We got Gilbert in October of 2002. We went down to Animal Friends thinking we’d get a nice dog to be a friend for Becky to play with outside and to do a little bit of light watch duty around the house.
I wanted a smallish dog, maybe Jack Russell sized. Not too big. Vanessa wanted something maybe a bit bigger. We wandered around in the shelter for a bit, looking at some dogs that looked interesting, making a mental list. We both noticed one very large black and white dog in particular who was definitely not a contender. He was barking madly, jumping around in circles in his cage like an insane creature. Nope. Not that one.
After a while we signaled to one of the volunteers that we were ready to meet some dogs. After asking us a few questions, she told us that since we had a small child (Becky was with us, at about 18 months old), she would only let us adopt a pet whose behavior around small children had been tested in a foster environment and had been proven. They would rather have us leave pissed off than have us adopt a dog who would be unsafe for us (a pretty good policy, I’d say). Indeed, there was only one dog at the shelter at the moment who met that criterion. His name was Gilbert, and he was a Border Collie mix who had been there for about six months and had a glowing foster report. A big black and white dog. Yes. That one.
We read the report, and it sounded completely unlike the beast in the cage. So we agreed to meet him. She got him out and got some tennis balls and we got in a little yard with him and he calmed down and played with Becky. And he knew she was a baby. He deferred to her. We adopted him. When we got him home, he wouldn’t even take food from her when she shoved it in his face. He never tore anything up around the house. My friends and I would talk at work about stuff our dogs did and they would always wind up telling me “you don’t even have a dog. Gilbert’s not a dog. He’s too good to be a real dog.”
Animal Friends had saved him from Animal Control’s death row; he’d been picked up as a stray. He was not neutered when they got him but they took care of that. He clearly had been someone’s dog before, who had trained him well. He had a bladder of steel. (Even if he clearly had to go, if it was raining out, he’d look out the door and turn around as if to say “naaah, I’ll wait,” and never had an accident until near the end.) He never begged for food at the table (at least, not until Vanessa trained him to). Yet we suspect he had been abused, because whenever we raised our voices at home (“HEY, REF? WHAT ARE YOU, BLIND? NO WAY THAT WAS ICING!!!”) he would slink off into a corner and tremble like he expected a beating. (I think it was only sometime in the last 2 years that he decided we probably weren’t really going to do it.)
So we don’t really know how old he was. Our vet said he was probably about 3 or 4 when we adopted him, so he was probably born in sometime in 1998 or maybe 1999.
We always accepted Animal Friends’ assertion that he was a Border Collie mix, because he looked and acted like a Border Collie. He also looked a little like a Black Lab, so we figured he was maybe a Border Collie-Lab mix, with maybe some other things in there, like maybe a little bit of Dalmatian or something, since he had some spots in the white parts of his fur, and his head shape was a little bit Dalmatian-like. We ordered a DNA test in the Fall. They say these DNA tests are less reliable if they come up with “a little of this, a little of that”, but quite reliable if they come up with only one or two breeds. His came up with 50% Labrador Retriever and 50% Chihuahua. We did not believe it at first. But hey: anything is possible en nombre del amor. We ordered a second test from a different company. We’ll see if it comes back the same.
He had a stroke (or some other sort of neurological event) last month, and today (January 2), the best dog in the world was no longer up to the task of standing up to eat and drink. Our lives were enriched by his having been in them.