Monday, February 7, 2011

Do Border Collies Dream of Sheep?


The big brother was kind and thoughtful to give me this book for my birthday last month. It is available from Outrun Press. I read it over the past weekend, in a couple of evenings and found it very enjoyable. Both of the authors are accomplished in their fields. Years ago I had read Carol Lea Benjamin's "Mother Knows Best" and had enjoyed her whimsical and heartfelt line drawings (which are present in this book as well). Denise Wall's writing is thoughtful and to the point on a subject that is obviously very near and dear to her daily life and her family's. And, her photos are great!

The dual plot was almost like unraveling two mysteries side-by-side. The story line follows two female puppies from one litter who grow up to lead very different lives and serve very different purposes. One puppy is a working sheepdog; the other puppy is a service dog who lives in New York City. There are other puppies from the litter who are mentioned -- it is not a litter of only two pups, by the way -- something I had wondered about. Part of the mini-drama was following the pups in the litter to see which one would be picked to be the city/service dog.

The background given on border collies and how and why they work the way they do was well organized and understandable. Of course since I am a working collie aficionado it all made sense to me! One of the main points of the book throughout, is the emphasis on how the working heritage of these two pups made it possible for them to excel at their jobs. In addition to telling two good stories, the book is a not-so-subtle statement about the careful selection and breeding of working dogs.

For the sheepdog puppy, May, it only made sense that she should come from a long line of proven working farm and trial dogs. But for the service dog puppy, Sky, it was different information for me than what I had previously been offered about the best types of service dogs. In my limited exposure to service dogs here in Northern California, it seems like the trend is towards conformation lines of goldens or lab-golden mixes, and the less reactive the better. In the past, corgis and even border collies were even used locally in the service-dog training schools around here in addition to the goldens, labs, and shepherds. The emphasis on the working heritage of both puppies got me to thinking and I am guessing that more than one blog post might come out of this !

Another charming part of the chapters from both authors was that they each detailed the interactions of their other dogs with May and Sky respectively. The household relationships will be relative to anyone who has a multi-dog household. Anyway for now...if you get a chance to read this lovely and enjoyable little book....DO.

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