Dot came to us late in 2001 as part of our Foot and Mouth
farm dog rescue program.
We had been called to take in three dogs from a farm in Wales when the neighbouring farmer asked if we could take one more.
It may seem simple enough, but we were
working under strict disease control regulations and were licensed directly by the
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
We also had an obligation to quarantine dogs either in a licensed facility or somewhere MAFF approved where they would not come into contact with agricultural workers or livestock, so it was not that easy to take on another dog out of the blue.
We made the necessary phone calls from a
field on the side of a Welsh mountain and cleared it with MAFF then
made sure the kennel could fit another dog in.
They could - and in she came.
From the start we could see she was a special lady and nearly a year later, when we had time to research her back ground, we discovered she had several supreme and national champion trials dogs in her pedigree.
She had also birthed one litter of pups in 1998, one of which went on to be English National champion in 2002.
But to us she was just Dot, our friend and a faithful and independent, highly skilled sheepdog who loved her trade and excelled at it!
There was no doubt that Dot was ladies dog - she was a bit suspicious of men and not inclined to work with them
- and she only worked when she wanted to.
When she first met Nicki, she glued herself to her side and remained there for life.
There was something desperate about the attachment and we later found out (through the grapevine) that she had been the farmers wife's dog and had been bred and trained by her, even winning several trials.
The couple had split up and the wife had left, moving to a
flat in a city where she could not keep a dog.
It then turned out that the farmer had passed Dot onto us because she wouldn't work for him and he begrudged the cost of keeping her.
After many enquiries, we eventually got an address and wrote to the lady to let her know that Dot was with us.
She was initially rather upset that her estranged husband had passed Dot on without consulting her but after we explained how we worked and how we would be looking for a good home for her she agreed it was for the best and we sent out paperwork to her so she could legally sign Dot over to Border Collie Rescue.
She kept in touch by letter and phone while Dot was alive.
Dot was with us to be re-homed, but we had to find a lady handler to take her on because she was obviously not that keen on working with men.
Some tried but as soon as they issued commands she would shoot off to the far side of the field and glare at them with a defiant look on her face.
You can't make me was obviously what she was saying.
Once she settled in she became a happy little soul, happier still if she had work to do and happiest if she was doing it with Nicki.
She tolerated men being around, but was distant.
She was also rather aloof from any physical interference from anyone, (we would call it 'handling' but she saw it differently) although she allowed Nicki every privilege from the start and was dedicated to her service.
So Nicki and Mike ended up fostering her for
Border Collie Rescue.
She more or less insisted.
When Dot arrived at their home they also had Meg, who was 15 and the matriarch of the BCR pack.
Dot was very respectful to Meg and deferred to her superior position in the group.
Even when Meg became ill, Dot supported her and did not attempt to usurp.
However the day after Meg died, Dot laid down on Meg's old bed, looked up and seemed to say "I've been very patient and tried to help, but now she's gone I'd like to stay".
While Nicki fostered her, Dot demonstrated a dedication and
energy to herding and made herself invaluable.
Her skills were evident but she had an extra quality that revealed itself during assessments and is rare in sheepdogs for a variety of reasons.
She could hold back and instinctively knew when to.
Controlling the sheep is one thing but knowing when to step aside and let another dog take over requires a special understanding that Dot possessed.
This trait is essential during assessments
because the dogs being assessed have to be allowed to have a free
hand and another dog trying to compensate for any mistakes they make
will cloud the issue.
Dot seemed to understand the difference between moving sheep for a purpose or moving them for another dog to try it's hand.
She kept back and only stepped in and took over when things went terribly wrong or when she was specifically instructed, so the dogs we were assessing could have a go without interference and for Nicki this trait tipped the balance.
Maybe it was her quiet temperament making her submissive in the field or maybe Dot understood what we needed and this was her 'application' for the job. It certainly did the trick. We had a meeting and the outcome was she could stay and work for BCR.
Dot had a natural elegance and poise which was often revealed in her stance when she was concentrating.
She would adopt the classic Border Collie pose with one foreleg raised, ready for action.
At this stage the charity was negotiating renting some land and outbuildings on a farm near Catterick Village in order to run a two year project to find out if our model of a dog rescue centre most appropriate for assessing working dogs and rehabilitating traumatised dogs could be run on a voluntary basis.
We would have plenty of work for Dot, as the charity needed a good working sheepdog to control sheep during assessments and she had quickly shown us she was capable and useful.
We had another smooth coated working sheepdog called Cap who was quite capable of doing this for us, but he disliked strangers and was inclined to nip which was risky if assessing in a public place!
Part of the idea of the centre model was to make the facilities available to the public to come and learn about Border Collies, sheepdogs, herding and canine welfare so having a dog who was safe around people was absolutely essential.
Dot got a lot of action in 2003, when we opened the pilot centre and came into her own with dogs to assess and sheep to work every day.
Although when away from sheep she was a quiet, undemanding dog, when working she brooked no nonsense and laid down the law with even the most stubborn of sheep.
The passing of time had made her a little more tolerant of men and although she still refused to work with a male handler, she was less aloof and more inclined to go to a man and get a bit of attention.
But she was not the sort of dog you could bribe with treats or praise, she sought her own reward from the sheep and only after completing a task and being called off would she accept praise for a job well done.
She had her own way of doing things and could be incredibly cautious with flighty, nervous stock, keeping her distance so as not to alarm the sheep and cause a stampede.
She was particularly gentle with lambs and
was able to handle defensive ewes who's maternal instincts over-rode
their natural fear of a dog, persuading them by force of eye to move
with their lambs in the direction she wanted them to go.
She knew when to be big and when to be small and no amount of stamping hooves would break her gaze.
She also knew when it was appropriate to give a quick nip to a heel or rear end to move sheep that had become frozen against a wall or in a corner. In and out in a flash and the sheep would break out but not panic and flee.
Dot turned out to be very good with others dogs,
although that was not the case when she first came in.
Initially, perhaps due to insecurity, she was wary of other dogs and bristled when they approached her.
Her reaction, when she bristled, was quite extreme.
Her hackles from the top of her head all the way down her neck, back and to the base of her tail, rose in a rippled effect and she looked like a canine version of a small furry Stegosaurus.
Her cheeks also puffed out and her whiskers angled forwards but in spite of her obvious dislike she did not snap out. She just stood there like a cat trying to make itself look big and outfaced the intruder.
All other dogs seemed to be very cautious of
her when she went into Stegosaurus mode.
But for the most part that was only when she initially came in, although she reserved the option when certain male dog became overly enamored.
Once she had settled in and felt secure in her position she mixed well, made friends quickly and inspired confidence in younger, less experienced dogs. In the image above she is shown with Cap and MR Tod, our other two resident BCR workers, fostered by Nicki and Mike at the time, who quickly became her best friends.
Nicki and Mike had always expressed a
preference for long or rough coated Border Collies and this had been
reflected in the dogs they choose to take on as their own, but
fostering required a more open minded attitude.
Cap was the first smooth coated dog they had fostered for the charity and he had started their conversion.
Dot was also a 'smoothy' and a little alien to their preferences at first - but they had to admit she was a looker - from any angle.
But not everyone shared that opinion.
Some people have a strong preference, even extending to a prejudice, for coat type.
Farmers will often favour smoothies because they shed dirt more easily so keeping them clean and dry after working in muddy conditions is easier.
Thanks to Kennel Club breed standards the average pet Border Collie 'type' is more usually shown to be a long coated version of the breed. But in the real world, smoothie's prevail. They outnumber the rough coats, in spite of the propaganda!
On a couple of her videos on YouTube, people have made comments about her being a collie cross, one or two being quite insistent that she could not possibly be a pure Border Collie and the odd ignoramus being insistent to the point of rudeness.
Ah well… some people tell us they know all about border collies because they have had two as pets over the last 25 years.
People see too many biscuit tin lids and chocolate box covers so the picture above is for them to assimilate.
In late 2004 Dot had some growth on and around her teats. A biopsy showed these were tumours.
They were removed easily enough, but she proved to be a difficult patient.
In fact impatient summed up her behaviour perfectly.
She had always been an active dog.
The sort that was at the door a second or two ahead of you when you made up your mind to go out and left you wondering how they knew what you were going to do before you'd even made up your mind yourself.
She did not take to inactivity at all and she also seemed to find the area of her wound intensely irritating which made her a right fidget to be around because she wasn't still for a moment.
We had to keep her in an oversized collar to stop her licking
her wound and cover her with a t-shirt so she couldn't rub herself.
We also had to make up bandage socks for her hind feet to stop her scratting at her underside and loosening the stitches.
All of this she took in relatively good humour, but she did not like it when other dogs went to the sheep and she was not allowed to!
When Cap was first taken out to hold some sheep for an assessment without her the most blood curdling howls could be heard from within as she made her feelings known to the rest of the world.
Thinking some terrible accident had occurred, every dog and human within earshot all rushed back inside to bring aid to the poor dog that was obviously in great pain and the picture above pretty well sums up what we found!
By the first snowfalls of winter Dot had fully recovered and was back to work, adopting the pose.
It took her a little while to forgive us for leaving her out of things while she recovered, but in the end she did and it became possible to go out without her shadowing furtively in case she missed anything.
At this point in the scheme of things we were entering the second year of the pilot scheme and had a small flock of Swaledale sheep at our disposal, but occasionally she got the chance to work a larger number.
Like the day that Mike came back from shopping and found around 200 head of mixed breeds of ewes legging it down the farm track towards the road that would eventually lead them onto the A1.
The track itself was about half a mile long and had wide verges on either side with gates blocking all side exits other than the top. They had only just started to make there way down, slowly and steadily, pausing to graze the verges on their way
Resisting the temptation to try and turn
them by leaping out of the vehicle and flapping his arms around,
Mike drove very carefully through them and shot down the track to
the farm, returning with Nicki and Dot by a cross field route that
would cut the strays off at the top of the track.
On route the farmer was phoned and was heading back from the fencing job he was on in another part of the farm..
Dot was in her element. She eyed the flock, looked at Nicki and took off and managed to block the entire track and verges on her own, turning the flock back on itself and gently moving them back down the track as a slow but steady pace.
When she got to the field they had escaped from she checked we were behind her, cutting off their chances of escaping down the track again, and then flanked them wide and came back up the other side, leaving them no alternative than to go back through the gate into the field. Then she stood in the gateway until someone closed it. Job Done.
By the time the farmer arrived there was only the story to tell and the evidence of all the little hoof-prints up and down the drive to substantiate it.
There was the question of how the gate got
to be open in the first place. It begged an answer.
It wasn't us and even though she was clever and always looking for an excuse to work, it was a little beyond Dot's capabilities.
A process of elimination took place at the
The farm helpers were the prime suspects but it turned out that they had not come to the farm that morning, they had gone straight to the fields on the other part of the farm to start on the fencing where the farmer was to join them.
The farmers wife was busy inside the farmhouse with the kids and, although they were considered, the kids themselves were eliminated from the investigation by the fact that they were too small and young to have opened the gate and were also under supervision at the time.
Suspicion finally fell squarely on the
person who had checked them that morning and given them their hay
before driving off in his Land Rover to another part of the farm
some distance away. Having accepted that he got back in his Land
Rover and went back to that other part of the farm to carry on where
he had left off.
Anyway, no harm done and it gave Dot a chance to do what she loves most!
Cap, our only other resident sheepdog at the time, thought Dot was the Bee's Knees. Inside, they were usually together and outside they worked naturally as a brace.
Mr. Tod was the third dog of the group but he had no interest in sheep. His job was mascot and people greeter and spreader of joy and happiness to all who met him.
Not for him the serious responsibility of sheep keeping, caring and herding that fell upon the shoulders of Dot and Cap
Dot liked people but could happily pass on
the company of anyone other than Nicki.
Cap liked people too, but only the taste and he couldn't eat a whole person so did it one mouthful at a time.
So with one rather serious career dog and one that was better kept in the background it was down to Mr Tod to do the honours with visitors because there was no-one else to be relied on.
This he did well and although by this time he was going a little grey around the muzzle and getting a bit stiff, he thrived on it.
By now the pilot scheme period was drawing to its end and although Border Collie Rescue had it's ups and downs during the time it was taking its course, the point had been proven. It was possible to run a full dog rescue centre with sheep, land and other facilities on a voluntary basis and the search was on for new premises to take it to the next level.
Eventually land, outbuildings and a farmhouse were found near York and the whole charity migrated there over a three month period in 2005. There we had 10 acres of land and extensive outbuildings and the potential was fantastic because all around was arable farmland with no distractions, close neighbours or other stock to conflict with our purpose.
There would be plenty of people for Mr Tod
to greet and look after and plenty of sheep for Dot and Cap to ply
There would also be plenty of work for the volunteers to get their teeth into. It looked like we were all going to be very happy!
When we opened the York centre, Dot was even more useful as we started helping other people and other rescue organisation with sheepdog assessments.
Above - The Beauty of the Land.
Dot, doing what she loved most - herding sheep. She was always worth watching. Classic grace and elegance.
In it's early days the York centre offered
us greater opportunities to assess dogs around sheep and extend that
service to other charities and members of the public than we had
In the first year we had school trips visiting the centre and were able to demonstrate sheepdogs working a large flock of sheep in the 6 acre field in front of the farmhouse.
The environment was deemed safe by health and safety people because of the low level of 'industrial' activity in the surrounding fields and on the track ways.
Individual Border Collie owners, other charities and SARDA members were able to bring their Border Collies along for assessment around the sheep and we were able to help a lot of people with problem dogs.
The success of this relied on having a quiet
environment without distractions where our dogs, who were capable of
controlling flocks of sheep between 5 and 50 in number and keeping
them off fences and in the centre of the fields and paddocks, were
able to allow inexperienced dogs to try out herding for the first
Again, Dot showed her value to the charity in her control and judgment - knowing when to hang back and let another dog make its mistakes and just being there to bring the sheep back together in the centre of the field after a new dog had split them all over.
And to relax in the evenings, Dot was content with a warm fire in the dogs room and the company of someone she admired.
The Dogs room at the centre was the largest
room in the farmhouse, being the original kitchen. The floor was
quarry tiled and there was another small room off it that was once
the Dairy and a larger room that was the main office.
It was also a room people walked through on there way from the modern kitchen to the rest of the house.
In the dogs room were dog beds (some against the radiators), dog crates (one was 6ft x 4ft x 4ft 6 high) and a dining table with chairs. It was a haven for dogs that could live together with facilities for rehabilitating those who tended to be a bit aggressive.
During her time, Dot was matriarch of the facility and ruled with a kind, but firm hand, ensuring that the other dogs passing through remained subservient to those who had a more permanent place. For the most part she went unchallenged with all falling into line behind her and when there was a problem with a newcomer she had plenty of back up!
The office also served as dog accommodation and the old Dairy with its Yorkshire sliding windows was a refuge for the severely unsocialised who could have a secure open crate under the stone shelving at the back and a mesh door at the front to help them feel protected but enabled them to see all that was going on beyond. It was also useful for dogs recovering from operations.
It was not only sheep that Dot was adept at herding - she turned a paw to any stock.
In our second year at York a chap started an open air pig breeding unit on land nearby and started to use some of the outbuildings around the back of the farm.
This was of some concern to us as we had
taken the unit on because it was all arable farming on the
surrounding land and there was no other livestock to distract us
from our work.
In addition, the work needed to maintain crops on the surrounding lands tended to be done in stages using big machines that could cover the ground quickly.
Consequently we would get a few days of tractors travelling up and down the tracks servicing the crops and then nothing other than the occasional pick up bringing someone to do some tests or just check for weeks. Harvesting would be done in a couple of weeks so it was fairly peaceful time most of the time.
The arrival of the pig farmer changed that.
There was daily activity and the noise of the pigs in the distance at night but the worst of it was his inability to keep his piglets inside his land and mass breakouts into our fields became common.
Not that Dot minded.
They were something else she could herd.
When they appeared in our yard or our front garden or even managed to get into the covered fold yard we used for rainy day exercising of the dogs she would get quite incensed and make a point of ensuring we were informed and ready to act.
Separating escaped piglets from the sheep in the six acre field became a regular chore for her and she loved it.
Shedding them was not that difficult as they tended to regard each other with suspicion and keep to their separate groups.
Even after penning the piglets in the corner of the field, ready for collection, she kept an eye on the sheep she had left behind. Always ready for more work.
If there was no-one else around Cap would give a hand although he did prefer sheep to pigs, and they worked well together, making a good brace and were particularly helpful if it was a large litter of piglets or a number of smaller litters that needed to be brought together.
On more than one occasion the sheep themselves penned a small litter of piglets in a corner of the field and surrounded them until Dot came to remove them, but the funniest scene was when two determined piglets out faced 45 Swaledale Gimmer Hoggs and drove them across the 6 acre field and held then on the fence - just like a scene from the film Babe.
In the end we had to put security fencing
and gates all around the perimeter of the house and gardens of the
rehab centre to keep the little piglets out, which meant they only
strayed into the fields. After a while the pig farmer sorted out his
own security and less escaped.
The ones that came our way were taken back but there were several hundred acres of open farmland around us, with large wooded areas and those that strayed off elsewhere came to a worse fate.
By now, Cap was getting on in years and had
more or less taken voluntary retirement.
Dot was also getting older and although she was keen as mustard, physically she was slowing down a bit and needed some help.
It was time BCR took on another dog to train
up to help Dot and eventually take over the lead position when Dot decided she had enough and wanted to take things easy.
A litter of pups came into our care and one of them was showing a particularly bossy nature.
This one had been named Gael and is the one in the middle of the picture, flanked by Cap and Dot.
She was the chosen one!
Dot personally trained Gael and part of the
process was captured by a TV crew making a documentary for a
satellite TV channel, Animal Planet.
The series was about young rescue dogs being trained to perform useful work for, and with, humans.
To film us a crew came to stay from time to
time over a 6 month period, but takes between 1 and 2 years to train
a sheepdog properly so they were only able to capture some of the
job. Dot and Gael featured in several episodes.
We made our own short video of part of the process as well, which you can view at the bottom of this page.
Training Gael was not an easy or quick job. Nothing good comes easily, but Dot had her licked into shape in less than a year, mainly because Gael admired Dot so much and sought to emulate her and she had Nicki as a trainer who is also very precise and patient.
Sadly, not much time went by before Cap passed away and, as with the shifting nature of pack politics, Dot took a new friend to heart.
This was 'Spot', a big amiable and shy boy that came in from County Durham with a whole pack of other dogs from the wife of a breeder who had died.
He left her with too many dogs to look after on her own and the RSPCA became involved, trying to help her improve standards but she refused to hand any of her dogs over to them because she did not want to see them forced to be pets.
The RSPCA approached us and we spoke to the lady and she agreed to hand over a number of dogs to us. Nicki and the RSPCA inspector helped her improve facilities so she could keep some of the dogs in better conditions and we re-homed all the others except Spot.
Spot stayed in BCR care because, of all the
pack that came in, he and his mother were very poorly socialised and
initially he was considered to be too timid to re-home. Nicki
suspected he had eye problems and an examination by our vet
Spot also very quickly bonded onto Nicki and followed her everywhere he was allowed to. When eventually his mother was re-homed with another more outgoing dog as a companion, he latched onto Dot as a surrogate mum.
By that time Dot had decided that Gael was good enough to take over the reins of top sheepdog and was thinking of retiring. She was always a busy dog and was looking for something else less strenuous to do, so she dedicated her life to eating and looking after him.
Dot and Spotty dog became good friends and as he slowly lost his sight Spot became particularly dependent on Dot to be his eyes.
They had become inseparable and although
they both adored Nicki and tried to follow her everywhere, when she
wasn't around you usually found them together, in a heap, on top of
whatever bed was available.
Even though Dot had retired herself from herding she still enjoyed going to see the sheep and occasionally she would help out if the need arose, but most of the time she seemed content to leave it to others.
Spot was much younger than her and had come from good ISDS working lines but he showed no interest in sheep, perhaps because of his failing eyesight.
The early morning routine was often amusing
as dogs, like people, are frequently creatures of habit.
When the house dogs were let out into the front garden at the centre all the dogs shot off to their usual places to do their business before coming inside expecting some breakfast.
The front garden had a high hedge separating it from the 6 acre field and on the other side of the hedge was a gap between the hedge and the field fencing which was accessed from either end of the garden and formed a track-way used by the dogs to run continuously, chasing each other at high speeds, around in great big loops.
Dot and Spot would go out the front door, he would turn left and she right and they went to either end of the track and did their business. If left to themselves, she would then sit looking out over the field to check the sheep were still there and he would wander up the track to join her and they would sit there, side by side like an old married couple, for a few minutes before coming back in together.
Then suddenly, out of the blue, Spot became
very ill and was diagnosed with cancer of the spleen.
He went downhill very rapidly after diagnosis.
This took us all by surprise as he had never shown any indication of any problems but fate intervened and took him away from us.
Spot left a gap in all of our lives. He was
such a kind, quiet and happy dog and we all missed him, but
She really missed him and took a few months for her to get over it, during which time she seemed withdrawn and uncomfortable in the company of other dogs.
She took comfort in one of the sheepskin rugs in the lounge
at the centre.
This was an area where dogs were forbidden but if she could get through the doors she would make her way onto the rug in the far corner and keep very quite, hoping no-one would notice.
Eventually we stopped turfing her out, allowing her the privilege that had only been given to one dog before her - Mr. Tod. Eventually she came out of her shell and started to socialise.
Dot's last year was spent in the dogs room
or outside during the day, in the lounge in the evening and in the
office at night. She always got on well with the other dogs but
never really formed a bond like she had done with Mr. Tod, Cap and
Gael was her admirer to the end and always stuck up for her, although Dot still remained capable of become a stegosaurus if needed and that tended to put most other dogs in their place without backup.
Dot had a good life and a full one and even over her last couple of years when she had not been working, she has found ways of helping other dogs in rescue. She has helped hundreds of dogs find their way and helped solve problems for many people.
She has touched all who have met her with her quiet dignity.
You can see her on many of our videos. Some based around her and others in which she plays her part. She has been on TV a few times and been out to a lot of shows and events - flying the flag for rescue.
She was always a star.