Myth Busters: Australian Shepherd Edition

Ruby, our Mini Aussie.

Myth: The Australian Shepherd was invented by Vito Von Trembleflurb in Squinkleburra Australia in 1893. Trembleflurb crossed two of his herding dogs with a kangaroo, a koala, a sheep, a crocodile, and three species of Australian spider. His goal? To create a wooly vegetarian guard dog that could spin silk and herd itself. After three months of lovingly raising his creation, the animal trapped Trembleflurb in a web, drained him of all his blood, and escaped into the outback where, legend has it, it lives to this day.
Fact: “Developed in California in the 19th century, it is claimed the breed descends from a variety of herding breeds including collies imported into California alongside sheep imported from Australia and New Zealand, the breed taking its name from the former. Originally used solely as a herding dog, the Australian Shepherd has become one of the most popular companion dog breeds in North America.” Source.

Myth: The Australian Shepherd was actually invented in 1985 by Arnold Schwarzenegger and was meant to be called the Austrian Shepherd. Between the general geographical ignorance of Americans and the overwhelming popularity of the 1986 film “Crocodile Dundee,” the rest was history. Disheartened by this failure, Schwarzenegger would turn his full attention to acting where he found moderate success before entering politics.
Fact: Please see previous fact.

Myth: Because of its roots in California, the Australian Shepherd is chill af bro.
Fact: The Australian Shepherd is, in fact, not chill.

Myth: The Australian Shepherd sheds heavily throughout the year.
Fact: The Australian Shepherd sheds heavily twice a year. For six months.

Myth: The Australian Shepherd is known as the cowgirl’s lapdog of choice.
Fact: The Australian Shepherd is known as the cowboy’s herding dog of choice. Jeez. Figure it out.

Myth: Much like the giraffe, the Australian Shepherd flies around at night on the leathery wings of a bat.
Fact: Australian Shepherds do not fly.

Myth: The Mini Australian Shepherd was created in 1998 when Minnie Driver’s chihuahua escaped and hooked up with Crocodile Dundee star Paul Hogan’s collie.
Fact: The Mini Australian Shepherd is just a smaller version of the standard Australian Shepherd. The Mini stands for miniature. I guess I have to spell out everything. Bonus fact: Ruby is a Mini

Myth: The Australian Shepherd comes in a host of colors, including Black and Blue Cobbler, Strawberry Meringue, The Full Cherry, Brown Overcoat, Black and White and Tan All Over and more!
Fact: According to AKC breed standards, the Australian Shepherd comes in “Blue merle, black, red merle, red – all with or without white markings and/or tan (copper) points, with no order of preference.” You’ll note that they put the blue merle first, so make of that what you will. You’re most likely to see “tri” versions of these variations: Blue merle with white markings and copper points, red merle with white markings and copper points, as well as the black and red tri. The red tri is sometimes called a brown tri, because to normal human eyes, they are brown.

My friend Jim Mitchem’s red tri, Quill, and black tri, Rocket. Despite being three months younger than Ruby they are now bigger.

Myth: The nickname for the Australian Shepherd is the Sheepie.
Fact: Come on’, dude. It’s the Aussie. Just like the people. Although human Aussies are from Australia and, as we’ve establish, the dogs are not.

Myth: The Australian Shepherd is perfect for first-time dog owners who are, overall, on the fence about dog ownership but think having a cute, fuzzy pup with personality might be fun. The breed is also great for folks whose hobbies include watching a lot of TV, sitting in front of a computer all day, sleeping in, going to work and expecting to return home to a house that isn’t destroyed.
Fact: From this hilariously understated AKC description: “They’re the picture of rugged and agile movers of stock. Aussies exhibit an irresistible impulse to herd, anything: birds, dogs, kids. This strong work drive can make Aussies too much dog for a sedentary pet owner. Aussies are remarkably intelligent, quite capable of hoodwinking an unsuspecting novice owner.”

Myth: The Australian Shepherd is just a dog like every other dog.
Fact: No they are not.

Meet Ruby

As I sit here typing, it’s a cold Monday morning in October. Seven a.m. Nineteen degrees out. First bit of light coming into the sky. We’ve yet to light the first fire of the season, so I’m bundled up on the couch and I have a seven-month old miniature Australian Shepherd pawing at me for attention and play time. She finds the laptop a stupid distraction that is diverting my attention from where it rightly belongs.

This is Ruby. And anyone who knows us in real life or follows me on social knows all about her. If you thought I was a little overboard with Lucy and Sylvie, well then. Having a puppy turned me into one of those people who, upon having a child, act like that child is the first to breathe the earth’s air and that the entire world must be fascinated with it. Except with a puppy.

We didn’t mean to get a puppy this year. After losing Sylvie in March of last year and Lucy right before Christmas, we were just too heartbroken. And emotionally exhausted from a year’s worth of taking care of sick dogs. In fact, the last post I wrote for this here blog site was in January of this year, marking the anniversary of the trip to the vet in 2021 that was the beginning of Sylvie’s end.

Not having dogs also meant we might be able to hop in the car on a whim and travel the state we’ve been living in now for four years.

What little thought we’d given to getting another dog was basically, “Maybe next year. Maybe a rescue. Maybe something Sylvie’s size. Definitely something that won’t shed.”

Now I’m covered in the hair of a 32-pound dog that is very much still in puppy stages.

How did THAT happen?


It’s not a happy story. I’ll be upfront about that. We love this dog to death already and it’s hard to imagine life without her. But how we got her is the sort of story that should be preceded with the phrase “trigger warning.”

Michele Scott was a local woman who bred mini Aussies. She also worked at the local Safeway and cleaned houses. We were one of her clients. Every other week, Michele would show up and she and I would shoot the shit about dogs or drinking or whatever. Her two dogs went missing for about two weeks once and not surprisingly she was extremely distraught. But she found them one day roaming the countryside as if they were on a grand vacation. Her first visit back after Lucy had passed, she just knew upon walking in. I think dog people are keyed into that sort of thing.

And then in February of this year, I received a text from our mutual friend Jeannie asking if I’d seen Michele. It was a Monday. Valentine’s Day, in fact. Michele hadn’t been heard from since Thursday morning. She’d left our house on Wednesday afternoon. In real life, a story with that sort of beginning rarely has a happy ending. And this one didn’t either. It wasn’t long before Michele’s ex-boyfriend, a piece of shit with a long record and a restraining order, was found driving her car. He claimed she’d left for a last-minute vacation. That’s not what happened at all. He killed her and dumped her body in a ravine.

To this day, I’m not really sure how to process what happened. Michele and I were not close. But she was a person I knew who was taken out of the world too soon by an act of violence committed by the worst of us, the sort of person who should have been in jail years ago. I could go on, but it will just turn into a rant or make her story about me.

Like I said, Michele bred mini Aussies. And quite a few of the people at her memorial apparently met her through the dog community. At the time of her death, Michele’s dog was pregnant. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. Why would I?

How it happened

In March of this year I received another text from Jeannie saying that Michele’s dog Como had had a litter of ten puppies.

That’s nice, I thought. How cute. And then didn’t give it another thought.

In April, I was sitting alone at home while Cara was in Austin on a business trip. I received another text from Jeannie.

“Ken we have puppies from Michele’s dog that will be ready for homes on the first of May. We wanted to offer them to people that knew her first and I thought you guys might be interested. … We have 5 puppies still available. 2 Blk Tri Males, 1 Blue Merle Female, and 2 Blue Merle Males.”

I didn’t know what any of those things meant. We were not in the market for a dog. And Cara, I figured, was going to want some sort of poodle mix. But I have a hard time just telling people no.

My response: “Let me talk it over with Cara. Do you have a pic of the female?”

Reader. She did have a picture.

This was the very first image we saw of Ruby.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how this story ends. Cara returned from Austin. We sat at the dinner table like actual adults and had a ridiculous conversation about pros and cons and the fact that I’d be doing the heavy lifting. And came to the conclusion of “I don’t know. Maybe we can go see her.” We were barely even fooling ourselves at this point. I even said, “If we go see this dog, we’re going to get this dog.”

Guess what happened. The only surprise is we didn’t leave with two dogs.

Ruby came home with us on May 8. It has been, as they say, a trip. I’ve never had the responsibility of taking care of a puppy. We had no experience with this breed.

The good news is she’s extremely smart and eager to please. We’ve had a few friends over who have Aussies and they’ve all remarked on how mellow she is for the breed. To be clear, she’s mellow for the breed, not necessarily mellow. That said, she gets along great with other dogs, even while on leash. As much as I loved Lucy and Sylvie, those are not things that could have been said of them. They were leash aggressive and hated bikes, cars, runners, balloons, and basically anything that moved.

In fact, she likes other dogs so much, we’ve toyed with the idea of a second one. We’ve left her at Jeannie’s house a couple of times. Jeannie has a houseful of dogs, including the one other female from Ruby’s litter, which she named Michele. Ruby and Michele love each other.

The thing is, I don’t know if I can deal with the puppy stage again. Or getting a shelter dog that turns out to be a complete antisocial asshole.

It’s been downright easy with Ruby. We’ve even been able to take her to a bar and just sit outside for hours without her acting the fool.

Though she does like to act the fool.

So far, her only issue is she’s not great in the car. It’s hard to tell whether it’s stress, motion sickness or both. She threw up quite a bit at first. That’s mostly stopped but there’s always a chance. It doesn’t help that we live in the mountains with tons of curvy roads. We’ve got the small matter of a drive to Louisiana coming up, so we’ll see how that goes. Hopefully with some practice she’ll get over it and we can take her on road trips.

But yeah. We got a dog. I finally wrote a blog post about it. I’d get into all the emotions involved along the way, but dog people know instinctually, the rest will never understand. And besides, she wants to go for a walk.

We’ve lost our crazy little Lucy

When Sylvie got sick earlier this year, we put a nightlight in the bedroom room to make it easier for her to see at night. After she passed in March, we kept the nightlight in place because Lucy had gone mostly blind and the light helped her get around too.

Last night we slept without the nightlight. The room was so dark, so quiet, so still. Empty.

That’s how this story ends and I just wanted to get that out of the way. On Monday, we said goodbye to Lucy after months of illness took their inevitable toll. Cara and I are both broken-hearted. Living in a house with no sound of little claws tippy-tapping across the wood floor was unimaginable.

When we bought this house, the first “improvement” we made to the thing we’d just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on was to install the least-ugly baby gate we could find at the top of the stairs leading down to the basement. Like the nightlight, this was done mostly for Sylvie’s benefit. While she could make her way up and down carpeted stairs, she did not have a 100% success rate and we didn’t want one of her failures to happen while we were around.

Having installed the gate, we went down to Denver the next weekend to buy furniture and supplies for our lovely new house. When we returned home, Sylvie was the only dog greeting us noisily at the door. Lucy was greeting us noisily as well, but she was doing so from the stairs to the basement. On the wrong side of the gate. Apparently she’d jumped – or knowing Lucy, fallen – through the banister onto the stairs. So the second improvement we made to the house we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on was the installation of this ugly-ass netting to prevent Lucy from plummeting to her death.

When we replaced the deck on this house, we were happy to be getting new railing that would be up to code and impossible for the dogs to slip through. Within the first three minutes of being introduced to the new deck, guess who walked right through the railing. 

Lucy had many nicknames, but “little turd” (said affectionately, of course) was a prominent one, deployed frequently when she was doing something that seemed designed to bring about her own demise. Like launching herself off of stairs and couches or wherever she happened to be perched. I often said there was something catlike about Lucy, but unlike a cat, she almost never stuck a landing. She preferred bellyflop, face-plant, and head-first neck-cruncher to boring old feet-first. Earlier this year, after her eyesight started going, I opened the door to let her into the garage and instead of running down the steps like she always did, she jumped – right into the door of Cara’s car. 

Lucy also liked climbing under things. Like the couch. Or the bed. Or the bar. Or a car. Or a wooden stove that had a fire blazing in it. She also liked getting stuck in things and places. Like between the mattress and the headboard. Or inside the TV stand. This was before my time, but according to Cara, Lucy once got her head stuck in the hubcap of a car. 

How? Who knows? But that was a question Lucy often prompted. “How did you even do that?” As in: “How did you even open up that box of chocolates and eat so much that you ended up spending a night at the emergency vet? You crazy little turd.”

Lucy’s philosophy in life seemed to be “Fuck around and find out.”

Things Lucy did not like after finding out about them: baths, snow, wearing clothes, wearing shoes, animals walking in her yard, people walking in front of her house, people walking into her house. Me. At first. 

Take it off

When I first visited Cara’s home years ago, both dogs loudly made their displeasure known. Sylvie calmed down soon enough. But Lucy, I think, barked the entire time I was there. And if I left a room, she’d follow me into the next one to bark at me there.

She was a barker and I’d have put her in the Little Yappy Dog Championships if there were such a thing. Granted, Sylvie usually started the barking, but Lucy would continue the barking. She would not be outbarked. She was five pound of fury.

When they first moved to New York, they barked at people walking in front of the apartment. Which is an issue when you live in New York because there are always people walking in front of the apartment. So we hired someone to help us train them. If you had any interaction with Sylvie and Lucy during their New York days, you realize that this did not work at all. One thing the trainer recommended was walking them twice a day and taking them to the dog park to wear them out a little. On the way to said dog park, the trainer noted that Lucy seemed super smart and somewhat bossy and was likely going to take over the joint. And she did. Or she tried too. She was fearless at first. Yipping and yapping at all the other dogs. Until one day she was rolled onto her back by an overeager puppy half her age and three times her size. But still we went. Well, the three of us did. Cara couldn’t handle the stress. And we only went to dog parks that had a dedicated section for the little guys. There, Lucy could pick on dogs her own size. Or yell at them. Though the weirdest dog park memory I have of her is becoming obsessed with a Chihuahua-Yorkie puppy that was about the size of a bird and licking the poor thing until it was soaked to the skin.

Lucy could be a challenge. And I think that’s why people liked her. Oh, sure, they SAID they’d take Sylvie over Lucy because Sylvie was easier to deal with. But everyone feels flattered when the crazy chick picks them. 

Lucy eventually came around to liking me, of course. In fact, she went through a phase after we moved into this house where slept between my legs or curled up in the curve of my stomach or  tucked tight under my armpit every night. I’m a restless sleeper, but I tried not to be, suffering through an aching back or contorting myself ever so slowly so as not to wake her. 

Because it meant she loved me as much as I loved her, which was a lot. 

Things Lucy loved: Me. Cara. Cara’s mom. Cara’s dad. My mom. Aunt Julie. Chris, her dog sitter. And, probably above all else, Sylvie. Which was fitting, since Cara originally got Lucy to keep Sylvie company, much to Sylvie’s initial annoyance. But Sylvie came around. How could she not?

This has been a hard year for us on the dog front. They say when you have two dogs you have twice the love. This is very true. But you’re also in for twice the pain. And we lost both of them this year. Sylvie got sick at the end of January and died at the beginning of March. Lucy got sick in June and slowly declined for the remainder of the year. I have a lot to say about all this, but I can’t trust myself to write about it without sounding mad or crazy or depressed, all of which I am.

All I will say for now is, man did we love that little dog. She had a great life. We spoiled her rotten. Up until the very end. We became better (definitely more patient) people because of her. And now the house is so quiet, so still. Empty.

Stay, Sylvie. Stay. Good dog

img_3457Being a dog owner involves a certain amount of self-delusion. Rationally, you know the lifespan of a dog is short. Unless you get your dog when you’re 75 or you get into some horrific accident, you’re going to outlive your dog. This animal that loves you unconditionally, depends on you for everything, would likely give its life for you, will die before you do.

So one of the most important rules of dog ownership is you never, ever, ever let yourself think about it. 

Until the day comes when you have to think about it.

Continue reading “Stay, Sylvie. Stay. Good dog”

A very spooky story

Credit: Netflix

Cara and I have been watching “The Haunting of Hill House.” It’s not for the faint of the heart. In fact, if anyone says he isn’t afraid of the movie, that person is already dead inside and should be reported to either the Ghostbusters or Van Helsing.

The point is, it’s a creepy show and within one episode you’ll be checking under your bed, wishing you didn’t have a basement, and contemplating a move into a newly built tiny house where you can be 100% sure that no one has ever died and where ghosts couldn’t fit (and, besides, ghosts wouldn’t be caught dead in a tiny house because tiny houses are just a hideous expression of hipster privilege and virtue signaling and if you wanted to actually save money and downsize you could have just bought a trailer).

Continue reading “A very spooky story”

Snoopy’s Got Nothing on These Dogs

So Snoopy thinks he’s bad ass flying around on his doghouse, getting shot down in France and knocking down root beers in the officer’s mess, huh? Well, check out these guys.

See what art we were capable off when we didn’t have do-goodnicks like the ASPCA around! (Apparently it was a series. Check out some of the related videos.)

A Puggle and His Poop

I may have to reconsider my mostly fond feelings about dogs. Yesterday, while sitting in the Starbucks on the corner of Court and Dean, a fellow patron tied up her Puggle to the bench and came inside to get a coffee. There was a bit of a line, so the little guy had to wait out in the cold longer than expected. He, being the nervous sort, began to yip. When master didn’t come running, he yipped a little more, then — being the nervous sort — deposited about five or six logs on the sidewalk while moving. Then — and here’s where you may want to avert your eyes — he proceeded to gobble up every last bit of it.  If that’s not gross enough, consider that the owner was completely unaware of it and that at some point later in the day she probably let that dog lick her face.