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The journey of Donald and Fly


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Hello, y'all,

As many of you know, Donald McCaig and his dog, Fly, are traveling across the pond to Ireland and Scotland (with a few stops in-between). He's asked me to forward his updates and photos to the board, so here you go.



Priscilla Melchior


Dear Friends,

Some of you have met my 8-year-old working sheepdog, Fly; others know her from

my complaints. Fly is the most baffling, galling dog I’ve had in too many years

training and trialing sheepdogs. She is also — unpredictably and in her own sweet time —the most brilliant.

She took no prizes as a house dog either. When she came, she whirled through our

farmhouse like a dervish when she wasn't doing ALERT! ALERT! Border Collie on

combat patrol! From five to six every evening, Fly'd get "the zoomies," that

predictable explosion of puppy energy one doesn’t expect from a 5-year-old open

trial dog. She scratched her belly bloody from allergies, her coat was dead and, as it

happened, Fly had breast cancer and needed to be spayed. Luckily, Fly always pooped

and peed in the same corner of our living room, so mornings I had only one place to


She bit people. She bit Anne, she bit me, occasionally she bit a stranger.

Which would have been less annoying if she'd worked sheep.

At one time she had. She'd won open sheepdog trials. That was then. Fly'd put all

sheepy nonsense behind her.

I’d walk her out to the grazing flock and we'd walk home: sheep undisturbed. One

afternoon I drove into a field where 300 ewes were grazing, opened the

door and Fly jumped out. She spotted the . . . Sheep? SHEEP!!! Fly hid under the

truck until the nasty things went away.

Every evening I had to lure or trick her from her sanctuary for the night pee — not that

it made any difference: Yep, same spot. Good morning Fly.

She chose sanctuaries where she could greet dangers with her teeth and wasn’t

particular about which sanctuary — any crate or enclosed space would do.

Sometimes she jumped into other peoples' campers, bared her teeth and wouldn’t let

the owners in. I bought one of those catch poles animal control officers use and

didn't leave home without it.

Some might ask, "Why?" Indeed, some did.

I liked her. Fly liked me. My inner Don Quixote was suited up.

I am sentimental about beauty. I can't read the first paragraphs of "A River Runs

through it" or sing "Amazing Grace" without weeping. In a Broadway theater,

when house lights came up after Act One of "Amadeus," the stranger sitting beside

me took a look and didn’t come back for Act 2, because who knew what this sobbing

nutcase might do next?

From time to time, Fly was beautiful. Fly has, as Beverly Lambert says, "A touch of

greatness about her."

A Buddhist teacher told me that dogs are reincarnated monks; monks who forgot to


I'm not sure what sin I committed in a previous life to become obsessed with

sheepdogs in this. Did I sell Madame LaFarge her yarn? Much as I like to appear

the all-wise, all-experienced trainer of difficult sheepdogs, the truth is that Fly was

what she was, and I am too. In our aesthetic, ethical quest Fly and I both had to


To some extent we have. Fly doesn’t bite people anymore (though I wouldn’t turn her

loose in a kiddy playground) and she only pees on the floor when she’s

distressed. Despite our countless wrecks, there’ve been moments when Fly and I

were like John and June Carter Cash singing “Jackson”.

Fly is 8 years old, and I'm 73. But I wondered if, just maybe, taking Fly home

where she was born, meeting her breeder, her trainers and her shepherd, might

unwind Fly and help me better understand the workings of Fly's curious mind.

Patty Sumner, the animal communicator, assured Fly that trials wouldn’t hurt her and

that after the UK, she’d be coming home. I took her to the groomer for her first time.

Though she came out looking like a puffball, Fly was pleased: it made her feel “girly”.

I’m told Ireland and Scotland are beautiful in the spring.

I’m using Flyer miles, so six months ago I began making reservations, which was the

earliest I could reserve passage for myself and a 45-pound Border Collie to

Rome (oops), Dublin (oops), from Atlanta, Dulles, Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh??) and

presently Detroit to Paris. (If you don't ask, I won't moan.)

With Health Certificates properly filled out and Aphis certified and that last minute

tick and tape shot duly administered and attested, Fly, I and Brandon (my co-driver) set

off for 10 hours to Detroit from Virginia.

Ken and Ann Mikolowski were my first publishers. Their elegant letter press

published Alan Ginsberg, Ted Berrigan, Gary Snyder — the best ‘60s poets as well

as less best, like moi. Ann passed several years ago, and I hadn't seen Ken in years

so why not overnight, catch up, send Brandon home by train and fly to Paris with


Provided this old brain has got the paperwork right and doesn't forget

tickets/reservations/luggage/dog . . .

Airline willing, Fly and I will land in Paris meet my sister in Cherbourg. take the

overnight ferry to Ireland, drive to Northern Ireland to meet Fly’s breeder, and, day

after. we’ll trial at the Roscommon lamb festival. Sis’ll stay in Dublin while Fly and I fly

to Glasgow — another rent-a-car — to interview the Scots who trained and worked her.

To Newton Stewart where Ian McMillan has (we both hope) a dog for me. Months

ago, Ian asked “Will he need a rabies shot,” and I said no. Wrong! As I learned the

morning I was to leave. I made frantic calls to a dog shipper. I think I can drop the

dog in Manchester on the 11th and between dog shipping, I hope to run Fly at a two-day trial in York, then to Brighton, ferry to France, Paris, Detroit, and home. (Next

day to Philadelphia to pick up McMillan’s dog.)

UK car rentals won't rent to anyone over 75, so likely this is my last trip.

There's a better than even chance Fly and I will baffle British handlers — "What did the

daft Yank think he was doing running tha useless beast?"— but maybe Fly'll run well on

the sheep she grew up on. I will learn a few things about a sheepdog's soul and

enjoy what we decaying geezers call fun.

I'll send reports as I am able.

Donald McCaig


Fly is prepared for takeoff by airline workers.

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Dear Donald - If you don't put this all together in a book, I might never speak to you again. I'm not sure if that's a threat or a promise! I guess it depends on how *you* take it.


There has got to be a book and when there is, I hope to be able to make many people selling it at the Bluegrass. Maybe one of these autumns, I'll get back to your trial, if time, weather, livestock, farm, husband, and life cooperate.

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Chapter 2 of The Journey


Anne had been sick for 10 days before I left, but I'd ducked it. Three hours from Detroit, I told Brandon, "You'll have to take us in." Racking cough, no breath, weakness.

Fortunately Ken Mikolowski had some chicken soup, and I was able to eat that. In the middle of the night, Fly started her "I have to POOP" moves, and I made it downstairs. I don't suppose Ken's neighbors even saw granddad in underwear on the porch. Fly was much relieved. I had to pause three times to catch my breath going up those stairs. When I sat still, except for the coughing, it was alright.

Ken and I spoke about poets dying young, and some who doddered on. His wife, Ann, died a few years ago, and he showed me the work she was doing in the last months of her life. Ken's transported all the famous poets. He got Brandon to the train and me to the airport.

Detroit airport is new and designed to move people. Stopping often to catch my breath, it took me an hour to get to the gate. I was in Frequent Flyer Business Class and told the steward he could skip the champagne; let me know when Fly was boarded. He did. I went to sleep and stayed there. The new flat beds aren't really very good, but they are way better than coach.

As we descended into Paris, I pictured myself walking two miles through CDG's corridors to collect Fly, then load her, my suitcase and carry-on onto the cart, then another mile to Europcar. I told the steward to call ahead for a wheelchair.

That part of it was better than it sounds. One of my minders confided her aspiration to become a stewardess, when she turned 21. "You okay, sir? You okay?" Sorry, no pic.

Get to car. Load up, let Fly out for a pee. Into the car and away to Cherbourg (wherever that was). I am too accustomed to my techno-marvels and, when the GPS didn't work and my phone didn't work, I stopped in a French truck stop for a map.

"Map, monsieur?" The chipper "no anglais" lady at the register wrote directions on a scrap of paper and had me repeat them after her. They ended at Rouen.

"Rouen? Oui"?

"No. Cherbourg."

"Non, Rouen!"

I wasn't getting anywhere with her and remembered that Rouen was toward the coast. Figured I'd ask somebody there. I circumnavigated Paris on the inner beltway —Chicago traffic with motorcyclists zipping between lanes like angry wasps — until I spotted a sign for Rouen. In for a nickel. In that city I learned the lady was right: keep on going three more hours. I bought a couple of Red Bulls.

As I entered Cherbourg, my phone came alive, and I called the hotel for directions. Parked the car, and me and Fly walked a long block to the hotel. I had the desk call Sis and put Fly into my room while I visited in hers. Would I like wine? A snack? No.

I was 8 hours late, and Sis was worried but didn't want to ask Anne and frighten her.

When I got back to the room, Fly had pooped on the floor. Sixteen hours in her crate and another 10 on the road. Fortunately, it was a hard poop and easy to collect and flush away.

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Chapter 3


She'd enjoyed Paris but was surprised how much she missed Steve. He'd been a cruise ship security officer, and Carol had flown to meet him in Petersburg ... Barcelona ... those places. She loved to travel, and when I went out to be with her after he passed, Anne suggested I invite her to join me on whatever part of this trip she wanted. On opposite sides of the country, we trust each other for the big things family matters can be.Trust.

She showed me a photo of the bathtub she got stuck in in Paris. Our rooms faced each other. She got the side over the drinkers at the Kebab shop, and I got the seagulls. I seated and coughed and worried the hell out of Fly, and the next morning, Sis persuaded me to try the continental breakfast.

I'd planned to get the pet passport yesterday. When I phoned the vet I’d called from the States, I got a rapidamente torrent of recorded French. I took my phone to the concierge, who listened and said, "They are closed for the holiday."

She added, “They have an emergency number. "

"Oh, please dial.” Lots of French back and forth.

"They will see you at ten."

We entered a plain building after the vet and a couple carrying a small white dog.

We waited while a couple of painfully fit French fireman brought a small cat that really, really lost that fight, and the first couple left with tears but no small white dog. It never gets easier.

Directly, the vet summoned us into his office to examine our papers. If they failed his inspection we'd have to leave Fly in a boarding kennel until I returned to France.

"Bon." He handed them back.

"Pet passport?"


Sis speaks a little French and, after much back and forth, he called Irish ferries. Many “d'accords” later, he got up, disappeared into the back office, and came back with a folder that looked remarkably like, yes, a passport. After he filled it out (he seemed scrupulous enough) and stamped here and there, he returned it with a smile. I asked how much we owed him. "Oh, non, non. Bon voyage."

Carol explored Cherbourg, and I slept until it was time to gas up and return the rental; key drop at the ferry terminal.

The Oscar Wilde was a glittery, many-decked shopping-mall party boat with a dozen bars and restaurants and three movie theaters on the top deck. Sis liked it and wandered around and investigated. Fly was fed, watered and settled in the kennel on the car deck. I slept.

Dogs could be visited at specific times, and I went to the reception lounge at seven with a plastic cup of dog food. The room was maybe 20 feet long with enough room in front of the kennels to get the doors open. The exercise area had the slotted floor the cars would cross leaving the vessel. Fly was happy to be out and delighted the crew woman when she peed on command.

A ghost-yard of cars. Fly on her gangplank. The hollow thrum of the ship's engines.

Slept some more, brought Fly water, Sis explored, and I had about half a big platter of pasta carbonara while Sis told me stories about the cruise ships.

"I like to sail," she said with a definitive nod.

Foot passengers were last off when we docked at 3:30, and foot passengers with dog (us) were the very last to enter the long, long walkway to the terminal. Sis had engaged a crewman to roll the Varikennel and luggage, and pretty soon it was clear somebody was going to have to roll me. He dashed off for a wheelchair.

The woman at the Budget Rental office says, "I was just leaving."

Crusty, with 34 years at her job. "Do you have something to cover the seat? Oh, I've seen some come in ..."

Before we left, she offered us a blanket coverlet.

When Sis asked her to bring the car closer to the terminal, she said, "How the hell is he going to drive if he can't walk?” She brought it closer.

Photo below: The vet who helped with Fly's travel credentials.


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The whisker

The only immediate effects of Fly's session with animal communicator Patty Summers was calmer in the house, her best self at the Shannahan clinic and one whisker on the left side of her muzzle that shot up like a musketeer’s.

I haven't space here to go into all that whiskery but generally, they are sense organs, and hers became an antenna for the music of the spheres. Fly's no harder to read —grossly — than other dogs. Until now, what's going on in her soul has been opaque. Will she do this thing or submit to her fear? I've been using the predictive whisker: droop: kaput; level: okay; above level: she was RIGHT!

On this unexpectedly difficult trip, she's had very little, short poop and pee walks, nothing familiar, kennels and crates. She was on best behavior when walking the two-foot, painted strip from the ferry kennels to the elevator while cars exited, rushing past among metal crashes and distant shouts.

We were later than planned again, and I wanted to reach Rostrevor before dark because I didn't know how to turn the headlights on. My Tom-Tom app got us close, and the B&B's directions and a stop to ask, "Just before the Ross monument." We were greeted by the lady with some crackers and cheese and a note with phone numbers for Fly's breeder.

My room had French doors, and Fly went out into the gloaming. Deep Irish countryside. Very quiet. She rolled in the grass and ate some. When she came up, her whisker was at half mast. So okay. Tomorrow she meets James Magee, who bred her.

He was a voluble, pleasant Irishman whose wife exchanged kid and grandkid pics with Sis. "I don't know how you do it," she said. "I'd be afraid to travel alone."

Fly accepted his pets like any dog-savvy stranger while he told of her sire and dam. He didn't keep her long.

"He'd given me two puppies, so I gave him two, and Fly was one. Can she have a piece of bread with butter on it?"

Photo below: Fly with James Magee, her breeder.


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Enormous changes at the last minute

If you, like me, have half-forgotten how to drive on the left, Ireland is a good refresher. During the years when they were "the Celtic Tiger,” darling of conservative economists, hedge funds and other financial plungers, they built roads as good as any in France or the USA. I had no problem yesterday driving three hours to Rostover and the next morning, after finishing Mrs. Magee's excellent tea, we drove four hours south and inland to the hotel Con McGarry had recommended.

It was from the "Tiger" days — a traditional village pub-hotel gussied up with thumbs in its braces. They took dogs, they had wifi, green all around, cafe pub on premises. They'd earned their thumbs.

I went to bed for a couple of hours before dinner, which was medium bad, but Fly thought it beat dog food all hollow. It threatened heavy rain in the a.m., and I told Sis, "No, I won't go out and get pneumonia. I'm not going to give my life for a sheepdog trial."

Next morning was overcast but dry and, when I asked for directions, the hotel owner knew, but couldn't explain. To her relief and ours, Lorraine appeared. She was going, and we could follow her. Lorraine had two 18-month-old dogs and planned to camp, train and trial in Ireland and the UK. She didn't expect much from one of her dogs who hadn't yet learned to drive.

"Um." In the face of new passion, old wisdom is sometimes best silent.

She'd just retired from social work, moved from Germany to France, bought her dream farm and the two sheepdogs who were part of that dream. She'd hosted a Con McGarry clinic.

Last night, at the barbecue Con said they'd start late, maybe 9 or 10, so we had plenty of time for coffee. We got to the trial field about 8:30, and when Fly jumped out, she was looking for sheep. She would have gone after them had I not kept her in the car.

Medium whisker.

Patty Summers had given Fly two explicit messages: one, that sheep dog trials were okay, and she could do her best. At Roscommon, her birth turf, with memories and distance whirling around her, Fly was a sheepdog come to run a trial. One question —the biggest — answered. I wasn't sure I could last a run, even with double spritzes of Albuterol, but if Fly was willing, I wouldn't let her down.

Con McGarry is a VBH (Very Big Hat). I haven't Internet as I write, but didn't he win a World? The Texel Suffolks were his sheep. Watch him.

Very wide outrun right, got behind them, and they came off straight but very slow on the fetch, and later the drive. Usually, you don't want the sheep facing the dog, but FacinRUs. Con held them on line and through the fetch panels, tight turn, and more facing sheep through the drive.

Don't know what I would have done as judge. On line, but you can't like it. He briefly lost control on the crossdrive and had a severe bolt. Con made the split himself and took them fairly easily into the pen.

I, of course, learned little from this.

When I went out with Fly, she was right and I sent her. Nice practical outrun. Behind them and perfect lift. At which point they bolted toward me. Downing the dog wouldn't stop them, which was just as well, because Fly wasn't going to let them get away. She did take her flanks, had a good line and we just missed the fetch panels. Too wide a turn and they were running again on the drive.

Fly refused a flank and I retired her. She was fine. I don't know if I could have done sheepward-facing-dog as well as Con McGarry, but his was clearly strategy du jour. As we left, I thanked him.

"Sorry 'bout that," he said.

"Must be a sheepdog trial."

We drove into the Dublin suburbs where our Uppercross Hotel was nicer than it had looked on the Web, but rambled on forever and Carol lashed my carryon atop her wheeled suitcase.

I spent the next hour trying, without success, to arrange a wheelchair at the airport tomorrow.

Carol thought we should stay and order room service. Dublin mussels don't hold a candle to Gloucester mussels in a light wine sauce, but Dublin bitter is very good.

Tomorrow, Sis would leave this hotel for a more walk-aroundable one. I asked her if she'd come to the airport and help Fly and me onto the plane.

Getting to the airport was easy. Finding the rent-a-car lot, no problem.

Now: get STUFF (huge broken-down crate and luggage) plus Fly from dead car to rental shuttle. Managed. Return keys.

Now: get STUFF, Fly and us onto the bus. Driver helps. Tip him when we arrive.

Now: get STUFF, Fly and us to check-in desk, put crate together and Sis and I can go our separate ways. Shuttle driver appears with luggage cart and we get it loaded.

In the terminal some officious complains, "that's only half a dog crate" and I explain I will recreate the crate. We are directed to the line accommodating "specials.”

When we stop rolling, I put my hand on the cart handle because I'm feeling a little wobbly. And drop like a stone.

Photos below: Fly at Roscommon, the trial at Roscommon, and Donald and Fly with STUFF.




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Con McGarry did not win a World Trial but another Irishman (and I hope I'm not getting Northern and Republic of confused) James McGee did with his wonderful, crowd favorite Becca.


Con McGarry is a Very Big Hat (or, over there, is that a Very Big Cap Even if the Headgear is Small of some sort).

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