Above, the author's red and white bitch, Jute, at 11 years old. (Photo by Tony Esposito.)
by Carole L. Presberg
[Our red-and-white Border Collie, Jute, died in April 1996 at the age of 14. Her story was written for and first appeard in the Shepherd's Dogge Tenth Anniversary Issue, Vol. XI, No. 1, Spring 1998, dedicated to the Senior Border Collie.]
I was used to Jute being cantankerous--she had been so all her life-- fiercely protective of her rights, territory, and self; snarling at the other dogs if they got too close; barking in their faces if they dared to eye something she wanted, or tried to sit too near her person.
Oh, I knew she was getting old. A tiny dog with a good appetite, she had become broad in the beam. Her face had become grizzled. She always had a "selective hearing problem"--if she wanted to do something, she heard you tell her to do it; if she didn't want to do it, she suddenly became deaf. I always had to yell loudly at her to get her to come, to keep her from getting into squabbles of her own making with the other dogs, to get her to go with us instead of staying behind to do her own thing. She was stubborn and had to do things her own way. She worked, but wouldn't herd the chickens, only the sheep--chickens were beneath her; and in herding the sheep she had more than once injured herself by trying to make the sheep do her bidding by physically throwing herself at them, even though she had a strong eye. Once she had dislocated her elbow doing that; and the morning that her puppies were born she insisted on coming down to the barn, missed the sheep when she propelled herself at them, and hit the wall instead. "Oh lord," I thought, "there go the puppies!" --but they were fortunately fine.
Numerous times we had lost her during a walk as she got further and further behind or further and further ahead of us. Once, I was walking with the three dogs on a wooded hill in a town recreation area that we frequented, when I noticed Jute was missing. It was very windy, and though I shouted and shouted, there was no response. The other two dogs and I turned back toward the pond where we had parked the car. It was a long walk, and all the way I called for Jute, but she never came. When the pond came into view, I could see another car parked there, and a woman standing near it, with Jute beside her. I shouted again, but they either did not hear me, or they ignored me. Soon, I saw the woman get into the car and start off up the dirt road to leave the recreation area. I began to run. I could no longer see Jute, and I feared the woman had taken her in the car, possibly mistaking her for a stray dog even though she had on a collar and tags. There was a place where the road took a bend, and then went up an incline and into a wooded area, and I could no longer see the car when it got to that place. I got to my car, quickly loaded up the other dogs, and took off at a particularly unsafe speed. As I careened around the bend and out of the woods, I saw Jute up ahead, following behind the other car--not being carried off by it! I couldn't believe it. I was both relieved and angry. I stopped the car, called her to me again, and this time she came. "What's the matter with you?" her expression said.
Another time, I was walking on the beach with my three dogs, and three friends with two other dogs. Five dogs running around is pretty distracting, and we were busy talking to one another as we unconsciously threw sticks for the dogs to catch. Jute was an avid stick chaser, and I guess we weren't throwing to her satisfaction, because the next thing I knew, she was missing. It was the beach after all, and one could see for miles, but I looked all around and she was nowhere in sight. We all began to shout her name, but to no avail. Then Robyn, a friend visiting from Australia, said, "Isn't that her? There she is!" We looked where she was pointing, and there, a mere speck on the horizon, was Jute, rapidly receding as she followed a couple who were walking in the opposite direction and throwing a stick for her! We could never have caught up with them if it wasn't for the fact that Robyn was younger and in better shape than the rest of us, and ran off after her. Soon they returned, with Robyn aiming a stream of invectives at Jute in her thick Aussie accent, and Jute, once again, looking like "What is she going on about?"
So I shouldn't have been surprised the day we were walking on our own property, along the fenceline that bounded our hayfield and a steep slope covered by bramble and old apple trees belonging to a neighbor, and Jute disappeared. Once again, we shouted her name over and over, but she never came. My husband went down through the brambles to look for her, but he couldn't find her. I went back to the house with the other dogs thinking perhaps she had gone all the way around the hayfield and then home, but she wasn't there. About an hour later, having failed to locate her, my husband got into the car and drove to the neighbor's house to ask them to keep a lookout for her. A short time later he returned with Jute in the car. "Where did you find her?" I asked. "She was sitting on the neighbor's porch," he said, "looking confused."
It was then that I realized that Jute had gotten old. She wasn't pretending to be hard of hearing anymore, but was really deaf, with the type of deafness that comes with old age, a directional deafness. When you called her, she thought the sound was coming from the opposite direction, and so went away from you instead of towards you. The more we had shouted, the further away she went, until she came to our neighbor's house. Then she must have just stayed there until he came to get her.
After that, I never let her get out of my sight. I never shouted her name again when she got too far behind or too far ahead but ran after her to bring her back. And I realized that we weren't going to have her much longer and that, despite her irascibility, I would miss Jute when she was gone.
Above, Watermoon Jute. Left to right: Jute as a puppy with Willy (center) and Linn;
Jute just under a year old; Jute about 2 years old; and Jute about 4 or 5 years old.
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