Most people active here now don't know me or know of my good dog, Celt, who passed away last week, but for many years, I was a frequent contributor here and Celt was often a part of my posts.
Celt was, in a single word, a gift. I mean that literally. When Skye, the youngster I had bought was deliberately run down and killed at the side of the road, his breeder insisted on giving me her stud fee pup from another litter, and Celt was the pup from that litter that she chose for me. I am eternally grateful.
Christmas 2002 was a day marked by an ice storm – our family could not come to visit – but the next day, we three (Ed, Laura, and myself) headed out to Virginia to pick up the puppy I had named Celt. He was totally disinterested in us, wanted to explore and sniff everything outside his big puppy pen, along with his siblings.
By that evening, he was lonely and did not like being tethered next to our bed (so much so that he never, except once when he was sick) voluntarily slept along my side of our bed – it was the site of his imprisonment! Anywhere else but home, he would sleep on the bed with me or on the floor next to my side, but not at home. So, early in the morning, the first few nights, when my eternally early-rising Celt would get restless, I would potty him and then bring him into the bed to lie across my neck with his bare puppy belly, each of us sharing and savoring the warmth of bare skin contact and each other’s pulse.
I took Celt to puppy classes and beginning agility classes, socializing him at the vet office and Lowe’s and any other place I could think of, and even had him earn his TDI Therapy Dog certification by the time he was a year old, and then took him to his first cattle dog clinic, where he was a star.
Celt was a natural at working livestock and, in his mind, black cattle like our commercial Angus herd, were “the real thing”. He was ready and eager to work sheep but, when faced with the option of cattle or sheep, he wanted cattle. A diplomatic dog with a good sense of feel and pressure, he was excellent on pairs, especially the first-calf heifers, who needed sensitive handling. He could work a pair or our whole herd of thirty mothers and their babies. He was a natural at the gather and struggled with driving and pressure situations, but eventually could do a credible job of driving, too. He had strong instincts and we sometimes, earlier on, had problems when the voices in his head were louder than the commands I needed to say to get a particular job done that went contrary to his instincts (or his worries) but we mellowed together as a team over time and together better with experience.
Working our cattle with him turned my resentment at the work of dealing with “Ed’s girls” into pleasure and – who knows – could have saved our marriage on cattle-working days! Just kidding but maybe with a grain of truth…
He did not like working into pressure. One time, when Ed, Dan, Celt, and I had brought the herd of cows and calves all the way from fields across the road, we were at the point where all the stock were just about in the working pen when one cow turned her head out of the crust. Now, normally that would have meant the next thing to happen would be that her body would follow her head and her nearby cow friends would follow her example, and we’d be faced with regathering a group of cows that had already figured out that they could outwit us at the pen gates. Ed was holding one end, Dan was holding part of the line, I was holding the other end of the line, and Celt darted in from his “safe spot” outside the pressure to tuck that one cow back into place and save the day. It was stretching the limits of what he could do with his pressure sensitivity but he saw what needed doing and did it. He was pleased and I was proud!
There were many times he worked a new first-calf heifer pair or a first-timer in labor who needed help from the pasture to the pens with his characteristic care and diplomacy. He’d walk up and, when the mother turned around to face him, lie down to relieve the pressure and let her know it was safe to turn her back and walk with her newborn (or her birth-in-progress) away from him and toward the pens. He’d repeat this over and over until the mother was comfortable with walking to the pens and under the guidance of his sensitive and non-threatening but insistent demeanor.
He read his stock wonderfully well, always readily recognizing the leaders and the followers, the trouble-makers and the cooperators, in any group of cattle he worked. I once had two bottle-raised and three mother-raised weanling heifers to use for training cattle. He fast figured out that the two bottle-raised were no problem – they wouldn’t try to get away. He could largely ignore them. Out of the three mother-raised, one was a real rebel, one was her best friend and imitator, and one was along for the ride. It was easy to see that when we worked with the five, his attention was almost entirely on the one trouble-maker because she was a natural leader and also a natural rebel, who would look for any opportunity to make a break for the barn. I wish I had video to show how he intelligently and independently dealt with this group, focusing his efforts on the single that needed the attention, knowing that if he had her under control, he had them all where he wanted them. It was a real learning experience for me, as well.
He was also the best companion ever, devoted totally to me, easy to live with, always ready to go and just as ready to chill out. He did not like my face near his or to cuddle with me, although he would cuddle with Ed (which Ed was always fond of reminding me). Celt is the primary reason I got interested in the working Border Collie, sheepdog trials, clinics, and the sheepdog community. He is a reason I have friends and acquaintances throughout the United States, Canada, and other countries in the world, all fellow working Border Collie owners/handlers and admirers.
He was a fixture at the Bluegrass, going with me almost every year from 2006 (when we ran in Novice) to 2019, only missing if he was needed more at home to help Ed with the cattle. He was my shadow at the Bluegrass, “supervising” the action from the White House and claiming his place on the bed in my tiny camper at night, walking with me to the porta-john at all hours of day or night, and enjoying snippets of my lunches and dinners along with his good food. Never a particularly outgoing dog, he mellowed with age from a dog that did not want anything to do with strangers to a senior citizen who actually enjoyed a little attention from Bluegrass participants and spectators.
Then there was the year, just a few years back, that he scared the wits out of me. We had gone to the camper and he (who never had strayed out of the immediate environs of our camper) disappeared while I was inside grabbing something. I searched frantically and camping neighbors joined in, but we looked and called in vain. I finally went to the White House and who did I find by the fence, watching the work on the field? Celt! He had apparently thought I’d left the camper and gone back to work, and decided to “follow” me back to the White House. After that, I brought xpens each year to make a little “Celt yard” so he could not get confused and wander.
When I got Celt, so hard on the heels of losing Skye at just six months of age, I had hoped that he would live with me for 15 years. He lived a long and vigorous life, gifting me with his presence until just two weeks shy of his 17th birthday. He began working with our cattle at just one year of age and continued until he was 13, offering Dan an occasional hand on minor jobs when it suited him when he was 14 or 15. He bounced back from a CCL strain at age 6, a TPLO at age 9 and another at age 11, and liver cancer surgery at age 13. He was actively still walking two miles most days until this week, slowly but happily, a morning walk and an evening walk. He tended to inhale his food until he lost his desire for food just yesterday. He would follow me throughout the house, never wanting me out of his sight until it got too hard to do so yesterday, and so he would strategically place himself where he could keep an eye on me with a minimum of movement. He was always able to control his bladder but his rectum did tend to have a mind of its own over the last few months, and he would “gift” me with unexpected parcels in unexpected places sometimes. It was all okay – it was just part of the price of having him to grace my life, and I could even smile as I picked up the little (and not so little) “gifts” off the floor.
They (whoever they are) say that it’s time when a dog loses interest in food; loses interest and/or ability to do what he/she loves to do; and can no longer control his/her bodily functions. He’d been to the vet on Monday, 21 September 2019, and we were guardedly optimistic. By Tuesday, he was losing his interest in or ability to eat; his mobility was becoming much more compromised; and the things like walks and sticking by my side that he loved to do were fast becoming too difficult to manage. Ed and I made the decision Tuesday evening that the time had come, barring some sort of miracle happening that would make us know it was otherwise. We were so blessed with both Celt and Megan, while declining slowly over their very senior years so that they had very long, quality lives, each went through that final period of decline very quickly, in under 48 hours – no lingering, no real wondering and anxieties on our part, just a blessedly short but sufficient time to be able to make our farewells.
Celt was eased out of this life on Wednesday, 23 September 2019, by his favorite vet, Dr. Becky Harvey, assisted by Holly Reagan, a favorite of all the dogs. Celt reacted differently from Megan, who passed so seamlessly from the sedative (a painkiller) to the euthanasia medication that I could barely be aware of when she stopped breathing and her sweet heart was stilled. Just two minutes or so after the sedative injection, Celt’s nose began to twitch, his eyes opened wide, and he got up and was ready to go and do something. “Whatever it was you gave me, it makes me feel good again, I want more and I am pumped to get moving!” Apparently, his ever stoic nature had been concealing some level of pain or discomfort beyond what we had guessed at, judging from his reaction to that medication. We all put our hands on him and then encouraged him to lie back down, which he did as the sedative effect of the medicine began to take hold, shut his eyes, and began to drowse. I put my face on his sweet head and listened to his soft, even breaths. Within a minute of the phenobarbital being administered, he gave a relaxing sigh and then three calm breaths, and he was gone, free from any pain and all the restrictions of very advanced age.
I got hugs from Cindy, Deborah, Emily Riska, and Shari Facchine, and we all shared copious tears. I received messages of support from Lisa, Laura, and Jim, church friends and friends from the Border Collie community. The outpouring of love towards Celt and towards us has been amazing and such a comfort at this difficult time.
A year ago this summer, when it became obvious that our son John’s time with us would not be much longer, I asked Celt and Megan to hang on and help get me through the loss that I knew our whole family would be facing shortly. They did more than that, giving continuing unconditional love throughout those difficult times and after, silent listening for when I needed it, a purpose to get up and out and active, and always a comforting presence.
Now I find myself in tears often as both these special companions are gone, most especially Celt, but I am working hard to concentrate on the positives – the wonderful memories, the happy times, the good thoughts, and all the adventures and friends that Celt brought into my life – and that makes me smile through my tears. I know the tears will diminish but the love and memories will just grow more precious with time. After all, the pain of your loss is the measure of the love that has blessed your life.
Some dogs have the personality that embodies, “You are my human.” Some dogs have the personality that embodies, “I am your dog.” In Celt’s mind, I was his world and his livestock or his ball were the icing on his cake. He taught me what a true heart dog is.
(Photos by Christine Koval at the 2012 Bluegrass Classic SDT; Michelle Dobbs at an April 2008 Jack Knox clinic; and Vernon Bewley at the 2018 Bluegrass Classic SDT. My thanks to these fine and generous photographers for these precious mementos of my special boy.)