Carol Reiter: For the love of Mick

Carol Reiter

I only got the puppy because the breeder thought the tiny border collie was going to go blind. The breeder was leaving for vacation, and the puppy with the bad eyes needed to have medication several times a day. So the breeder told me I could have the pup for free if I took care of his eyes.

I didn't really want the dog, although he was very well bred. He was the runt of the litter, and he wasn't pretty. In fact, he was darned ugly. And I hated to think about getting attached to a dog that would go blind, and probably have to be put down.

But when the breeder handed the 7-week-old puppy to me, my good sense went out the window. I said OK, I'll take him, without even thinking.

So I brought him home, and I doctored his eyes, and I named him Mick. He was an ugly little puppy, and pretty soon he was an ugly bigger puppy. I have a picture of him at four months, and he looked just like a skinny black coyote.

And he didn't even like me. Number one in his world was my older border collie, Shea. She was a beautiful border collie, and the light of my life. She treated Mick like the ugly puppy that he was, and he absolutely worshipped her.

So the ugly little puppy grew up, and he was Shea's shadow. Shea learned to tolerate him, and Mick learned to tolerate me. For the first two years of his life, he was happy, and I pretty much ignored him.

Then Mick's world, and mine, fell apart. Shea was bred to a great dog, and when she was seven weeks in whelp, she died. It was a horrible, terrible time for me, and I can't imagine what it was like for Mick. I cried for days, and Mick retreated into his own little world. He had never really bonded with me, so he didn't come to me for comfort, and I just ignored him.

When I started to recover from the loss of Shea, I began to think about getting another border collie. I wanted a pretty black and white female, just like Shea. I talked on the phone to Shea's breeders, and I put in an order for a puppy, but I wouldn't get one for six months, when their next litter was planned.

I hung up the phone, and then I looked at Mick. He was lying in the corner of my kitchen, absolutely miserable. He was lonely, he was grieving, and he didn't understand what was happening.

So what did I do? I tried to give him away. A friend of mine had Mick's older brother, and I called her and said, "You can have this dog if you want him. I don't want him." But she told me I needed to give it more time, Mick was a good dog, and I just needed to bond with him. I hung up the phone absolutely disgusted, and told Mick, "Well, I guess you're stuck with me."

So Mick's life changed. I started taking him places, taking him on horseback rides with me, and he learned to love a ride in the truck. I worked sheep with him, and he would work until he got so hot he practically passed out. More than once, he would overheat and almost have a convulsion because he was so hot. I taught him to the command "Go to water," and that became his favorite phrase.

Then I decided to take obedience classes with Mick. I put a chain collar and a leash and started practicing. Mick threw himself over backwards, choked, cried, lay flat out on the ground and wouldn't move. It was a joke.

I would get the leash and collar, grit my teeth, and call Mick. He would come outside, looking miserable, and we would go at it. He could do back flips better, and quicker, than any dog I'd ever seen.

But then something happened. He got better, and he started trying to be good. I got hooked up with a good trainer, and Mick tried even harder. I learned how to train an obedience dog, and Mick never ever said no. He always tried, no matter how tired he was, or how confused he was.

And during this time of training, and this time of grieving, and this time of learning, Mick and I became pals. He had worshipped Shea, now he worshipped me. He tried so hard to please me that I was humbled.

And together, we got pretty good at obedience. Mick had his faults, and I certainly had mine, but together we were a team. I wanted to show Mick at dog shows, but my trainer kept saying, "Wait. When you are ready, I will tell you."

Then one day, we were ready. I entered Mick in three shows, over a three-day weekend. We went to the first show, and Mick got first place. He earned that first place, not me. He never made a bobble, and he tried his heart out.

For the next two days, he worked so hard that he was wiped out at night. On the third day, he was exhausted. When we walked up to the obedience ring, he looked up at me, and his eyes clearly said, "Not again." But when we went in the ring, and I asked him, he gave everything he had. And it was good enough for another first place. Three shows, three first place ribbons. I couldn't have asked for anything more.

So we came home, and Mick became my best friend. He was my riding pal, and he went everywhere with me. He was my demonstration dog during obedience classes, and he never got grumpy. I could take him anywhere, off-leash, and never worry about him.

He had one little quirk: He loved to watch brand- new babies. Horses, puppies, kittens, chicks, it didn't matter. He would lie, absolutely entranced, and stare at the babies. We called it Mick TV. Every time a new foal was born, Mick was thrilled for days, and we always said, Mick has his TV back.

One time a woman brought tiny Chihuahua puppies to my obedience class, and Mick was delighted. He never moved a muscle, just lay there and stared.

But my ugly little border collie with the bad eye got old. He lost more and more of the sight in his eyes, and he started going deaf. My family started making hints that maybe it was time to make that hard decision. But I couldn't. Mick still enjoyed his life, and when I sat down on a chair, he would lie down at my feet and sigh happily. I told everyone, he will let me know.

Six years ago, at Christmas time, he let me know. He had a stroke, and he couldn't walk in a straight line, and he barked forlornly. So we made that last trip to the veterinarian, and he was gone. I cried, and I grieved, and there was no ugly dog lying at my feet.

But we have Mick's grandson, and his great-grandson. He lives on, both in the flesh and in my memories. And this year, when our newest foal was born, and we were watching that baby horse run around, my friend said, look, it's Mick TV. And somewhere, I know that Mick is watching that new foal, totally entranced. Enjoy, my friend.

Reporter Carol Reiter is away from the office. This is one of her favorite columns.