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Happy 10th Birthday to My ‘Heart Dog’

I’ve heard the term ‘heart dog’ over the years, but I never really understood what the term meant until I found one of my own.

My Rough Collie just turned 10 years old! It’s hard to believe that I’ve had him for almost a full decade. But he’s more than just my buddy. He really is my heart dog.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably already know that the Rough Collie is my favorite breed. You may also know it as the “Lassie dog.” Lassie was a fictional canine character in books, movies and television. Though the character was a female, male dogs portrayed her. A male Collie has more of a mane and often has a thicker coat that the camera really seemed to like.

Me and my first Rough Collie, taken in 1977.

My parents bought our first Collie puppy home the Christmas right after my first birthday. So that particular Collie and I grew up together. She knew without anyone telling her — how could we have explained it? — that her role was to look out for me. She lived up to that role. Anytime a person, another dog or anything else came close to me, she’d position herself between it and me.

Once she was barking at something in the shrubbery. I was about six or seven years old at the time. I naturally walked toward her to see what she was carrying on about. She saw me coming and charged my way. Then she not only stopped me but kept walking back and forth in front of me, pushing me slowly away from whatever was in the bushes.

I saw that she found a young Garter snake. Garter snakes aren’t venomous. It could hurt me if it wanted to; but she saw a threat and protected her boy. I couldn’t have asked for a better dog to grow up with.

I’ve loved the breed ever since

My current Collie, the one who just turned 10 years old, is the fourth Collie I’ve owned over the years.

Everyone has their favorite breed. Some people love Dachshunds. Others love Labrador Retrievers. Some folks insist Pit Bull is the best breed ever.

Bringing the new puppy home, 2013

They have their opinion. I have mine.

When I went to meet this little puppy, who was 50% underweight when I brought him home, I felt an instant connection with him. Normally, I fall in love with a puppy and then bring it home hoping it’ll fall in love with me. (So far, they all have.) But in this puppy’s case, he seemed to pick me before I even had the chance to pick him. He was ready to go with me after about five seconds.

When we got in the car to head home, he kept climbing up my shoulder. I wasn’t sure what he was trying to do, but finally I let him climb and he got onto the back dashboard under the rear windshield, turned around, flopped down and hung his paws over my shoulder like a parrot. He wanted to see the journey home as if he couldn’t wait to get there.

He has kept me laughing ever since.

What’s a heart dog

I always assumed the term meant a dog that you were really fond of. Well, that seems to be part of it. But it goes deeper than that.

Say cheese! describes it as “one incredible canine who comes around once in a lifetime and completely changes everything. That dog is your heart. They fulfill the role of offering unconditional love and they close any gaps of loneliness.”

American Humane describes it this way: “A heart dog is your soulmate – your soul’s true counterpart and forever a part of your emotional existence. You evolve with each other and shape who you are and who you become.” sums it up nicely as well: “It feels like they were put in your life for a reason, and you are in tune with one another.”

All of that sounds true to me. He and I seem to understand each other at a deeper level than the other dogs I’ve been lucky enough to own over my lifetime. We seem to be able to communicate with just a look.

OK, maybe that sounds dramatic to you. If so, I’d speculate that you either never had a pet or never had one that you bothered to get very close to. If that describes you, I’m afraid you miss out on a wonderful companion.

Hoping for many, many returns

The average lifespan of the Rough Collie is 14 to 16 years. So mathematically, yes, I know I have less time to look forward to with him than I’ve had so far.

He’s ready to play!

At 10 years old, he still acts like a puppy. He’s eager to meet people and other dogs. He loves being told he’s a handsome dog. (I’m convinced he knows what that means.) All you have to do is pet him one time: If he sees you, even years later, he’ll pull me over to see you for another pet. He doesn’t forget anything.

I look at those loving eyes and I notice a lot of extra white coming in on his face. I hear they call it a “sugar face” as a dog ages. Some dogs start “going gray” much younger. Seeing the whitening of his face gives me mixed feelings. On one hand, I’m grateful for how much time I’ve already had with him. But on the other, I’m reminded that our time with our four-legged friends is always far too short.

Pal, the first Collie to portray the Lassie character on film, reportedly lived to the ripe old age of 18. Rudd Weatherwax, the trainer who worked with Pal and its descendants, reportedly went into a deep depression when Pal passed away. In fact, I read a quote from his son stating that Weatherwax could never again watch another Lassie movie because he couldn’t bear to be reminded of Pal’s absence.

It sounds like Pal was Weatherwax’s heart dog.

Happy birthday, Gryffin! May you have many, many more!

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.