And then there was one.
I got Ruby at the beginning of May last year and if you'd told me when I got her that she'd be the only dog I had left by January I'd have been in pure disbelief. And yet here we are. For the first time in 18 years no Border Collies tearing around the house. So weird and quiet. Ruby is happy to sleep in until whenever. Definitely a hard starter. The parade of zillions of dogs past our living room windows is greeted with some interest but no hysterical barking and scrabbling of front paws on the upper window sills. Which I have to admit is a nice thing. I can leave the house without someone flying around my legs in a flurry having a barking tantrum and come back in the house if I forget something without more barking and tantrums. I would happily take it all back to have my dogs back. I'm finally getting used to the quiet and it's turned from nice to boring. Neither Jonny nor I are ready for another dog right now but both of us would like to get some crazy energy back in the house at some point.
I had been keeping my eye out on the various rescue sites and Petfinder for the past couple of months. There was a Border Collie that sounded like a good possibility that came into the rescue I volunteer for but I didn't want to subject Lola to a new dog. She deserved to live out her life without that extra stress on her. Unfortunately the rescue has since disbanded, the dog was taken to a rescue on the other side of the state and was promptly adopted. Yay for that dog! Another dog will come around, no shortage of dogs in rescue. And it's puppy season, loads of puppies in rescue right now though none of them locally seem to be Border Collies or even reasonable mixes of some herding dog. And they've been spayed/neutered at 8 weeks old which sadly is a deal breaker for me. If I get a puppy I'd like to wait 1 1/2 - 2 years to get it spayed/neutered. Unfortunately this is a deal breaker for most rescues. I get it but it makes getting a puppy from rescue problematic for me. And yesterday I was entertaining the idea that maybe I'd like a puppy for a change. Been 16 years since I've had one.
So I went down the rabbit hole of checking out Border Collie breeders. And after about 40 minutes I had a stomach ache that literally sent me running for the bathroom. I like the criteria that the working Border Collie forum sets for choosing a breeder, their list of red flags is here. There are obvious red flags like don't get dogs from pet stores or over the internet or from the Walmart parking lot. Or breeders that emphasize the colors of dogs or register with the AKC or won't give you their address. or have too many litters and breeding pairs of dogs. Additional obvious red flags for me are breeders that are selling more than one breed or won't let you come out to their facility. Photos from conformation shows and a listing as an AKC Breeder of Merit or AKC breeder of any merit are deal breakers for me. The agility/sport lines are filled with epilepsy, hip problems, behavior problems and other weird health problems so I shy away from those lines. These things are easy and obvious to spot on a website.
But some things are not so obvious. On the one hand responsible Border Collie breeders should be breeding for working ability on livestock. I'd like to support this idea. But to be honest I have no need for a dog that can work livestock nor am I a good judge of a good working dog. AKC herding titles and herding titles in general are red flags, according to the Border Collie forum:
"Breeders who don't know enough or care enough to breed for herding
excellence may point to titles (letters before or after the dog's name)
acquired in dumbed-down AKC or other multi-breed herding trials. These
trials are designed as ways to have fun with your dog rather than as
true tests of working ability, and because they have to provide fun for
many breeds which have little or no herding ability, they are no measure
at all of the quality of a real working breed like the Border Collie.
Where a Border Collie sire or dam is advertised as having title initials
before or after its name, you can be pretty sure that neither the dog
nor the breeder is accomplished enough to compete in "real" Open level
sheepdog trials. Ironically, therefore, these titles prove the exact
opposite of what they are intended to prove. The same is true of
"herding instinct certificates," an easy, meaningless credential that no
serious breeder of working dogs would bother to get."
O.k., so alphabet soup listed after a dog's name is a red flag, got it. So how can a novice like me evaluate herding ability? How do I know if I'm supporting the real deal? How do I even find these breeders? A simple Google search of 'Border Collie Breeders Colorado' brings up a 100% failure of criteria on the first 2 pages. In fact the first listing is for Wildblue Border Collies, the breeder who sold Jon Katz his dogs and if ever there was a red flag . . . Plus that 'AKC Breeder of Merit' stamp on the first page of the site. Ugh.
Anyway, there was one sort of useful link that came up at the bottom of page two, 'Ranch World Ads'. Some of these breeders seem sketchy. But one seemed like a possibility. No initial obvious red flags and a video showing the male dog working.
'Save money, save time, save stress' - get a Border Collie. That made me laugh. And laugh and laugh and laugh. Because 10 years with Strummer was the exact opposite of saving money, time and stress. Maybe if I had a herd of cattle . . . Anyway, to a novice this looks like a reasonable level of herding skill. And when I clicked on the 'Previous Litters' button the first thing I saw was a testimonial from an agility friend that I'd just been talking to a couple of weeks ago at a USDAA trial. I saw her husband working with the dog and it seemed like a very nice dog. This seemed promising.
No mention of the female dog's herding abilities and none of the testimonials from people with pups from previous litters mention herding ability but at this point I'm willing to let that slide. I don't personally need a dog with herding ability and after hours of searching this is the only breeder in Colorado that I've found that comes even close to satisfying the criteria for supporting the working Border Collie community. The male's pedigree looks o.k. as far as inbreeding goes but when I check the female's pedigree - ugh - some pretty serious inbreeding. And this is a huge red flag for me. I'm already cynical about the whole concept of 'purebred dog' and to know I'm getting one that's got significant inbreeding (grandmothers of the female are sisters, not sure if they're littermates though) is probably a deal breaker. I'm not willing to compromise my priorities of health and temperament for herding ability.
So I'm back to square one which is rescue which means there's a good likelihood I won't be able to get a puppy unless I can find a rescue willing to work with me on the spay/neuter thing. And when it comes to puppies, rescue is the riskiest place to get one. We took that risk with Lola and it was totally worth it but is it worth taking the risk again? The surest bet is a grown or nearly grown dog from rescue. You know what you're getting temperament wise and the size and structure of the dog. And I prefer mixes to purebreds. In the next week or two I'll start the application process. Lots of different rescues in the area. One of them has a most ridiculous application process, intimidating even to me and I worked for 10 years for Border Collie rescue. I get what they're trying to do, so many idiots out there with dogs who haven't got the faintest clue about behavior and training. But I'm not sure I can be bothered writing essays on my training techniques and reading all the pet level behavior books and articles they require you to read. Ironically and unfortunately the rescue I volunteered for has recently disbanded. As I recall they had a policy of allowing puppies to wait until at least 7 months to be spayed/neutered. And their application process was a good balance of thorough but reasonable. But there are no shortage of dogs that need homes out there so I'm sure the right dog will come along at some point. Funny, I've always had dogs falling in my lap, it's odd to be in the position of actively looking for one.
On a related note, I checked out the Border Collie epilepsy database and wow there are a lot of sport lines there and irresponsible breeding. A couple of dogs come up four times or more in various lines and pedigrees as parent or grandparent of an epileptic dog. One agility competitor turned breeder even bred the exact same parents that produced an epileptic dog 7 years later and surprise surprise, they produced another epileptic dog. Another male dog produced epileptic dogs with different females and still was being bred as well as his offspring. Seriously dude, in the name of DUH quit breeding your dog. You know who you are and anybody willing to take 10-20 minutes to peruse that site can figure it out. There was another case of someone breeding siblings together (not sure if they were littermates). DUH people. Who buys these dogs? What's the point of knowing the pedigree if you're going to ignore the red flags? So much emotion involved, I think people put logic aside both on the buying and breeding side.
Ah well, the search begins.