Written By Barbara O’Brien
A few years ago a director friend of mine asked me if I knew of anyone that had a farm dog type puppy available. “A Border Collie would be perfect,” he said, “or maybe something with some shepherd in it.”
He knew that I am well connected in the dog world and I was happy to help him out. It didn’t take long for me to find a family from church that had a litter of Border Collie Australian Shepherd puppies for sale. Since my friend lived in Minneapolis, and I am 75 miles away in rural Stockholm, Wisconsin, I told him that I would check the puppies for him, saving him the trip if they were not suitable.
So that Sunday, after church, Kevin and I drove out to see the puppies and take some pictures to send to my friend. The family, who home schooled their eight children, lived on an old farm place a few miles out of town.
After making our way up the long driveway, a red merle Aussie announced our arrival and greeted us with wriggles and kisses. As we climbed out of the truck, the Dad and all eight kids came out to greet us and show us the pups.
One by one, the puppies poured out of the house until there was six balls of black and white and blue merle fluff rolling around in the grass. They immediately came over to inspect us as we inspected them. We could see that the red Aussie was their mother and the children told us that the father was a black and white Border Collie who lived one farm over. I remembered seeing him, sitting on the porch of their neighbor’s house as we drove by. He was an impressive dog, with a broad old style, Border Collie head and full white ruff that set off his shiny black coat.
As I took some pictures to send to my friend, one puppy in particular began to stand out.
She was the smallest of the bunch, a nonstop whirlwind of feet and fur as she ran from sibling to siblings, nipping playfully on one’s ear then going to grab another’s tail. I reached down to pick her up and she flew into my arms, scurrying up my legs and into my face.
She gave me a million puppy kisses and her little body wriggled so much with excitement, I thought she would burst.
You must understand that I work with animals every day, and I can assure you, I am immune to the charms of cuddly puppies and frisky kittens. So no one was more surprised than me, when I fell completely, utterly in love with the little blue merle pup. She was friendly, curious and bold. After all of my years working as an animal trainer, I knew she had star quality written all over her.
I set her down, took a few more pictures, (more now of her, than the others) and made mental note of who would be a good fit for my friend. I tried to ignore her, but my eyes kept going back to her as she fearlessly explored the yard.
Kevin stood up, brushed the grass off his jeans and asked me, “Do you think you have enough pictures?” It was his signal to me that he was ready to go. I took his arm and whispered to him, “I really want that puppy.”
“What puppy?” He asked. “We don’t need a puppy. We have two dogs, already,” he said, citing our elderly German Shepherd and our young one who was still somewhat of a puppy himself.
“I know we don’t need one,” I said, “But look at her. She has a great look. She’s smart. She’s bold. She could be a really good acting dog.”
“We don’t need another dog. Don’t you think we have enough animals?”
“Oh, Kevin,” I pleaded, trying to convince him. “I have an empty spot in my life.” I put out my hands and moved them up and down like a scale, “Baby…puppy. Baby…puppy. Baby…puppy.”
He laughed. “We are not having another baby!”
I laughed too, “Of course not!”
We have four sons. But I really wanted this puppy. Kevin sighed and wearily shook his head. “OK… if you think so, go ahead.” Poor Kevin. After all these years, he has grown used to the fact that when I set my mind on something, it’s pretty much going to happen.
“What do you call her?” I asked the children.
“Apple,” volunteered one of the younger girls, “I named her Apple because she is spotted like an Appaloosa and Appaloosa’s are my favorite kind of horse.”
“Apple,” I repeated, liking how it rolled nicely off my tongue. “Then Apple it is,” I replied, swooping her up into my arms.
“What do you want for the puppies,” I asked.
“We’ve been getting $30 for them”, the oldest boy told me, being sure to add a serious look to show that there would be no negotiating on price.
“Great!” I said, “I’ll take her.”
“Give them $50.” Kevin said quietly, nodding towards the kids.
“They said $30,” I protested, never one to miss a bargain.
“Oh, give them $50”, he repeated, “You know she’s worth more than that. I’ll go get the check book.”
I paid the kids and thanked them and assured them that my friend would want a puppy also. Apple snuggled into my arms during the short ride home and I told Kevin that I was very, very happy.
Sophie, our old dog, sniffed Apple and looked at me as if to say, “Oh no! Not again!” and then went and lay down on her bed. The young dog, Sarge, was thrilled to have playmate.
Apple had never seen a cat before and the house cats were quick to put her in her place.
Trilby even went so far as to sneak up on her and slap her a few times with her paw before poor Apple even knew what happened. I think that is why Apple still feels the need to harmlessly chase any cat that gets too close.
We only had Apple for a short time, when a film crew for the movie, Midnight Chronicles, descended upon our farm. Every day for a week there were a minimum of 50 people on the set for Apple to love. She was in heaven. The actors and crew were always picking her up and carrying her around like a baby. She would go crazy with delight and lick their faces and they would tell her what a good dog she was. This was ok when she weighed less than 10 pounds, but now that she is over 50, it is not so charming. She still thinks everyone wants to pet her and get a dozen kisses while tries to crawl up into their laps.
I introduced her to the chickens right away making it clear that chasing or harassing them was forbidden, and if she knew what was good for her, she would leave them alone.
As she grew, she discovered the sheep and I could see that this was her true calling.
It became her reason for living. I can just imagine the thoughts racing around in her head.
“Sheep! Must watch sheep! Must watch sheep! Oh, oh! That one is getting too close to the gate. It could escape. Back! Get back, you naughty sheep! Oh no! That one has moved away from the others! GET BACK! You know your place. I am the dog and you are the sheep. I am the boss of you. Now get back you wooly beasties!”
Sometimes, when I am working her on a set, I say “sheep” to perk her up and it takes her a split second to realize that we are in a big building in the city and there is no way that there could possibly be any sheep around.
She wishes the horses would listen to her. She is ever so helpful when I am doing chores. She watches the horses like a hawk and if I say “Hup!” or “Hah!” to get a horse to move, she is right there, weaving in and out, driving them out of my way.
She is a notorious horse manure eater, a habit we are trying to break her of, especially when she chooses to give the aforementioned kisses right after a yummy manure snack.
She will chase a ball or a Frisbee all day unless I am using the ball to get her to run for the camera. She quickly figures out that I am not really playing the game like I should and takes the ball and lies down.
She is a good animal actor having worked for Target, Purina, Cargill and others and is one of my favorite photo subjects.
When I told my dog trainer friend, who has know me for over 20 years, that I got a Border Collie/Aussie cross she laughed and said finally, “Well it’s about time you got the right dog for you”
“What do you mean?” I complained, “What’s wrong with my shepherds?”
“Oh nothing she said, “It’s just that you are a Border Collie.” She paused for a moment and then said, “Totally fearless, ever cheerful and always ready to tackle whatever life throws at you.“
And as I reach down and pet Apple who is, of course, curled up under my desk I would say that I have to agree.
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