A tribute to Mazama (1996 - 2011)
This is a tribute to my dog Mazama, who had to be put to sleep on August 20, 2011.
"Throw the ball, throw the ball, throw the ball"
We got Mazama at nine weeks old on the weekend of July 4, 1996. Halli and I had been living in our house about six months, and we had talked about getting a dog someday, although it was not serious talk at that point. At least I didn't think so.
But then we went to a part at my boss's house for July 4, and they had an adorable border collie puppy - Max. He was so cute. And Martin told me there were still more puppies available from the same litter at a farm in Carlton, OR. We somewhat spontaneously decided to check them out on the way home. Sure enough, there were still some puppies available. And we got to meet the mother who was a working border collie.
Well, how can you check out puppies and not take one home? My goodness they were all so cute. But I always wanted a friendly dog, and Mazama (un-named at that point) seemed to be the one least afraid of us, and he seemed to be the friendliest. Needless to say we took him home that day.
It was on the drive home is when I realized what a great dog he was going to be. We stopped on the way home to see if he had to pee. He had been quietly curled up on Halli's lap the whole drive, not looking overly comfortable. Almost as soon as we let him out of the car he threw up. He was such a good dog he managed to hold it back to avoid throwing up in the car. Yeah, I'm probably anthropomorphizing a bit here, but it was at that point, after we had owned him only about an hour, that he earned our respect.
When it came to naming him, we wanted to give him an Oregonian name. We rattled off some ideas, and settled on Mazama. No, not for the hiking club. For those who don't know, Mazama was the name of the volcano that erupted 7600 years ago and collapsed in on itself forming Crate Lake in southern Oregon.
Many people will question the sanity of getting a border collie on the spur of the moment. And for some families this would have been a mistake - they are about as energetic a breed as they come. He was a bundle of energy. He wanted to play from the time we got up until the time we went to sleep. It was a little too much for Halli, and we started talking about getting a second time to divert some of his energy.
We put the word out a bit that we were looking for a second dog, and in November of that year our friend Dede Smith, told us about a possibility. She was working for a vet at the time, and a young girl had come in with a chow-mix that needed a new home. Although we were initially a bit wary about a chow puppy, we had her come over and do a trial introduction with Mazama. They seemed to get along great, so on Thanksgiving Day of 1996 we took ownership of Nikkia to be playmate for Mazama.
And though Nikkia did play with Mazama and divert some of his energy, I still spent an awful lot of time playing with him. Before I left for work, as soon as I got home, and at least several more play sessions before bedtime. He became great and chasing the ball and catching a Frisbee (I had always wanted a frisbee dog). Over the years I can't count how many times I must have thrown the ball and Frisbee. A hundred times a day?
Mazama had a weird trait when he was younger where one ear was usually pointed up and one down. Virtually every person who met him commented on how cute his ears were. And Mazama was very personal, he loved meeting people. He was ok with other dogs, but he preferred humans. In fact, he was probably a little too excited when he met people, he would sometimes pee a little as he wiggled with excitement when someone came to the door. Ah, the joys of having a dog.
You've probably heard how smart border collies are, and Mazama held up that standard. We taught him lots of words and tricks, I'm sure there's nothing we couldn't have trained him. I recall one time we heard a news story about a border collie who understood a vocabulary of about 250 words. We were unimpressed. After adding up all the words Mazama understood, we figured it was around 50 or 60. And that was without trying to teach him a huge vocabulary. I don't doubt for a minute we could have taught him 250 words or more had we tried.
My favorite word that he understood was "Closer". Whenever he brought back a ball or Frisbee, he would often drop it a few feet away from us. Rather than reach for it, we taught him "Closer", and he would then pick it up and bring it closer to us. A very handy command indeed, especially for the volume of throws we had to do each day.
We taught him dog agility when he was younger, and did that for about a year. He was very good at everything, except for the weave poles. I'm sure if we worked harder at it we could championed those as well. But instead I built a couple of jumps and tunnels at home, and we incorporated those into our daily play at home.
While playing at home in the summer it was easy to go outside and throw the ball/Frisbee in the yard. But in the winter, it was far too rainy, wet, and muddy. Fortunately we had a long hallway downstairs that went from one end of the house to the other, connecting the dining room with the family room. So I would throw the ball (no Frisbees in the house!) from the dining room down the hall, and Mazama would get his exercise running back and forth down the hallway.
One trick that I taught Mazama eventually earned us a blue ribbon at the Tualatin Crawfish Festival one year. I would throw the ball, and as he was chasing it to bring back , I would get down on all fours. As he came back he would jump up and over me. We won the best dog trick for that back in 2002. I still have the blue ribbon hanging on my refrigerator.
He also got his share of exercise while accompanying us on hikes. Besides the distance of the hike itself, he would run a little bit ahead, and the run back to check on us. Again and again. And if Halli and I got separated, he would run back and forth between us making sure we were still together. The herding instinct was quite strong. It wouldn't surprise me if he ended up doubling the actual hiking distance each time.
One unusual habit Mazama had was after my shower. As I was drying off he would come over and lick the water off my feet. I'm not sure how that tradition started, it's certainly not because he was thirsty, he had a bowl of water in the bathroom. But whatever the reason, it became something to look forward to. If I stepped out of the shower and he wasn't waiting for me, I would call him and he would come running to keep up his end of the bargain.
Lest there be any confusion, I'll admit Mazama did have one bad habit. He would eat anything, and I mean anything if it had an odor. He once ate part of a scented candle. That was bad enough, but to get to it he had to chew and eat some of the glass containing it. And, unfortunately, he was also fond of stool, his or Nikkia's. And to get at the stool he would end up ingesting a fair amount of gravel from our dog run. I saw an interesting x-ray of his stomach once that showed the gravel very distinctly. And he once ate an ant trap I had put out. After a panicked call to the poison control center, I learned we had nothing to worry about.
For years he never bothered getting into the garbage. But around when he turned ten, he started getting into the kitchen garbage. And need I remind you that border collie are very smart. So I put the garbage under the sink, behind a cabinet door. Well that was no match for Mazama, who the very next night figure out how to pull open the door and get to the garbage. So next I tried using a bungee cord on the handle to the door to hold it shut. But Mazama manage to pry the door open wide enough even with the bungee cord to get to the garbage. I came downstairs the next day, the bungee cord was still attached, and there was garbage on the floor. Finally I had to resort to installing an eye hook on the door to hold bind them together. I never understood shy he ignored the garbage for ten years and then decided to start getting into it.
But the worst episode of Mazama getting into something was a neck brace. Halli had a sore neck one year. And a friend had given her a homemade neck brace, which was basically a long sock filled with uncooked rice. You could heat it up and wrap it around your neck. We left it on the foot of the bed one day, and when we came home we found he had jumped up on the bed, chewed through the sock, and left some rice scattered about the room. Nikkia had helped eat some of the rice, but it was clear Mazama had eaten most of it, as well as done the dirty work. There had been about three pounds (!) of uncooked rice in the sock, and I think he ate close to two pounds of it. I called the vet immediately, they asked if it was minute rice or not. Fortunately it wasn't, had it been minute rice it would have expanded in his stomach and probably killed him. As it was, he was subdued for the next couple of days.
For years I wondered if he was ever going to slow down. I loved playing with him, but at times it got a little tiresome. And finally, around when he turned ten years old, he started slowing down a bit. Instead of needing to spend a total of about an hour a day throwing the ball/Frisbee, it was reduced to about thirty minutes in four or five short sessions. That was a little better. And then around when he turned fourteen he really slowed down. From that point on, just a few tosses a day was enough, and the last few months he wasn't even able to do that. It was very sad seeing him lose his balance and no longer able to run and jump.
He also lost his hearing around the age of twelve or thirteen. I don't recall exactly what clued me into the loss, but I know I confirmed it when I said the word "treat" and he didn't respond. Like all dogs, he used to respond rather enthusiastically to that word. But I managed to teach him a few simple hand commands, and we were able to get on with our lives without too much difficulty. It helped that he was still so smart.
I'll miss you my friend. In fact I already do. But I know Halli is up there with you, throwing the ball. Please give her a big kiss, and say hello to Nikkia. I'll see you again someday. You were a great dog and a great friend.