Big Pawprints to Fill - Gilley's Story

Gilley taking a break with his "flyer."
   No matter how great things are, there is an end to everything.  If we’re lucky, sad endings yield great new beginnings. Gilley was a great new beginning for me.  I had an 8-year-old Corgi named “Wicket” who developed cancer and within less than a month of discovery, we had to say good-bye.  Wicket was a specially chosen puppy that had been my constant companion and service dog since I picked him out at eight weeks old.  We’d been inseparable those eight years.  Saying good-bye was one of the hardest things I had to do. It was final, the end of something great–our partnership in life ended with his last breath.
      Within hours of sending Wicket to “Rainbow Bridge,” my husband realized that I wouldn’t be consoled by anything anyone could do.  I’d been utterly miserable for Wicket’s last month, watching him deteriorate so quickly and able to do nothing about it. The last day we took him to our vet and as he drew his last breath, I was utterly miserable, glad only that his suffering was over and his work here done-supremely. There would be no retirement years together to buffer his inevitable passing-cancer stole that away.
    Three hours after we got home (I was still crying), my husband, Brian, said, “You’ll never be right again if we don’t find you another dog. You don't know how to be without a dog in your life." Brian waited a while and finally said, “I hate to throw gas on a fire, but you need to get off the couch and do something to try to take your mind off Wicket for a while. Why don’t we start investigating getting your next dog?” At first, I resented him saying that-it seemed a little quick on the draw because only hours earlier we said good-bye to Wicket. But, in the moment before I spoke, something clicked and I understood that Brian was right. I got up, went to my office and got online to try figuring out what breed of dog to get. I didn’t want another Corgi primarily because it wouldn’t be fair to the new dog to live in Wicket’s shadow-always unfairly compared. By the end of the afternoon, I’d decided on an Australian Shepherd or a Collie, but Brian didn’t like them. I never mentioned it, but I always wanted a Border Collie. I knew they are high energy, very smart and challenging to keep happy if you live in a city.  Coupled with Brian’s limited dog experience, I didn’t think a Border Collie would be a good fit for us.  After a couple hours of discussing a lot of different breed possibilities, I left it to my husband to narrow his preferences down to four breeds and we’d discuss it more then. An hour later he called me back to the office to show me pictures and discuss his choices. We went through his list of breeds that were unsuitable-except one.  They were BORDER COLLIES!  Brian liked the breed I secretly wanted but was afraid would be too much for us.  Uh oh.  We discussed the many reasons a Border Collie wasn’t ideal for us and Brian wasn’t swayed. In fact, he said, “Seems like a great dog to do everything you’ve wanted to do and keep you busy.”
     By evening, we found a Border Collie breeder (with a litter of puppies available) about 30 miles away, near Brian’s family home.  I called and we spoke for a while about why I was looking for a new puppy; and made an appointment for the following day.  MY idea was to take my husband to see her dogs and pups in person and THINK about whether we really wanted a Border Collie. I had NO intentions of getting one, but I wanted Brian to learn more about them so he would better understand why we shouldn’t have a Border Collie. 
     We arrived at the Border Collie breeder’s home and she greeted us with several dogs by her side and another coming to greet us as we walked toward her home.  Instantly, I was in love with one of the adult males and I could see Brian was enjoying them too.  My PLAN to dissuade him from a Border Collie quickly fizzled.  The breeder talked with us a while and then we met the puppies she had available.  At that moment I knew we were going to get a Border Collie puppy. Part of me was ecstatic while the sensible side of me was thinking, “YOU ARE CRAZY-NO BORDER COLLIES.” There were pups representing several colors and sizes.  I liked a merle girl and a black tri boy while Brian zeroed in on another black tri boy.  If you haven’t guessed yet, the one my husband picked was about to become our Gilley.  We spent about over an hour talking and looking at the pups at play when Brian said, “Since they’re not old enough to be weaned yet, how long will it be before they’re ready for new homes?” The breeder responded, “It’ll be about two more weeks and they’ll be ready. But, I already have several spoken for and more people coming this afternoon to pick out the ones they want.  If you think you want one, you can pick one now and I’ll hold it for you and when it’s old enough, you can come pick up your pup. I also plan to have another litter shortly so I’ll have more pups in a few months if you need more time.” Brian looked at me and asked me point blank, “Do you know which one you want because I know the one I like?” I said, “I thought we were just looking for today and going to think about it first.” He said, “I think we should pick one out because we’ll just be calling tomorrow to come back if we don’t do it now.”  We picked out the tri boy Brian liked and made our agreement with the breeder; and came home to wait the few weeks to pick him up. Meanwhile, we had time to pick his name.
     For a week my husband and I tried to think of a cool name for our new puppy.  The breeder needed one when we picked him up so she could send in his registration papers.  Since we were historical reenactors of the French and Indian War representing the British (which included the Scots); and Border Collies originated along the borders of Scotland and England, we wanted a decidedly Scottish name.  “Gillandrais” means follower of Saint Andrew (a beloved saint of the Scots of the British forces in the 1700’s).  It’s a heck of a name to put on a dog, but the shortened version is, “Gilley.” 
     Gilley was indeed quite an active and smart puppy. 
Gilley as a pup playing with a soft Frisbee (aka "flyer"). 
He learned house training almost immediately-by nine weeks old! He’s NEVER made any messes in the house.  He was so easy to teach a lot of basic things for the first six months. I’ve trained a lot of puppies since I was raised with a kennel of show dogs, but Gilley was brilliant! Then I decided even though he already knew basic obedience at home, he should have socialization and be able to work in social settings and around other dogs.  I enrolled in obedience class at an area dog training club and began the process.  Gilley was so impressive in class that he became the model puppy for demonstrating some of the first lessons.  Then things changed.  They added doing some work in which each puppy worked independently, each of us taking turns.  Gilley was AWESOME doing the individual tasks but he was HORRIBLE on the sidelines waiting for our turns.  In fact, he was so horrible it was embarrassing and frustrating-he relentlessly barked, whined, jumped and strained trying to chase the others.  No matter what I did, he would NOT settle down while the other pups took their turns.  Even the three professional trainers of the class each tried different things and Gilley just wouldn’t conform.  Finally, he was so disruptive we were kicked out of class!  No matter how much we worked outside class, it didn’t get better. We tried another dog club and another class with other trainers touted to be among the top obedience trainers in the region.  Once again, Gilley got us kicked out of class! None of them came up with anything that worked-even when they tried it. That time, we got the recommendation that, “Border Collies are very different dogs to train than other breeds.  Sometimes you really need a specialist in the breed to help you.”  Finally, I went to a local, private kennel and Dog Park owned by people I knew who hired a new trainer to help expand their services.  I met the trainer and discussed Gilley and our training issues.  She had trained obedience, agility and Schutzhund dogs for over 10 years and felt confident she could help us so we tried her obedience class. The trainer was sharp enough to know what we were dealing with and was quickly able to help us. We worked together on a tailored training plan-very different than any of the others.  She got us through the bad spots and on track, helping us earn his Canine Good Citizen certificate.  We breezed through the rest of the obedience classes there; and went to more advanced ones at the dog clubs. Gilley did great. We then had to enlist more help from a Border Collie trainer help to learn more agility.  That went quite well, but agility was only meant to be a fun thing for us to do because I didn’t want to compete.  We learned agility well enough to do a few trials and placed well, but that wasn’t our gig.  We went on to do Pet Therapy and found Gilley’s niche to be working with kids-they love to play with him and can’t wear him out! 
     Eight years later, I know getting Gilley was the best choice we could’ve made.  He’s been a wonderful and loving dog. Together we've learned a lot and had a LOT of fun-which I hope continues a long while. He’s  been my best friend and the most fun dog to have. He’s also learned to live with our rescue Border Collie, Buster (aka “Buzz”), who has a truly special story on another page.  Did Gilley fill the big pawprints left by my Corgi, Wicket?  No dog could do that. Gilley has proven that his own pawprints are equally indelible. He's definitely Wicket's equal in a very different way.  I wouldn't trade him for anything!
     Now, we’re adding “Cinder” to our family and we’ll see how well Gilley adapts to being her mentor!  I’m hopeful he’ll love having a puppy to play with and he’ll be a good teacher. I guess we’ll soon see how that goes as we embark on the adventure of raising Cinder!

Gilley lounging on the loveseat.