Carol Reiter: Cord finds his calling

Carol Reiter

Rescue dogs often present us with major problems. Many of the dogs we have rescued through the years have never been in a house, on a leash, even around people. But one dog, who was one of the most disturbed dogs I ever knew, ended up better than I ever could have dreamed.

The dog came from the animal shelter, like so many of the dogs we have rescued through the years. This often presents many problems to us: We don't know the dog's past, what kind of baggage he might have, or even what vaccinations he's had.

So when the shelter called to let us know there was a border collie available, we went down with some trepidation. I had recently adopted a couple of dogs with some problems, and I was leary.

But this dog was gorgeous. He was a big tricolored male with a huge coat, and a beautiful face. He didn't jump all over us, he seemed pretty well-behaved. So we took a chance and brought the dog home.

We didn't know how old the dog was; the vet estimated somewhere between one and three years. Now that's a big difference in dogs. A one-year-old is still a puppy, an adolescent who thinks he's tough and doesn't have to mind. By the age of three, on the other hand, the dog is pretty much what he's going to be, both in body and mind.

So we had an unknown on our hands. We gave the big guy a bath and bought him a collar and named him Cord. And then the trouble began.

This dog never bonded with us. He wasn't mean, he didn't fight with the other dogs, he just really didn't like us. And, even worse, he took off if he got out.

I had never had a border collie that would run blindly away. I didn't know if this guy was looking for his previous owners, if he was scared, or if he was just flat crazy. But when he got out, he was gone.

I chased him more than once down the street, trying to get in front of him so that I could catch him. He wasn't mean about being caught; he knew when he was trapped. He would let me come right up to him and put a leash on him. He wasn't afraid, he wasn't panicked, he just was trying to go somewhere else.

I began to get depressed about the dog, I decided he just wasn't a good dog. I told people who asked about Cord that he was a pretty dog, but I didn't think he would ever be a really good dog.

Cord ran away quite a few times, and I despaired that he would ever be better. Then one day he got out and headed down toward our neighbors' cows and calves.

I jumped in the truck and took off after Cord, and when I got to our neighbors', I let them know I was trying to catch the dog. They were very understanding, and I headed out to the pasture. Cord was running blindly, and then he saw the cows.

This dog was so bad about running off that we hadn't tried him on stock. This was the first time the dog had seen any type of stock, and the field full of black Angus cows and their new calves brought the big dog to a screeching halt.

He stood for just a second, and then he looked at me. He looked back at the cows, and took off, making a big circle around them. When he got to the opposite side of the cows, he dropped down and stared. I walked up to him and clipped a leash to him. I had to drag him away from those cows.

I took him home and told everyone how much talent the dog seemed to have. But we were afraid to let him go, because I knew that one time I wouldn't get to him in time and he would get out on a busy street.

Then we took a trip up to Northern California to work our dogs on sheep at our friends' place. At the last minute, on a whim, we took Cord with us. He was good in the truck, and when we got to our friends' place, we put him in a kennel and went to work. My friends asked me what kind of a dog Cord was, and I said, well, he's not really a very good dog, and left it at that.

After we had worked our own dogs, we decided to try Cord on the sheep. When I went to get the dog, I got a leash on him, and then he pulled away from me and started running blind.

He can't get away; these fields are dog-proof, my friend said. We both watched the crazy dog run straight down the field as fast as he could go, to the very end. I told her, "See what I mean? He's not a good dog." But when he got to the end of the field, the sheep were flocked under a big bunch of trees, and the dog totally changed.

He stopped, he looked back at us, and then at the sheep. He crept around the back of the sheep, and quietly brought them up the field to us. My friend and I never said a word; we just watched the dog bringing the sheep. When the sheep were next to us, my friend walked over and picked up Cord's leash.

"Do you want to sell this dog?" she asked. I told her absolutely, this was the first time the dog had something else on his mind besides running away.

So for the rest of our time up in Northern California, we watched Cord work. The dog would stand, watching the totally still sheep, and suddenly the dog's head would snake to one side. He never moved his body, and the sheep never moved. But my friend said, "That dog reads sheep better than any dog I've ever seen. He's totally a natural; he's a good dog."

So we left Cord in Northern California, and he got some training in being a sheep and cattle dog. He was so good, he went to the Red Bluff sale. This annual sale brings cowboys from all over the country to bid on the things they can't live without: Bulls, geldings and stock dogs. Dogs often sell for thousands of dollars, and Cord was no exception.

The big, beautiful dog that came from an animal shelter in Merced and learned to work stock in Northern California, went to his new home that January in Utah with a cowboy who needed a working dog. Before he bid on the dog, the cowboy asked my friends if Cord was a good dog. My friends assured him the dog could work sheep or cattle, and do it all day long. "But he's a good dog?" the cowboy asked. "Yes," my friends answered, "he's a good dog."

After a few months of living with Cord, the cowboy called my friends. "How's Cord doing?" they asked. "He's a good dog," the cowboy said. "Is he working OK? Are you happy with him?" my friends asked. "Yes, I'm happy, he's a good dog," the cowboy said.

And you know what? That cowboy did get a good dog. All that dog needed was a job, and someone to help him with that job. I was wrong, Cord wasn't a bad dog. He was a good dog, and he got what he deserved.

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