Confessions of a Rescue Sheltie

{Looking in on the world of a rescue Shetland Sheepdog}

By “The Bruce’s Robby of the Burns” (or just plain”Robby”)

[A Note to the Reader] – I want you to know that my human Dad is helping me with this story. You see, because this story is meant for humans to read, I need his help with human language and the special ways they have of looking at things. He is pretty good at translating “dog” into “human”, and so I am using him to help tell you what I am thinking and what I want you to know. So, here goes.

My name is Robby. I am a Shetland Sheep Dog, or “Sheltie”, a breed that originally developed in the Shetland Islands just off the coast of Northern Scotland. A Scottish dog in a family of Scots heritage – I must be in the right place. I even have my very own tartan collar to wear on special occasions. I am a herding dog, and that instinct is very strong in me. I don’t know who my dog parents are, as I have no papers to prove my ancestry like some of my friends do. My Mom and Dad thought I should have a fancy name like a lot of other Shelties do, so they gave me the one you see at the top of this page. For those of you who are not informed on the matter, Robert Burns was/is the poet laureate of Scotland. Burns are small rivers or streams in the Gaelic. We live near the confluence of a couple of good sized rivers. Therefore the name - pretty neat huh? Although I have no precise memory of it, I must have been removed from my dog parents when I was very young, and then sold to my first humans. I was very frightened then, and I still am when I think about it, but they really didn’t seem to want me very much. When I was only a little over a year old they abandoned me on the street, and I think it was probably near water because that still makes me nervous. I think I was tossed out of a car, because I still am uncomfortable in one. I don’t know why they didn’t love me. I try hard to be a very good Sheltie, but I guess that wasn’t enough for them. I was only alone on the street for a short time till someone took me to Minnesota Sheltie Rescue. It was there I was taken into the home of my “fosters”, or at least that is what they called themselves. They had two other Shelties and I really enjoyed their company. They were very good to me and made sure that I had a warm place to sleep, good food, a yard to play in, and good company. I am a fairly tall and lanky boy, and I stay very trim. My coat is what humans call sable, and I have white paws with some on my legs and a huge white muff.

Just as I was getting used to the place and making myself quite at home, some older humans came to visit me. I must have done something right, because they said that they wanted me to come and live with them. They were, and are, the Mom and Dad I have now. They love me without reservation and I love them the same way. They let me be the Sheltie I am and don’t want to change me, maybe just curb my barking a little. That’s OK, and I will try to cooperate. You see, my main goal in life now is to make them happy, and I guess I am successful, because they do seem to be happy with me. Humans call it bonding. They have introduced me to quite a few other good humans, such as my human brothers who bring me toys and “skritches” when they come to visit, the young lady who takes care of me when my Mom and Dad have to go away for a while, and the little girl who calls my Mom and Dad, Nana and Papa, and quite a few others. I guess I am not so bad after all, but that nagging fear still persists, even after a year and half with my human family. I hope it will soon go away forever. I know now that I am in what the rescue people call a forever home. I am a happy dog.

Now that you know something about me, I want to tell you about my Mom and Dad. They are both older humans and have raised two human sons. I don’t know much about what they did before, but they are both home most of the time now and I like that very much. They feed me really good food, I have a comfortable crate of my very own, and half of the back garden in which to play and just be me. I get to sleep in a comfy chair next to their bed, and sometimes on the bed itself. We go for walks, play fetch and Frisbee, and get in plenty of good snuggle time. What else does a dog need to know?

Well, I will tell you what a dog needs to know. He needs to know that he is loved and that the humans in his life will care well for him. Not all dogs are perfect examples of their species, and not all have been carefully bred by responsible humans, although many are and I have no problem with that. However, virtually all of us who have come through rescue do have problems and often have not been treated kindly by humans. Remember, I was abandoned, as many have been. Others have been put in rabbit cages and made to produce puppies year after year till they are worn out. Yet others have been abused both mentally and physically and left scared, hopeless, frightened and sick. Some have entirely given up hope of ever being loved. Others have been loved and cared for but have had their humans get sick or even die, and need to find new homes. Most of us rescues are not perfect Shelties, but we can be great friends, family members, and furkids. We need humans who will give us a chance to be all of what we can be, who will be patient with us when we are afraid and unsure, work with us to overcome the scars of circumstance, and just let us be the Shelties that we are. Is that too much to ask?

I was very lucky to find my forever home right away, but not all of my fellow rescues have been so fortunate. Some of them have been in their foster homes for a year or more and because of their special needs have not yet encountered the right human dog parent. Thank goodness for all the great fosters – they just do not get enough credit. Thank goodness for the MNSR people who take us in, take us to the vet (well I guess so), feed and shelter us, evaluate our situations and personalities, and hopefully find us great forever homes with humans who are a good match for us.

The skeptics among you are probably already saying, “Wait a minute, they are just dogs, and anthropomorphizing (woof) them doesn’t do them any favors”. Well, let me ask you this, “Have you ever been loved by a Sheltie (or any other breed of dog)”? If you have, and you really know it down deep in your heart, you wouldn’t be questioning my motives. You would just “know” and be satisfied with that. In the “way back” days in Scotland, the old Celtic/Columban Church offered Christian burial to animals who were known to be the especial friends of humans. They knew better than to say that we are “just dogs”. They understood the special relationship we have with our humans.

Before I came to live with my humans they had another Sheltie by the name of Jake. He was also a rescue, and lived with them for over ten years before he passed away, due to the long term effects of a heart defect. He had a good life and was dearly loved, just the way they love me. One of the humans who helped me find my forever home says that the dogs that have gone on before send our humans the ones that they need. I can’t say for sure that I was sent by Jake, but I know that my humans believe that. I just hope I can live up to being the great Sheltie that Jake was. My humans tell me that I helped them to heal from their loss. That really proves that I am a good dog.

From what I have said already, you must realize that I have many of the same emotions and feelings as you do. They definitely are not expressed in the same way you humans do, but they are there all the same and you will learn to recognize them if you give me, and you, a chance to do so. I can get frightened. There are things in my dim past that still scare me, loud noises and voices, arguments, an unfamiliar place – all these I see as threatening. I can grieve. I lost my Sheltie sister and did my best to help my Mom and Dad mourn her. I can love. There are few things better than to be at the side of my Mom and Dad and get and give some good snuggles. I can sense danger (or at least what seems dangerous to me). Large vehicles, strange humans who don’t approach me right or are in the “wrong places”, thunder storms, door bells, postmen, and all the other like things in this world send danger signals to me. I am learning to discriminate, but that takes time, just as it does with young humans. Virtually every emotion you can feel, I can feel to, but I interpret them from a dogs point of view, so my reaction may not be the same as yours in behavior or level of intensity.

Please do not think of me as simply a fur covered human child. I am a dog. Although it has been pretty well bred out of me and most dogs, I was originally a predator as my teeth and some other physical characteristics suggest. As a herding dog, I love to run and bark. I can stop on a dime, and can be gone again in less than a second. I needed to be able to do that in order to control the sheep. Please don’t try to stop me from being what I am. I am hairy and barky – but then, so is my human Dad. I think he understands me in this. I will try to control my instincts when asked to do so, but they are so much a part of me that I simply cannot stop doing them altogether. It would be like asking water to flow upstream. As a domesticated animal, I could never again make do on my own for more than just a short time. I need my humans to help me live a happy and productive life. I need them to simply survive. Deep down in my inner self I know that I am forever bound to my humans, and I would like to believe that they are similarly bound to me. Do not underestimate me. I still have sharp teeth and claws and I will defend myself if need be. Please do not try to provoke me into doing something (bite – scratch) that I really don’t want to do. Treat me with a measure of respect for what I am. My human Dad sometimes tells other humans that there is about as much chance of me biting him as there is that he will bite me. That is quite true, and it is true because over a long period of time we have built trust in each other. It is also true of my Mom, but may not be the case for others, especially those I do not know. Even when I am hurting or in pain they can trust me. If the vet needs to do something painful, like clear out those nasty things in my rear end, if Dad is holding me I know it will be OK. Trust is something that a dog like me can really get into.

The best part of my life is spending time with my Mom and Dad and some of the other trusted humans who love me. Sometimes that means playing games in which running, jumping and catching are all part of the fun. Other times it means just being in the same room with them when they are involved with human things, and I can just take a snooze or listen to them talk. The important thing is being together. Although I have a very comfortable crate with room to move around, a nice soft pad and a couple of small blankets, and even though I don’t mind spending time in there when I need to, I would much rather be with my people. I am always excited when they come home and open the crate door. I can’t help but bark, jump and in every way I can, let them know that I have missed them and am so very happy that they have returned safe and sound. Wow, that is a very happy thing.

I would like to have a canine playmate. Since my Sheltie sister passed away I have not had one, at least not regularly. I loved going to the “Rescue Reunion” and seeing and meeting all of the dogs there. I also got to say hello to my fosters, and they seemed to be impressed with how far I have come. I think they still have a special place in their hearts for me. I am glad of that. I know Mom and Dad are very busy right now with things they say they must do and trips that they must take. I can live with that, especially since I have my own very favorite house/dog sitter to take care of me. Maybe Mom and Dad will open our home to another sheltie brother or sister for me, but it would have to be one I approve of. We shall see. Between now and then, especially after my part of the back garden is done, we can have some other Shelties over to play. I would like that very much.

I still have a lot to learn. Sometimes Mom and Dad wonder if I know that, but I really do. I know that I need to curb my instincts to bark and chase after everything that moves, and I am working on that and I have made some progress. I know that I should not jump up on just everyone, but it is so hard not to say hello that way to the people I know. I need to learn how to be comfortable riding in a car, and I am getting better at that, but the old fears are hard to unlearn. My Mom and Dad are very patient with me, at least most of the time, and I really appreciate that.

All of this being said, I AM HOME TO STAY. What a lucky dog I am. My world is getting bigger each day and I have more friends than ever. I have all of what I need and then some. I AM SAFE. I AM LOVED. I AM A RESCUE SHELTIE.

Yours aye, Robby.

Copyright – June, 2010: William Bruce and Robby: