End of the Line

Rescue Me

The tale of an unwanted dog who found his true calling

illustration: Illustration by Barry Blitt

Said the New York Times headline, “Adopt a Dog with a Southern Drawl.” According to the story, “In the last decade, hundreds of thousands of dogs have been transported north from overcrowded facilities in the rural South,” land of “unsterilized dogs” and “weak or unenforced leash laws.” I already knew of a lady who regularly drives to Massachusetts in a van loaded with furry refugees who would have been euthanized down south. A friend of ours took in one of these, a beagle-and-something named Snookums, who is now on her last legs. X-rays revealed not only a tumor but also, as our friend put it, “three bullets, from Georgia!”

So I am glad to bring to you the story of Reilly: a thrice-rejected Southern dog who stayed in the South and managed to have it all: family, career, public service, and his own Facebook page.

Ellen Pearson, my friend and ex-wife of long standing, grew up in Waxahachie, Texas, and on her grandfather’s cattle ranch near Waco. One of the cowboys, Herman, had a border collie named Pat, all burs, big ticks, and intensity. Herman would issue his only command, “Get around ’em, Pat,” and Pat would evermore herd the cows. When Ellen moved to a Massachusetts farm, she got herself a border collie, Beulah. These dogs are so eager to seize upon a passing remark and leap into action, Ellen says, that “you have to spell around ’em.” They need a job. Ellen got Beulah some sheep.

Now, having buried Beulah, given up shepherding, and moved to North Carolina, Ellen serves as a Carolina Border Collie Rescue volunteer, fostering border collies while finding them homes. Reilly and two siblings had been “dumped in a small underfunded shelter near Asheville. They seemed to be the result of inbreeding by a backyard breeder. They had conformation flaws. Reilly has a long tongue.”

Indeed he does, as you can see on his Facebook page. That tongue would have been his death warrant if not for the CBCR. As it was, Reilly got sent back to Ellen twice, by people who couldn’t channel his energies. He hadn’t had any sort of training. Maybe he didn’t have herding potential, Ellen worried, until one of her chickens got out “and suddenly Reilly was behind me. He walked pace for pace with me, and between the two of us, we caught that chicken.”

Meanwhile Airlie Gardens, a public garden in Wilmington with more than 100,000 azaleas, an unspecified number of camellias, magnolias, and wisteria, a 467-year-old oak, a butterfly house, and lakes, was infested with a hundred or more Canada geese, year-round. The geese were digging up lawns and pooping all over. The grounds supervisor, Scott Childs, had an employee whose sole job was to clean up after the geese.

Then Scott and his wife, Allison, decided to try a border collie—not one professionally trained to keep geese away (Ellen refers to these “goose dogs” as “machines”) but a rescue dog who could also be a family pet. Enter Reilly. Run off the geese, Reilly, and see if you can do something about the nutria that tear up our tulips, too, but don’t bother the swans, and come in and have a nap with our little boy, Harrison. You got it, said Reilly.

He barked the geese up onto the lakes. He is not a swimmer, himself, so Scott fitted him up with a life jacket and took him out in a boat, from which he barked the geese farther away. Now the geese are gone from Airlie (if you live in eastern North Carolina, I hope they aren’t all over your yard) and so are the nutria, and in his spare time Reilly herds the Airlie chickens (on Facebook he calls them “my girls”) and plays with four-year-old Harrison (on Facebook, “my boy”). “He enjoys going to the beach,” Allison says, “herding waves and looking at fish. He is very particular about his treats, leaning toward high-carb and sugar treats like Pop-Tarts and homemade biscuits. At work, he knows how to work a crowd to his advantage. He loves women and attention from fans of all ages. He is the star of Airlie’s Family Fun Night and will have his own T-shirts for sale to promote his ability to keep Airlie geese- and, subsequently, poop-free. Reilly is the quintessential working dog.”

Reilly is also reproductively responsible, a choice made for him when he was a pup. Best thing for everybody, no doubt, but count on the South to keep producing irregular dogs.