Border Ballads: To Be, Or Knot To Be: Bathing The Border Collie

For three years, I have had the pleasure and privilege of living with Jack, my wonderful Border Collie, and because he is such an extraordinary companion, I have decided to publish a record of our adventures together – under the heading “Border Ballads.” Most people are aware that Border Collies are intelligent, but fewer of them, I suspect, know that these peerless canines have many other virtues, including immense wit, which sometimes expresses itself as an almost clownish sense of humor, boundless affection for those they choose as members of their family, and a touching gentleness, especially with children. However, they can also be quite difficult to live with, as I hope to show in this and subsequent postings.

For example, when he read the first paragraph of this essay, Jack immediately insisted that I inform everyone that the use of “my” in “my Border Collie” is strictly relational and not possessive. No human being, in his view, can “own” a Border Collie, and most people, including and especially me, are lucky to be in the presence of so noble a creature. I could describe almost countless instances of this haughtiness, which Jack terms “truthfulness.” For example, when Jack first entered my life, I looked forward to spending many happy hours throwing a Frisbee for him, but my expectation was confounded on our first visit to the park, when, after I had hurled my disc a considerable distance, Jack looked at it and then at me, and said, “If you want that Frisbee, you’re going to have to get it yourself. I’m a herding dog, not a retriever.” Further, Jack is boundlessly, not to say obnoxiously, proud of his heritage, by which I mean he is a relentless Anglophile, for whom few things American measure up to their British equivalents. His favorite television shows are ‘Allo ‘Allo and I, Claudius, though lately he has become modestly addicted to Extras. The only American programs that he deigns to watch are The Office (though, of course, the British version is “vastly better”), Arrested Development, and, above all, Reno 911, which he considers to be “the finest comedy in the history of American television.” Since he presents all of his opinions in the form of edicts, there is little sense in my arguing with him about these or any other of his views. Finally, Jack is vain, though he quite naturally disputes the allegation, since, in his flawless reckoning, when one has features as “engagingly handsome” as his, it is not vanity to broadcast them but rather “generosity.” At his insistence, I will post below a recent photograph of Jack, and allow readers make their own judgment.
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In order to better demonstrate the sorts of challenges that I face almost daily in living with Jack, let me provide a typical episode from our frequently contentious life together.

Jack is not fond of baths, since he regards them as an offense to his dignity, and he does not suffer such things either readily or silently. For instance, during a recent bathing, I was using a hose to rinse his belly, and he growled at me. I told him to stop acting like a sissy, and he replied, with thick sarcasm, “Well, how would you like it if I were to spray your undercarriage with cold water?” I ignored the provocation, but it was at that moment that I accidentally sprayed some water into Jack’s eyes, and he distinctly muttered “Get knotted!”

I had never heard this expression before, and when I asked him what he had said, he replied, “Nothing,” but when I pressed him, he finally stated, “I was informing you that your shoe laces had come untied, and I did not want you to trip over them.” I offered my thanks and then finished bathing him, but afterward, when I had partly dried him with the soft towel he requires on these occasions and left him in the yard to let the sun finish the job, I discovered upon entering the house that I was wearing sandals, and so I went to the computer to determine the precise origin and meaning of “Get knotted.” The expression turned out to be a British epithet, likely of Cockney provenance, and it is less than kind in general intention.

I decided not to pursue the matter, and while I was inside changing into something presentable for our post-bath walk, Jack yelled to me, “I’m feeling a bit formal today; so bring me my black collar and pick out one of your better ties,” and then he laughed. His amusement derives from the fact that I have only one tie in my possession, all the others having been mysteriously chewed to pieces. “Probably the cats,” Jack unhelpfully and implausibly suggested. Perhaps it is only a coincidence, but the one tie that avoided destruction is Jack’s favorite, for reasons that will be obvious to everyone when they view it at the end of this posting.

I don’t actually mind sporting a tie on our walk, since in the past I have endured a much greater trial. I once lost a bet on a cricket match with Jack, and my penalty involved my wearing one of Jack’s less-attractive collars on our afternoon walk, while Jack kept hold of the leash. This was humiliating enough, but what embarrassed me beyond measure was the fact that every time I stopped to talk with one of my neighbors, Jack would soon tug on the leash and tell me to “get on with your business.”

At any rate, I first brushed Jack to the point of what he terms “lustrous perfection,” and then we set off on our walk, during the course of which he flirted egregiously with a female Lab who lives a block away, even though he claimed that he was merely “giving the wee lass a chance for some intelligent conversation.” This purportedly “wee lass” outweighs Jack by nearly thirty pounds – or, as he prefers to put it – by about “two stones.” The rest of the walk proceeded without incident, and by the time we returned home I thought that we had both put our most recent “battle of the bath” behind us. As usual, I was wrong.

As Jack sat at the table, sipping his afternoon tea – Earl Grey, I believe – and munching contentedly on a digestive biscuit, he turned his attention to me and, after a moment’s appraisal of what he usually calls my “sartorial challenges,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye, “Well, Old Sport, I can’t speak for your person, but I must say that your tie, at least, is nicely knotted.”
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