When I was growing up in Ireland, we had a chance every year to watch the Border Collie trials on BBC or Thames Television. The trials fascinated me as they showcased the intelligence and sheep-herding skills of these incredible dogs as well as the impressive communication that existed between person and collie. After I moved in with my mother in Lynden, Washington I was delighted to learn that one of our neighbors is a Border Collie. Three-year-old Duff lives with Jenn and Terry Stone and their 16-month-old daughter, Jemma.
When Jenn and Terry first met Duff at the breeder’s, his fur was matted and dirty and he was running wild. Duff had been returned to the breeder by his first family after a year and this affected his self-esteem badly. When the Stones brought him home, Duff was so depressed and apathetic that he didn’t even bother to lift his leg when he urinated — he just peed on himself. It took the family a while to understand that he was worried he might be rejected again. Before baby Jemma was born, Jenn and Terry took Duff on his first road trip. Over three weeks they visited Terry’s parents, stayed in cabins, explored Santa Barbara, saw a supermoon full eclipse and had a vacation jam packed with a variety of experiences and destinations. When they arrived home, rolled into the driveway, and opened the car doors, Duff burst out and raced around the yard at top speed, overjoyed to learn that their final stop was not the breeder’s. No, the Stones had brought him home again; he was really part of the family and was there to stay; Duff was their forever dog.
As soon as Jenn and Terry decided to get a dog, they knew s/he would be named after Duff McKagan, bass guitarist for Guns N’ Roses. In 1994 McKagan was diagnosed with alcohol-induced pancreatitis. The condition caused his pancreas to swell to the size of a football and leak digestive enzymes into his body that caused third-degree burns. Doctors told him he’d be dead in a month if he didn’t clean up his act. Previous attempts at sobriety had failed but the health crisis became the catalyst he needed. McKagan used mountain biking and martial arts to help him get through. Terry felt the musician and the dog are both survivors and that it was fitting for them to share a name.
Duff is wicked smart and learned very quickly to ring the bell by the front door when he needs to go out, or even when his twice-daily play sessions are coming up and he’s hoping to move things along. He has a love/hate relationship with retrieving — goes after the ball compulsively even when he’s exhausted. They say a tired dog is a happy dog and Jenn says, “Every morning we wake up and think about what we’re going to do with our dog today.”
How has Duff changed the family? “He’s taught me patience,” Terry says. “No matter what happens, I can’t act on my instinct to yell. The more you raise your voice, the more he ignores you. Talk quietly, and he’s right there with you. In some ways he’s more like a human than a dog; he’s very sensitive. When we first brought him home, he was obviously depressed. He didn’t seem to know we were a family and that he’s part of it. Now he’s smiling.”