On Tuesday, April 30, we lost our wonderful Border Collie, Nickie, after she suffered four bites from a large rattlesnake. Her spirit has gone to join those of Lucky Dog and Feathers, the other two members of the original Bagley Pack. If there is any comfort, it is that before she encountered the snake, she had a glorious morning walk with John and me. Racing through the pastures at our farm with companions Kota and Colt, she fetched sticks in the pond, looked for bunnies and squirrels and did all the things she loved most. Nickie was an incredible gift and we will always cherish her memory.
It was here in the spring of 2006, seven years ago this weekend, that she and Feathers came trotting up the front walk and into our hearts and lives. According to the neighbors, the dogs were dumped on a country road near our farm in
Nickie led the way, and Feathers lagged behind, obviously afraid that they would not be welcome. The dogs had no collars or tags, and the vet later said both were about one year old, hardly more than teenagers.
Although we called everyone in the neighborhood we could find no one who claimed them. Lucky Dog, our venerable Catahoula, didn’t object to them, and we fed them because they looked lean and hungry. They soon became part of our family and gave us joy every day they were with us. They ran and played over every inch of our farm, and made it their own.
Nickie and Feathers were closely bonded. We don't know if they were litter mates or just running buddies. However, Nickie was the most important "person" in Feathers’ life, as she was in Nickie’s. They were like two parts of a whole…..each incomplete without the other. They clearly had been together for some time before they came to us. Whether racing through the pasture or having a spirited dog tussle in Austin, they were inseparable. No matter where they were, each knew where the other was. When we lost our Feathers in September of 2010 to complications from canine meningitis, Nickie mourned her passing along with us.
Several weeks ago Nickie and I made this image of her footprint to fashion a card for a dear friend who had lost her own treasured companion. The card read, “They leave footprints on our hearts that time cannot erase.”
Nickie sometimes used a ball like she used a toy, but balls also had another purpose in her life. She loved to run with a ball in her mouth, barking all the time, as she chased the other dogs or invited them to chase her. I’ve never known another dog that could make so much noise with a ball clenched in its jaws. Nickie didn’t play “fetch.” Once she had a ball, it was hers and she didn’t relinquish it easily. However, if I threw a second ball, Nickie would often run to it and exchange hers for the new one. That way we could keep the game going.
Sticks were another important prop for Nickie. When she picked up a stick, it was a signal that it was play time…time to run and chase and bark. Sometimes it was a small stick that was hardly longer than her mouth was wide, and sometimes it was a very large stick. She has even been known to use a "cow chip" when no stick was at hand. No matter, it was her signal to the other dogs and much running, chasing and barking quickly followed.
After we lost Feathers and Kota joined our family, Nickie taught
One of Nickie’s favorite pastimes was watching TV. From almost the moment she came to us, she was enthralled by programs featuring animals, especially if they moved quickly.
The first time I noticed this behavior, she was sitting in front of the TV in our bedroom. As she watched, a tiger ran across the screen. Nickie lunged toward the TV, then quickly moved to the side of the set to see where the tiger had gone. She was puzzled when she couldn’t see it.
That didn’t stop her, though. Almost any time we went upstairs with the dogs, Nickie trotted up to the TV, sat down, then looked over her shoulder to let me know she wanted to watch. We then turned on the set and she happily watched NatGeo Wild, Animal Planet or any other program that featured animals moving quickly. During commercials, or if fishing or some other dull program came on, she quickly lost interest. Only a couple of weeks before we lost her, I stayed up late for the joy of watching her watch a program about wolves. How she jumped and barked! She was interested in the chases and kills as they unfolded, but I think her strongest reaction was when two wolves were engaged in “flirting” behavior. She could flirt with the best of them, and though spayed, she never failed to show off when she met a new, interesting male dog.
Like her wolf ancestors, Nickie was quite a hunter. She caught a number of cottontail rabbits, squirrels, and this fine, fat rat.
But she didn't stop with small game. Over the course of her seven years with us, she teamed up with Lucky Dog and Feathers to catch a feral hog,
And in late December of 2010, Nickie, Lucky Dog and Kota bagged a young whitetail buck. They were very proud!
Here, while Feathers and Lucky Dog watch, Nickie demonstrates her technique for catching field mice.
Because Nickie enjoyed lots of activity and loved to learn, several years ago I also introduced to the sport of herding, for which Border Collies have been bred for generations. She quickly became an enthusiastic participant, and would stick her head out the window and bark all the way to our practice sessions or trials. Working together as we both learned how to read and move the sheep deepened our bond further. We were just beginners in the sport, but I treasure the photo of us below taken by a friend at an event a couple of months ago.
Nickie was a wonderful gift every day of her life. Each dog that has shared and enriched our lives has been special in his or her own way, but I believe Nickie will always be the one with whom I had the strongest bond and whose memory I will most cherish.
We buried her at the farm under overcast skies with a stiff north wind whipping across the pasture, the weather as raw as our emotions. She is wrapped in the cover to her bed, and has her bowl, a squeaky toy, a treat, a bone, two fine sticks for carrying and fetching, the bandana she wore when company came and a rose from the bush by the back door. Oh, My Nickie with the Bright Brown Eyes, I miss you so.