2013, after a 693-day fight for her life.