I have a severe dog-crush on Liam, Mike’s oldest Border Collie.
Liam is one of the most striking dogs you’ll ever see.
He is a “Red Dog.”
His wide, white blaze slashes two of the strongest, most upright red velvet ears to ever exist. When he’s working those ears often touch – just at the tips. When the sun hits him just right, his topaz eyes light up in a yellow-green hue, reminiscent of canines of a time before him, his stature is strong and dominant.
He’s a big dog.
With a big presence.
Liam is twelve and a half, aged with grace and grand masculinity.
He’s one of those dogs you instantly know has so much more to him.
Liam is an old soul.
Liam has a look.
It’s the same look my Dad used to give me. While I was growing up, we had a lot of fun together. Not in the sports sense or hobby sense.
My Dad worked.
That’s what he did.
I would go to the garage wherever he was turning wrenches and pumping gas and “help.” I loved being with my father. With him, my world was quiet and calm.
He was a man of few words who taught me the power of silence and observation.
He was one of the least judgmental people I have ever known in my life.
Liam and I had developed a relationship back at the kennels over my first year at the Farm and I got up the nerve to ask Mike if I could walk him.
The day Liam and I hit the same wavelength, it was a sparkling sunshine-filled day in February with a huge deep azure sky that stretched out like a big yawn above us. Boo was in the kennel cooling down.
Liam and I went for a walk down the Farm road to the big field in the back.
At first I am pretty sure I was just another fan to him. We had opened the gate that separates the front from the back, and he waited while I closed it. I bent down and ruffled his fur and he gave me an aloof coyote grin and loped off away from me.
I looked the other way at a songbird near the ditch and I felt him look at me – when I looked back – he was giving me the look – moving slightly sideways in a prance away, assessing, ears slightly back, eye roll over the shoulder.
We locked eyes.
I took in a quick breath, as in that moment, I felt as if I was walking beside my Dad.
Liam rolled those gorgeous ears forward and pulled his mouth closed in a sweet smile – and suddenly stopped in his tracks – as I did – his eyes went soft and he lowered his broad head, moved toward me and wagged his tail – then put himself right between my legs and circled as I kneeled down. I opened my arms to hug him and buried my face in his neck as he pressed himself to me and put his head on my chest. Then Liam gifted me with the first kiss we shared – slow and flat out across my face from my chin to my forehead.
I will never forget it.
I talk to Liam about things I would talk to my Dad about. Like my Dad, Liam has a stillness that other people might mistake as him not paying attention.
But he’s listening.
He always listens.
He’s just his own dog.
He brings me answers.
Liam will sit still with you for as long as you like, content to look out over a field or in the back yard. I like to drape my arm over his big back while we sit together and scratch his chest.
I also love to hug Liam – I do this too much but he never seems to mind. He sits stoically looking over my head as I bury my face in his fur and breathe in his scent. His coat is so similar to my Dad’s work shirt. My senses are met with hard work – a little bit like motor oil on a concrete floor – that distinct garage scent – but still with a trace of Mom’s “Dash” laundry detergent lingering about to balance it all out – and wafting underneath it all is a hint of Brach’s butterscotch candy in the pocket.
Mike suggested that I should take Liam out to work.
My first response was – I’ll ruin your dog. I have no idea what I’m doing. (Honestly I still don’t.)
No you won’t, Mike said. Liam is Liam. He will do what he wants to anyway and he can teach you. He knows what he’s doing.
So off we went.
It was really nothing short of hysterical and we had a blast then and every time after.
They say that Liam doesn’t lie down for anyone, but he does for me.
Not always though.
Many days working go a lot like this:
Me: Liam, lie down!
Liam (standing): MMMMmmm….maybe….ask me nicely….
Me: Liam..lie down…c’mon Big Man, lie down…
Liam (haunches up, tiny bow to the front legs, looking up playfully at me): Heh heh…say please….
Me: Liam…lie down…please?
Liam (raising back up, cocking his head): Did you say “pretty please” or just “please”…?
Me (shamelessly): Liam, lie down, pretty please?
Liam (taking a long, slow, down to the grass): There’s a good girl, okay, I’ll lie down.
Me: Yay Liam, good man!
Liam (ears back, eyes soft, dropping a big coyote grin): Okay, you can come and pet me now…
Then there was King of the Mountain day. Mike had a couple of ponds dug, and the dirt piles were real high. Liam ran sheep right up the dirt piles. I started to walk away and called him off when Mike – who was standing up front with my friend Barbara, Meg’s Mom, yelled,
“You’re not going to leave those sheep up there are you?”
I looked up. The sheep were grazing on the little tufts of grass that topped the hill.
They seemed real happy there.
That was good enough for me.
I looked back at Mike across the fields.
“They aren’t coming down,” I yelled back.
“Don’t you have a dog with you?”
Damn, I breathed to myself. I knew that was coming.
I looked down at Liam.
“Really?” I thought to him. He looked right back at me.
“Why not?” he answered, his eyes were yellow-green, lit playfully by the sun.
“I can’t believe I do this,” I thought back, sighing as we turned around to the dirt pile.
I could feel the Red Dog chuckle as he loped along beside me.
We walked around the dirt pile seeking the easiest access up, found it, and walked up. Once we got all the way to the top, Liam, who was on a cord, moved them to the furthest corner. I was pretty sure it was going to give way under the weight, but it didn’t.
I was looking straight up at the sheep from the bottom of the hill. I saw Liam, who was looking at the sheep, then looking down at me. He blinked and looked back at the sheep. Standing still.
I could hear Mike, Barbara and my husband laughing.
Mike barely got out,
“Are you all right?”
I said from the grass. I sat up. Spit out marl and began picking it out of my knees where it stuck like little knives.
Mike was laughing too hard to say anything, but I knew what he was thinking. And then I heard it,
“Then….go…” turned into laughter all over again.
“I know, I know…” I said, standing up and brushing off the rest of the dirt.
I decided on another ascent area and when I got up there, Liam waited while I got a hold of his cord. We walked up and he calmly brought the sheep down from the hill.
I know he did that for me that day because he loves me.
We got better and better together and because of Liam, Boo and me got better and better together.
I’m not the only girl who is in love with Liam. Boo is head over heels for him. The two of them together is nothing short of joy-filled. Liam never judges Boo, he accepts her for who she is – he loves her and she loves him straight back.
When they walk together, they are a magnificent sight.
Our favorite place to walk is along the Farm road. They can get giggy there. Boo will just get all up in his face and prance around him and kiss him all over his head – Liam prances too, and raises his broad head and squints, taking in every single kiss and when she’s done, he kisses her back.
He comes to our house for “vacations.”
My husband accuses me of trying to steal Mike’s dog, but he loves the Big Man too. Boo and me go to bed, and Liam gets up and peeks in the bedroom and looks from me to Boo. Once he’s confident the women are settled, he turns around, always with purpose, walks a straight line through the living room to my office, turns back to the living room where he checks in with my husband and jumps on the couch across from him, lets out a settled moan and together they watch late night Velocity, Smithsonian or History Channel shows.
Liam is a big hit wherever he goes. I love hearing people say, “I’ve never seen a red Border Collie!” No better example I tell them.
While he’s here, we have a lot of fun playing kickball in the yard – or double dog dare as we call it – going for rides on pizza night and to Dairy Queen, to our office, as well as visiting my friend Susie and her Australian Labradoodles, Kiss and Oaklee and walking in their neighborhood. They all love Liam too, especially Kiss, who is the same age as Liam.
Liam even goes to the ballpark to watch batting practice with Boo.
He has taught Boo by example about being patient and good while being handled and groomed.
He also taught her to drink from a water bowl, something she never did before his first visit.
And Boo taught Liam to drink from the pool.
Liam is a rock star everywhere he goes.
He is the Man.
He is a true gentleman as well as a hard worker.
One of the most remarkable things you will ever see is Liam bringing in sheep from afar.
I can never get enough of this.
Not every dog will fetch sheep that they can’t see.
It’s Liam’s forte.
All the way to the back of the Farm, and there’s not a sheep in sight. Mike will send Liam out on a long, sweeping outrun that is stand-alone poetic. Once in a while he’ll stop and make eye contact with Mike on a check in. Then, Liam’s rust and white tail disappears in the brush.
It’s best when the grass in the big field is tall.
The bobbing head of the first sheep appears through the field of grass.
They are not rushing, just moving steadily.
Into the clearing a bold white blaze glows, framed by deep rust, straight up perfect ears that touch ever so slightly at the tips, yellow-green eyes fixated forward.
A broad white chest appears above strong legs that move with just the right amount of swagger – and purpose – to break the grasses.
As the sheep continue forward, Liam stops just into the clearing, whirlwinds of the breeze dance in his leg feathers, tail and ruff.
He stands tall and strong on big white paws.
He is working.
The white sun splashes over him, separating his deep-red and white coat from the yellow-to-green grass as if carved out by Monet’s paint knife.
He is stunning.
Liam knows he doesn’t need to come any closer for the sheep to go in the pen.
They never break stride.
The time-honored presence alone of this majestic dog moves the sheep.
And us, too.