1990 to 2004
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Everyone who knows me has had so many kind
thoughts and words for me to comfort me on the loss of Tess. Tess will
always be a happy memory for me. I only had her about 5 years but I know
they were the best 5 years of her life. I always wished she could talk
for just a few minutes and tell me what her life was like for the 9
years before I rescued her. She had not been treated too well but she
had not been abused - just ignored a lot. I had great admiration for her
- she never failed to love everyone she met and she always did exactly
what she thought was right for her. I am certain that, from the time she
was a young dog, she was kept penned up. Well, they tried anyway but
nothing could keep her in. She practically had no teeth from chewing on
kennel wire or chain link. I am sure she became thunder phobic from
being left alone in a pen during storms and she learned early how to
escape every chance she got. When she went stray in Harrisonburg, VA a
year before I met her, she ended up in a vet's office but was never
claimed. Someone adopted her from there and moved to Louisa, VA. There,
she was a house dog but her owner(s) must have worked until the
"usual" time of 5 pm so I am sure, very often during
thunderstorm season, they came home to find the destruction Tess would
wreak on a house when it thundered. They finally got tired of it
and dumped her at the Louisa shelter. That's when Animal Haven
pulled her from death row and I got her.
I saw in her someone's good old farm dog who deserved better than to be gassed in a makeshift gas chamber made from an old freezer.
When I worked her on sheep, she clearly knew what she was doing although clearly had never bothered to learn any commands. I would only work her when someone faster and younger was there so when I wanted Tess to stop, someone could do a flying tackle to catch her so we could bring her off the sheep!
All Tess needed was someone to be home with her most of the time. After a while, she got more comfortable being by herself once she trusted that someone was coming home in a little while. We used behavior modification and medication when necessary to ease her stress during storms. Eventually, just pretending to give her a "pill" (usually just a little glob of peanut butter) had a placebo effect and she'd go to her dog bed and lie down with her head in the corner until the storm was over. I was even able to crate her sometimes but never leave her alone in a crate if someone wasn't home. She never ever was able to be kept in any kind of kennel or behind a baby gate and easily opened gates and the screen door. She always had wanderlust from her days of being an escape artist and roamer in the Shenandoah Valley.
One day last winter, I was having new vinyl flooring put down in my kitchen. The contractor had been in and out of the house for two weeks doing some other work and he got along with the dogs just fine. So I always felt okay about leaving for work and having him in the house when I wasn't here. The day the vinyl was being put down, he had a helper and the two of them were carrying in the big roll of flooring through the back gate. Tess had opened the screen door by herself while they were getting the flooring out of the truck. As they came through the gate, she went out, slipping by them without them seeing her. The floor got laid and the men left for the day, never realizing Tess wasn't sleeping in the bedroom with the little dogs.
I was on my way home from work about an hour later and as I drove down my road, there was Tess trotting down the side of the road. I stopped the car and called her and she happily jumped in. She was covered in the worst smelling deer poop and tired from her walk but extremely happy. She got a bath immediately and I called the contractor at home and asked him how she'd gotten out. He was floored (pun intended) that she wasn't in the house when he left and apologized profusely for his oversight.
The best Tess story ever is this one - when we first moved to Blacksburg, we stayed with a friend who did not have a fenced yard. Tess would slip away and explore the neighborhood (semi rural), steal cat food off neighbors' porches, roll in deer poop and come home with a huge grin (followed by a bath!). After a few such incidents, I always knew exactly where to find her - she'd make a beeline to the house across the street or the house next door to steal cat food. I could always get her before she got to the deer poop and bring her home.
When the house next door became vacant, I rented it, then bought it 7 months later. The day we moved in, everything was already in the house, the fencing was finished and the last thing I did was load up all the dogs to drive them all over to our new home. I let everyone out into the newly fenced yard and then went back to the car to put Tess on her leash - she could never even be trusted to walk from the house to the car without taking off. She hopped out of the car, I brought her through the gate to the back yard and she immediately ran up onto the porch to the old place where the former neighbor always kept the cat dish.
There was no cat food there but Tess looked right at me with a look of TOTAL amazement on her face. I swear she was saying..."You mean...you mean....we're going to live HERE?????!!!!" I said "Yes, Tessie - no cat food anymore but this is our house now." She grinned from ear to ear, checked back to the cat dish place one more time, made a small tour of the yard and then scratched on the back door to come inside. She immediately went to a dog bed and laid down. She was HOME. It never mattered to her that there was never any more cat food. But she LOVED this house because of the early association with it being a GOOD place. For the past two and a half years, she happily stayed home alone (with the two little dogs) while I went to work. During thunder season, she came to the office with me in case it would start to thunder before I got off for the day. She was a perfect office dog and mostly, a perfect house dog. A few times, she opened the back gate to take a little jaunt through the neighborhood and roll in something nasty but very rarely. I kept the gate securely locked but now and then a visitor would come through and forget to lock it behind them.
The last two full days of Tess' life, we were all home together. I had taken a day off from work and that evening it snowed so we were snowed in solidly all day the following day. I was all cozy with the dogs and baked two batches of homemade dog treats. Just as the first batch was about done, the power went out. We fired up the portable propane heater, read short stories by the window and took naps. Throughout the day, Tess was having a lot of trouble walking and keeping her balance. She kept coming over to me, burying her head in my lap and trembling from head to tail. From time to time, it seemed almost like she was having little seizures. The power came back on 5 hours later and the second batch of treats got baked. Tess got plenty of freshly made treats that evening and, in spite of her failing condition, she enjoyed every one. The next morning, she was even worse. She'd spent a very fitful night, waking me frequently when she got stuck in corners, or otherwise lost in the house or trapped in the bathroom. The roads had been cleared and I took Tess to the vet. She had tremors all over, was falling down, and very anxious and upset that she couldn't keep her balance. When the vet examined her, there was nothing conclusive - Tess was a 14-year old dog with a 2-year history of senior dog vestibular syndrome with possible mild focal seizures, possible spondylosis and possible recent history of stroke. She was not going to get better although she wasn't in any kind of critical condition.
So what were my choices? To keep her from feeling anxiety, I could choose to get stronger sedative medications. But that wouldn't help her vertigo and it was unclear if she could or would regain better balance and motor ability. I could take her home and hope that one night, she'd slip away quietly in her sleep. But would there be a time when I'd be awakened by Tess having a seizure or experiencing pain and possibly have to carry her out to the emergency vet in the middle of the night? Did I want to wait and hope there wouldn't be a crisis? Did I want to risk having Tess in terrible pain and scared out of her wits, not being able to know what was happening to her?
The vet stepped out and I knelt down by Tess' side. She was trembling and so very anxious. I brought her close to me and calmed her and asked her if it was all right with her that she go to the Rainbow Bridge. I'll never know whether she said yes or no. But when I stood up and signed the form that was sitting on the table, I turned back to Tess and she had stopped trembling. I sat on the floor and she laid down in my lap, with her head buried in my side. The vet came back and sat down with us. Tess barely looked at her and kicked her hind leg once when the vet took hold of it. Then she buried her head back into my lap and sighed.
The room was warm and quiet and clean. Tess breathed her last into the palm of my hand and went over the Rainbow Bridge to join Chance and Ghost the black Labs, Myrtle the Lakeland Terrier, Winner the Doberman, Blaze and Timber the Golden Retrievers, and all the beautiful Border Collies who have touched and enriched my life - Pepper, Sage, Brandy, Craig, Tippy, Katie, Ben, and Celt. She will meet many of the people who have touched and enriched my life, too - my wonderful father, Ray Singer, my beloved twin sister, Lois, my dearest friend, Nancy Hildenbrand who got me involved in Border Collies in the first place, Alison Gebauer who was a true lover of Border Collies, my husband, Richard Soden who helped Tess so much win her battle against separation anxiety and thunder phobia and his best friend, Larry North, who never knew Tess but was a lot like her in many ways - always did what he wanted no matter what anyone else thought of it.
Tess will wander without fear, steal cat food to her heart's delight, see and hear well again, have her four paws firmly on the ground and have lots of good stories to tell them all."