Authors: Cynthia Voigt
FOR MERRILEE HEIFETZ
(herself the mistress of a lively dog)
with thanks for her enthusiasm
and her continual wise counsel
For their help, however unwitting, thanks also:
to the big blacks, Emma and Calimero
to the boys, Poncho and Lefty
and to Vinnie, the original dancing dog
ister and Missus lived on a farm in Maine. The farm was called the Old Davis Place, because it had belonged to Mister's grandfather. When Old Mr. Davis died, he left the entire farm to his grandson, young Mr. Davis, and the farm kept its name.
The Old Davis Place was a big farm, one hundred and thirty-seven acres of woods and pastures and fields. It backed up against the mountains, so the farm had also some wide stony meadows, which in midsummer were covered with wild blueberries. Two streams ran down from the western mountains, crossing the farm on their way to a distant lake. The streams dug steep ravines out of the hills, and gulleys, too, before they joined together in the woods to make one slower, broader stream that meandered across the lower, flatter pastures and fields.
Mister and Missus raised sheep for wool and chickens for eggs. They kept two Guernsey cows, named Bethie and Annie after queens of England, for milk and butter and sometimes cheese. They planted alfalfa and hay, soybeans and feed corn in their fields. They grew vegetables in a big garden behind the house, and Missus also kept a few flower beds at the front. What they didn't need for themselves, they sold at a summer farm stand at the end of the driveway: vegetables and eggs and sometimes fresh butter. The alfalfa, hay, and corn that they didn't store for winter feed, they sold at the farmer's cooperative in town, as well as wool when they had it. All of the soybeans were sold at the cooperative; the soybeans were their cash crop.
Of course, there were cats on the farm. A farm needs cats. There were two barn cats, and they were hunters. They caught mice and rats, the occasional squirrel, and even the odd unlucky bird. A sleepy marmalade cat named Patches lived in the house, to catch the house mice.
Mister and Missus had sheep, cows, chickens, and cats, but they didn't have a dog. Sometimes they wondered if they might want one. So, one winter day, they went to the library and took out several books to learn about different breeds. They both read the books, and then on the long winter evenings while Missus cut squares of patterned cloth for a quilt and Mister sharpened the rototiller blades, they talked about the kind of dog they would want, if they wanted a dog.
Mister said, “I could train a dog to help herd the sheep and to find the milk cows when they wander off. A dog would keep the chickens safe from foxes and coyotes. The books say that border collies are easy to train, and they like to work hard.”
Missus said, “A dog would keep deer out of my vegetable garden and raccoons out of the garbage. A dog would be company for me when you are away all day. The books say that border collies like being with people.”
So it was decided. “We definitely need a dog and probably a border collie,” Mister said.
“But a purebred dog is awfully expensive and, besides, I like mongrels. I like what happens when different breeds have mixed together to make something new.”
“It looks like a border collie mongrel would be the perfect dog.”
“Let's go to the animal shelter,” Missus suggested.
“Not until spring, though. Not until we've moved the sheep out of their pen and up to the spring pasture.”
“All right. In spring, we'll get our dog,” said Missus.
At the animal shelter, the puppies lived in one big pen by the door, fourteen puppies from eight different litters, all together, all day long, all night long.
It was wonderful for those puppies to be in a big pen with so many friends to chew on and chase after and fight with over the heavy pieces of rope tied in thick knots. For each of them, it was like having thirteen brothers and sisters to sleep in a big warm pile with. And what could be better than thirteen brothers and sisters?
“As it happens, Mr. and Mrs. Davis,” the attendant said, “four of our puppies are half border collie. Their father is a registered border collie named Joss and the mother is a shepherd mix, one of your typical mongrelsâa good pet, gentle, and she loves children.”
“We don't have children,” Mister said.
“But we have friends who do,” Missus said.
The attendant went on, “The three black-and-white males are from that litter, and there is one female. She's the sorrelâthat reddish brown one with a cast on her rear leg. Take a look. You can tell the border collies by their coats and their ears and the way they stare. Border collies really stare, and right at you.” The attendant looked at his clipboard. “Let me tell you about the shots the puppies have had, and we also require you to have them neutered or spayed.” He held out a piece of paper.
But Mister and Missus had stopped paying attention to the attendant and started paying attention to the puppies.
They walked over to the pen and leaned over the wire to get closer. When the puppies caught sight of Mister and Missus, all fourteen of them rushed to greet them, from the biggest (one of the three male part border collies) to the smallest (the little reddish brown female border collie mix, who had a white nose, white paws, and a no-longer-white cast on one rear leg). The puppies ran as fast as they could up to the fence, stumbling over their own feet and one another's feet, too. They rushed to push their noses above the fence and smell the excitement.
Hello! Hello! Hello!
They jumped up against the fence and fell down on top of one another.
Pet me! Pick me up!
They yipped and wagged their tails.
The little sorrel puppy tried to crawl up onto the pile near Missus, but her heavy cast held her back. She tried to burrow underneath, but the other puppies were crowded too tightly together. So she went around to the side and yipped.
But when Missus tried to reach down to her, the pile of puppies rushed after her handâand knocked the little white-and-sorrel puppy over onto her back. She lay there, her tail wagging fast.
“Oh dear,” Missus said, but she was laughing. “What's wrong with her leg?”
The puppy struggled over onto her three good legs and lumbered back toward Missus's hand.
“She took a tumble down a steep set of cellar stairs, when she was only four or five weeks old, and broke it,” the attendant answered. “She never got it set, so it healed wrong and so we had to rebreak it and reset it. Well, the surgeon had to. But it should be entirely mended in just a couple of weeks. Puppies are like babies, they heal quickly. And she doesn't mind it.”
“I think she minds,” Missus said. Her hand finally reached the puppy and the puppy snuggled up against it.
, and she licked the fingers.
. Missus picked the puppy up, and the puppy tried to lick under her chin.
Meanwhile, Mister also put his hand down into the squiggling pile of puppies. He was reaching for the biggest one, who was mostly black, and that puppy had no trouble pushing his way straight to Mister's hand.