In 1969, the woman to whom I was married at the time acquired a Sheltie. I’d never even heard of the breed before then, but I immediately fell in love with them. The woman was a bit, ummm, un-centered and did some really weird things to force the poor little guy to prove that he loved her more than me. This relationship didn’t last very long, but I “puppy sat” for this Sheltie for a few years until my ex got her act together and demanded him back.
Shortly afterward, in 1975, I got married again and got my first Sheltie from Connie Hubbard’s Astolat Kennels in northeastern Pennsylvania. Connie and I became friends and stayed in touch until her death a number of years later. When we went to her house to meet her recent litter, there were only two puppies remaining. We wanted to work our new “kid” in Obedience, but didn’t trust ourselves to make a choice between the two, so Connie recommended that we take the boy, whom we named Astolat’s Myrddin Emrys, call name Merlin, born on August 9, 1975.
Merlin was exceptional in so many ways. He was just another kid, but with a bad speech impediment, a real serious body hair problem, and a very bad hunch that put his hands down on the ground He went everywhere with us. He learned how to rock climb and went on some pretty hairy climbs with me. We went on some incredible backpacking trips together, and he loved travel by car and by plane.
We bought a book about obedience training, started reading and training. When Merlin was about 6 months old, we entered him in one of those things called “matches”. He didn’t do very well, scoring about 175 or so. I was kinda disillusioned, so I sort of dropped the issue, but we did keep training. When he was 9 months old, we entered him into two trials on one weekend (Saturday and Sunday) and a third on the following weekend, not having very high expectations.
Man, was I wrong! On Saturday, Merlin tied a famous Utility dog for 2nd High In Trial and won the runoff very handily (within 3 seconds). His score of 198.5 got people’s attention. On Sunday, his 198 score got him first in Novice A and his 197 the next week earned him another first place. All in all, Merlin brought home 17 awards (e.g., High Scoring Sheltie, High Scoring Working Group, etc.) from those three trials, earning his first Dog World Award (also known then as the “Will Judy award”).
Shortly after that, we moved out west (to Utah) for a job. Merlin and we kept training and in the Autumn we entered him in three more trials (again, Saturday and Sunday, then one day of the following weekend). He won his second Dog World Award with scores of 196 to 198 and several more trophies. Earning his Utility title took five trials, costing him a third Dog World Award; we learned afterwards that we shouldn’t have been using the same set of scent articles, ’cause my smell was overpowering Jackie’s.
But we immediately started campaigning Merlin towards his Obedience Trial Championship. Before he was three years old, he was an OTCh, the very first in the entire Rocky Mountain region of the country. He defeated some very famous dogs and handlers in the process, too, earning him a bit more than 15 minutes of fame. I used to joke that all I had to do was give Merlin a copy of the Obedience Regulations and he’d be ready the next morning. (That came from a comment in an article I read in Front and Finish, which observed that most breeds need lots of training time and effort, while Shelties “need explicit oral, and sometime written, instructions”.)
Shortly after Merlin had his OTCh, we learned from Connie Hubbard that the little girl whom we had met at the same time we met Merlin had also just won her OTCh title! She’d been purchased by a woman in Connecticut with whom we established a minor pen-pal relationship for a while. (Looks like either puppy would have been a great choice.)
Unfortunately, that marriage didn’t last but 8 years, but Merlin and I stayed together. He was retired by then (due to very poor stifles which were giving him lots of problems) so we did some relatively easy hiking and lots of car travel together along with his “baby sister”, another Astolat dog named Astolat Eleanor of Aquitaine, or Ellie. Ellie was not really cut out for obedience work. She was smart enough, but very insecure, and the divorce really threw her for a loop. She did get her CD and had two legs on her U-CD years later when she succumbed to kidney failure (brought on, I am certain, by my having given her a single dose of an Ivermectin-containing heartworm medication).
But I just got ahead of myself. In the summer of 1987, a couple of months before Merlin’s 12th birthday, I had a nightmare…a wide-awake, standing in my closet nightmare. I had gotten a shirt and told Merlin “OK, c’mon, let’s go” and he didn’t move. In fact, he seemed to be stone deaf and paralyzed! I had no idea what was wrong, but I knew right then that Merlin was dead…it was just that his body and brain didn’t know it yet. I started taking him to veterinarians all over Colorado (where we lived by then) and finally found somebody who was able to give a proper diagnosis — a brain tumor. What I had witnessed was a cataleptic seizure. In only three or four weeks, Merlin was having terrible, horrible grand mal seizure storms that were laying waste to his system.
On August 12, 1987, I held Merlin in my arms while his doctor gave him that last injection. Merlin died at the age of 12 years, 3 days. For the next 10 or 12 years, I thought about Merlin literally every day and most of my airline flights (of which there have been many!) involved at least one crying jag because I missed him so much. For the subsequent 8 or 10 years, I still think of Merlin very frequently, but I don’t cry as much as I used to do. I miss him so much, though. I always will. Until I die.
I’m sure that I’ll write about Merlin again from time to time. He was perhaps the greatest single influence on my life after I became an adult. I simply cannot imagine being who I am today without having had him in my life. Barbara met Merlin a number of times, but was living in Europe when he got sick and when he died, so I don’t think that she would say that she got to know him intimately. But I know that he was part of the reason that she became involved in Shelties.
Excuse me now…I’m going to bed and I think I’ll have a little cry.