Penny was the only dog I ever really loved. He was the family dog of my childhood, an old-fashioned shaggy farm collie, not a narrow-headed, pointy-nosed mutant like today’s purebreds. He was black in colour, with a white collar and chest, and a white stripe down his face, very mild-mannered in disposition, not at all excitable. I think my father used him for herding cattle, but I was really too young back then to know much about that.
What I remember is that Penny was my friend, companion and protector. Not that I always appreciated his protection. One of my earliest memories is of becoming frustrated to the point of tears one day because Penny would not let me walk out to the barn. I tried and tried to get around him, but he always blocked my path, understanding that this three-year-old lad did not belong in the corral with the big animals. He was my constant companion when I was outdoors, helping me explore the yard and laying down beside me when I was tired. In later years we went for long walks together through the pasture.
I recall a very sad day when my dad came to the house carrying Penny in his arms and laid him on an old blanket in a corner of the kitchen, next to the cream separator. He had been run over in the field and must have had serious internal injuries. My parents did their best to take care of him, but I was sure he was going to die. However, after about a week he began to hobble around and a few weeks later there was no evidence that he had ever been hurt.
I didn’t know it when I was little, but my mother told me years later that she could not administer any discipline to me unless there was a closed door between us and Penny. It’s probably just as well that I didn’t figure that out at the time, but hearing about it later rekindled loving memories of Penny.
In time Penny grew old and went the way of all dogs. My parents had a couple of other dogs after that, but none ever filled the place in my heart that Penny had occupied. After we were married, my wife and I had several dogs, each for a very short time. Eventually we concluded that we are just not dog people — cats are more compatible with our lifestyle.
About fifty years ago, the old Family Herald magazine published an article about the farm collies that had once been so common on the Canadian prairies. The writer described black and white collies just like Penny, with a wider forehead and blunter nose than the registered breeds, and expressed the wish that someone would preserve these intelligent, gentle and useful farm dogs and develop them into a recognized breed. That never happened. There have been recurring fads for various imported breeds, none of which came close to matching the old farm collies in intelligence, gentleness with children and working ability.
Do any dogs like this still exist on the Canadian prairies? Is there any hope that the breed could yet be revived?