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post-2366-1274779342_thumb.jpgThe psalmist wrote: “The days of our life shall be three-score and ten.”


Whew! Thank goodness that’s over!


Having exceeded my Biblical quota, I am on borrowed time. When the Xtreme debt collector bangs on my front door; I’m away!


I’ve an unsold dog book languishing in New York, a semi-sold historical novel wanting research in the Dakotas and I’ve finished a proposal for another. One book or another; for the next two/ or three years I’ll be home scribbling.


The National Finals Sheepdog Trials is in Virginia this September and I’m on the committee. Our farm Sheepdog Trial is just before the Finals. It’ll be a hectic fall.


I want to finish my Dakota research and there’s the Dogs to consider: Luke and June are the best sheepdogs I’ve ever had but they are nine years old. Luke has lyme teeters and a heart murmur and June is considering buying a funny hat and taking up golf. This is the last year they’ll be fit enough to run in big, difficult western trials.


Their offspring, Danny, resembles Ted Bundy. As you’ll doubtless recall. Ted got most things right. He held jobs, he didn’t run stoplights, he paid his bills, he brushed his teeth . . . .but Ted had this one tiny glitch.


Danny’s a swell companion; couldn’t be nicer. He loves to work sheep. is natural, powerful and wants to please. The first time Derek Scrimageour saw Dan he said, “I was going to make an offer on him - until THAT.”


THAT is Danny’s urge to kill sheep. Something snaps in Dan’s walnut sized brain and he locls down and sorts off a ewe and . . .oops. Like I said: one tiny glitch.


After three years of training with some of the best and yours truly (no slouch), Danny is slightly improved and I can sense Dan’s Bundy moment approaching - but I have him running in PN with younger dogs because I’m afraid of what he might do on a big open course. I would have given him away years ago but any sensible farmer would shoot him.


Then there’s three year old Peg. We took Peg in to socialize her and Anne fell in love with a Border Collie who will not work sheep. Anne is fond of useless creatures like Peg and Donald.


Last month at the vet, the vet tech told me, “That’s the first time I ever saw you with a dog on a leash.” Which gave me pause. Because Peg doesn’t work sheep I never trained her. She’s never been in a motel room, never been off the farm overnight, never met non-Border Collies, never slipped behind the Pecos River Truckstop to pee. No traveler our Peg. Last week I taught Peg to sit. Next week, “Stay”


I’m taking them with.


Traveling with four dogs means imposing on doggy hosts or finding dog friendly motels. The dog friendliest motels have individual entrances. Desk clerks’ smiles fade when I march four dogs through their lobby having previously emailed: “ First floor rear, please. Traveling with Dog.” (Note the singular).


I try to be inconspicuous but . . . Once in Charlotte, I was on the 4th floor of a Hampton Inn and crack of dawn I grab my room key and down the elevator and out the back door so the dogs could pee. It was pouring rain. After lengthy consideration the Dogs duly peed. All okay until I tried my room key and learned I’d grabbed a credit card instead of the key.


So I slog around front where I try to persuade the room clerk I live there while three wet sheepdogs meet & greet the ladies of a Baptist Prayer breakfast. I never saw so much pink in my life.


Luke, June, Danny and Peg (3 in crates) travel in the wayback of the Boulevard Cruiser, my 1989 Mercury Station Wagon. The Cruiser cruises all day (and night if need be) at five miles an hour over the speed limit at 21 miles per gallon. I only stop for gas and every other daytime stop I let the dogs out. I don’t calculate miles, I count hours and thirteen hours driving is my limit. Luggage goes in the trunk (under the dog crates where the jump seats used to be) or in the back seat.


The cruiser is twenty years old and insurance companies have totaled it several times. It’s killed three deer (we ate one) and has 280 k on the odometer. But it is big, comfortable, fast, economical, and can carry (with gear) four dogs and five people.


There are problems. The Ford dealer doesn’t stock parts anymore and aftermarket parts are made in china by unreconstructed Maoists. Since Ford only built five thousand of these brutes they’re scarce in junk yards.


And like any machine they were imperfect brand new: the alternator liked to burst into flame (mine did), AC condensation rotted the frame (yep), the tailgate latch is more delicate jewelry than hinge and the heat/ac system lurks deep beneath the dash refusing to modify the temperature.


But hey: some DC-3’s are still flying. What’s twenty years to a good machine?


So tomorrow morning the dogs and I set off for the Great American West. I’ll judge one trial, compete in two others and visit the spot where Sitting Bull was murdered. I’ll keep you posted.


Donald McCaig


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If ya get over to SLC. Ut. Give me a shout out and we go work dogs in the sage brush. Loads of fun, or jaunt over to Heber and work with some one u just might already know...

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Wonderful post, Mr. McCaig.


Scripture also tells us long life is a blessing. If I were a bettin' girl I'd say the Good Lord has more in store for you and many more years. :D


Traveling mercies to you.

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Great post. I loved the bit about Ted Bundy and THAT (sheesh, poor Dan, and poor ewe) and the part about Peg and useless creatures... I laughed. I am fond of useless creatures too.


Good luck with that languishing book. I've got one up there right now (not a dog book, I write lit/commercial fiction) that my agent is trying to sell, and several friends who've published 4, 5, even 10 books at this point are getting projects sent back with notes that say, "Not quite ready I don't think, can you fix x." I think it's the market, more than the books, that is languishing right now. But I expect things will look up eventually and people like you with an audience are going to sell faster than debut writers like me once that happens. So good luck!

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Wishing you and all the troupe safe faring on your long road, and a sweet homecoming in good time.


I'll be looking forward to any updates -- and I'll be keeping an eye out for the book(s).


^^ditto to this! Plus I love traveling with my dog and descriptions like yours make me feel better about continuing to do so with multiple dogs in the future.

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You will be keeping a journal, right? I want to hear more about the Mercury station wagon. Sounds like the real hero of the story. "Travels with - does it have a name? I am put in mind of Farley Mowat's "The Boat that Wouldn't Float.


Too bad about Danny's psychotic breaks...


Have a great trip!


Aho Mitakuye Oyasin

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Have a safe trip and we'll see you at your first stop, River Fall, WI.




Well, if you are going to WI, there's really no harm in stopping in Chicago for dinner. We are short on sheep, but we have plenty of our delicious Jack the Gripper Bourbon County Ale™ to share.



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Dakota Journal Yellow Springs, Ohio




I met All Things Considered’s Noah Adams on the Nop’s Trials book tour. Noah had read the book which was unusual among interviewers. The better professional interviewers will have glanced at my publicist’s precis and may ask some of the suggested questions. The majority won’t have done doodly and I have to conduct both sides of the interview,


Noah told me later that he read about three hundred books a year - ick. Anyway, a couple years later, he invited me to his Minneapolis show and before the show I ate in Noah and Neenah’s backyard with Noah, his wife Neenah Ellis, Lyle Lovett, Melissa Block and Viktor Krauss Lyle’s Bassman. I hoped to do commentaries for NPR which Melissa was producing so I suggested a story on the International which I wrote on the train from Blair Athol and phoned in from Heathrow. It was Pat Bryne and Dot’s first Supreme (the final 15) and Dot hadn’t been well and he hesitated to the very lastminute before going onto the field. She outran well, gatherred and fetched and went back for her second gather. Alas, while Dot was collecting #2, #1 was withdrawing up the field to their original location. When #2 were properly located he sent her again, with no chance or time, for what amounted to a triple life.


They ran out of time. At the Internmational XChampionship, Patrick Byrne and Dot took the sportsmanship award.

I as often write about losers as winner - my critics would say that’s becuae I know my place and there’s some truth to that. But every trial account - win or lose - is unique and each says a lot about us and our dogs.

I have entirely forgotten trials I’ve won and remembered an 8th place at Wilson’s with Pip, my first dog, who was good enough to overcome a handler who wasn’t as good as some Novice/novice handlers today. I remember Harry’s top forty run at Lexington 1; Harry who retired with a bad heart the next year. I remember how happy I was to see Luke cross over at the 735 AND lift his sheep - after the first four dogs had utterly failed to find them. I remember Luke at the maltese cross at Hafod Birdge in Wales, although nothing else about his run.


The food was good that night in Minnesota and Lyle seemed a nice guy, on the verge of being famous. Noah hadn’t invited Lyle’s entourage to dinner but they came out of the woodwork at the theater.


I did more commentaries, Noah, Neenah and I became friends and we visited back and forth. Noah has written four books, my favorite is "Piano Lessons". In midlife Noah decided to learn how to play the piano. To stiffen his resolve he bought an $8000 Steinway. Neenah Ellis turned her NPR series into the lovely set of interviews "If I Live to be a Hundred" Neenah covered the Seige of Savayevo. One quiet evening on the farm, I turned on the radio to hear my friend gasping as she ran, reporting under sniper fire.


Neenah is station manager’ of WYSO in Yellow Springs Ohio which was an easy day’s drive from the farm, partway to Minnesota.


A couple years ago, making a Minnesota run, I nailed a deer at three thirty am ten miles from home. Smashed the grill and one highbeam and a lowbeam was dangling. What the hell, How many headlights do you need in West Virginia? Duct Tape and wire got me and the dogs to South Dakota.


This time, no antler attack but the driver’s mirror wants to fall off. I’ll fix it when I stop long enough. The dogs ran around the back yard and Bridget, Noah and Neenah’s Westie, was cool with them. Dinner was a salmon pasta, fresh asparagus and the conversation of old friends.


One final note about winning and losing. Somebody asked Alasdair MacRae once and he answered, “Winning is important at first but eventually you’ve won most of what you set out to. It’s the dogs. It’s all about the dogs.”



Thirteen hours tomorrow. G’night.


Donald McCaig

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Dakota Journal Red Wing Minnesota: Tom Wolfe's socks



I followed the Mississippi north and after thirteen hours driving it was blue and huge and beautiful.


My hostess Janeen McMurtrie http://smartdogs.wordpress.com/ has her home and dog training facility outside Red Wing (pop 16000) where the shoes and boots were made and Bob Dylan sang about a girl from there. The shoe museum (yes there is one) owns the world’s biggest logger’s boot.


Dog people are insular. Very few top sheepdog handlers have ever seen a conformation show,many have never seen agility and I’d bet none have seen rally. A couple years ago I got interested in what pet dog trainers could teach me and signed up with the IACP http://canineprofessionals.com/ which was formed after “positive” (Pryor) trainers drummed “traditional” (Koehler) trainers out of the APDT http://www.apdt.com/.


I’d agreed to do a Saturday sheepdog demo at the IACP conference in Hutto Texas and arranged for demo sheep and dog from EB Raley. Anne had flown down ahead.


Then I get a call from Washington and Lee. My friend Tony Horwits had been booked to do the inaugural Tom Wolfe lecture (civil war theme) but Tony’s wife had got very ill and he had to fly to Australia to care for her. So he suggested moi. I was local and knew one or two things about that war. “Saturday night”, they told me.


When a new loan officer inquires I explain that my income is "erratic" which translates to “usually we’re flat broke”, and we were. The IACP fee would pay expenses to the conference and the sheep rental but basically, it was a free gig. The Wolfe lecture would buy a lot of kibble (As it turned out, it and lamb sales were our entire income that year).


So I called Janeen McMurtrie, who was organizing the conference and asked, couldn’t I switch with a Sunday presenter and she worked it out without breaking stride or losing her temper.


I had written a newspaper oped “On Becoming a Confederate” about what it would have been like in rural Virginia in 1861 and with a couple days frantic enhancing I came to Lee Chapel and took my seat in the front row while Tom Wolfe introduced me. Wolfe didn’t know me from Adam and had been expecting Tony Horwitz. They handed him Jacob’s Ladder which he scanned for ten minutes before facing his fellow W&L alums to deliver some astonishing econiums on yours truly.


Tom Wolfe is famous for wearing a white linen suit, white tie and white shoes. He’s never been photographed in anything else and far as I know he wears the outfit to bed. It is the only instance I know of successful writer packaging. Mostly writers look just like any old doof on a riding mower but Tom Wolfe: he’s somebody.


From my vantage point at the foot of the stage, I noted a LITTLE KNOWN FACT!!!! Tom Wolfe is not entirely colorless, his white socks have cartoonist’s black thunderbolts running up the sides.


You read it here first.


Anyway, I gave my lecture and afterwards mingled and cocktailed and dined and told Tom Wolfe I admired The Right Stuff but didn’t say I can’t read most of his writing because he dislikes people more than I do. The stunningly beautiful Ethiopian ambassador’s daughter ( majoring in environmental econ) drove me to Charlottesville that night and Sunday morning I was in Texas where Anne and EB Raley had my demo ready which went off pretty well in an unfenced field with sheep and dog I’d never worked. Our biggest applause came when June had driven the sheep a couple hundred yards away and I downed her and whistled her back. Pet dog trainers thought the long distance recall was hot stuff. Like I said, we’re insular.


Some years later Janeen bought a Kelpie and I put her onto Mary and Bill Gary for sheepdog lessons. Mark and Janeen McMurtrie are my friends - how many friends will welcome four dogs into their house? Since Janeen is fostering some Montana rescue shepherds http://www.nesr.info/montana-operation-new-beginnings.html counting my gang, this morning there are ten dogs in Chez McMurtrie, some who were feral six months ago.


Janeen has been a construction superintendent, and EPA compliance inspector. She’s a splendid, effective dog trainer. Their home is exurban enough for chickens, a big house and training barn at the end of a winding drive through the woods.


Janeen was training an ankle nipper when the dogs and I pulled in. I was glad to be out of the car in the shade and my dogs rolled in the grass. They rolled and rolled.


Donald McCaig

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