He is a male blue merle Australian Shepherd, born January 21, 1991, probably in a Mojave desert town in California. Christi, my best friend since high school, bought him from his breeder when he was about 6 months old. He was a sweet but shy dog, the breeder said he was pet quality and insisted that he be neutered. She fell in love, he was just beautiful. She had wanted an Aussie for soooooo long, and now she had him!
Copper lived with Christi, her husband Paul and his lab/gsd mix, Bud. Christi did a lot of great work with him, but he was still a shy boy, and very afraid of loud noises. When Copper was two, Christi had her daughter, Liz, and Matthew came along a couple of years after that. It was a busy and lively family. Copper loved his family, he was pretty good around his kids, and Bud was his best friend. He just mostly hung out in the backyard with Bud. Whenever I would visit, I always had all these big smiles and wiggling butts greeting me at the back door from both dogs - Copper always really liked me and Bud loved everyone. Paul would take the dogs hiking whenever he could, but that trail closed up a few years ago.
Copper was doing pretty good until the day 13 year old Bud passed away, on new year's eve 1998, just before Copper's 8th birthday. Copper had already been insecure and fearful, now his main source of happiness and security was GONE. Christi and Paul tried to spend more time with him, but it wasn't the same.
On January 26, 1999, my husband and love of my life, Nick, suddenly passed away, 4 days after his 35th birthday. My happiness and security was also gone.
In February, Copper bit Paul. Paul was using a leaf blower in their small yard, and Copper apparently was overwhelmed and panicked badly. He bit Paul on the back of the leg pretty hard. Thank goodness Christi's a nurse, and it didn't require outside medical attention. There had been one other threatening incident, a few months earlier, when Paul was moving the metal trash cans and Copper felt cornered against the fence. But this time Copper actually bit. Paul no longer trusted Copper, especially around kids, so Copper had to go. Christi called me, do I know how to reach Aussie rescue?
First I lose Nick, now this?? I love that dog! How could Paul do this? I lost it, had about the worst temper tantrum in my life, shaking and crying. Thank goodness Christi is a REAL best friend, and let me get it out. I later realized that most of this tantrum was mostly about Nick, not Copper and Paul, and I had gotten a lot of emotion out that needed to get out.
Rescue wouldn't touch him since he had bit someone. He would end up euthanized in a shelter since he was so shy, and there are so many Aussies without these problems needing homes around here, he probably wouldn't get adopted. Being totally out of my sound mind in grief from my own loss 2 weeks prior, I thought I could at least foster Copper. But, I agonized this decision. What the heck was I thinking? Where will he sleep? How would he adjust? How would I adjust? Would he would get along with Leilah? They did meet once before when she was 7 months old, and were fine then, but now? I was so emotionally dependent on Leilah now, I could go nowhere without her, she was even going with me to the funeral home (they loved cute well behaved dogs there!). She was my only reason to get out of bed. I would do nothing to risk my relationship with Leilah. I realized that if worse came to worse, I could put him in the old cat run on the side of the house, about 8 x 15 feet or so, until I found him a home.
Nick and I had discussed taking Copper once before, when Nick's dog died several years ago. Paul had asked us if we wanted him, he'd get more attention from us than where he is now. While we liked Copper, at the time Nick and I weren't ready for another dog yet. We figured that since Copper was really most bound to their other dog, Bud, rather than the humans, taking him away from that would be very hard on him anyway.
On February 22, 1999, Christi brought Copper to my house, and we let the dogs meet each other in a neutral turf hiking area a few blocks away. They got along great! She had brought his things, and LOTS of his food. I had borrowed a dog house from a friend, and Christi brought the carpet from the one he had been living in. Copper was to now live in my house, but I had no idea if he would still want a dog house, so I had one ready for him. To this day, he's never even poked his head in it!
She gave me the paperwork she had for him. No breeder info, but one very important date, his birthdate - January 21st, the day before my husband's birthday.
For the first couple of weeks, this was a very sad place. All of us were grieving our own losses. I grieved my husband, Leilah still looked for her daddy and had to watch me grieve, and poor Copper grieved his family. He learned how to use the dog door, learned where his bed is. I had been hiking a lot to exercise Leilah and to clear my mind, and he now came along too of course. Within in a week or so, I could take him off leash.
Leilah started to come around first, since she now had a new playmate to pounce on! She just had to convince him and Copper became convinced pretty quickly. She's not one to take no for an answer unless he really put his foot down (which he did a couple of times - Copper can cuss like a canine sailor if he feels the situation requires it). They brought laughter back to this house. I went back to work a week later. Upon returning home at night, I wasn't slapped in the face the absence of my husband, but buoyed by a couple of crazy dogs who were thrilled to see me. Copper was a keeper. Now, I had to get to work getting Copper settled in, teach him the house rules, socialize him, and most of all, teach him not to panic at noise.
I now had someone who needed my help, and someone who could help me in return.
In the past year, it's been interesting discovering what he's afraid of, and how to handle it. Basketballs, balloons and spray cans are big ones. His flight instinct is VERY strong, I am convinced that he must have felt quite overwhelmed to bite Paul. So much as a bounce of a basketball at 200 ft would send him bucking and rearing at the end of his leash, while he would bite the leash to try to get away. I taught him that the proper response to fear is to come sit next to me, so I can praise him for the sit and stay, and that I will keep him safe. While he still will hesitate to come to me if he is really afraid and off lead, he has not had a panic attack on leash in many months. I take him to town, in stores, and even made a couple of trips to dog shows.
Christi had done a wonderful job teaching him basic manners, I had very little to improve on there, just added a few new rules, like sit stays before walking out the gate or before getting in or out of the car - waiting types of behaviors. While he hadn't lived in a human house before, and his housebreaking was originally questionable, he has no problem since he now has a dog door. He now loves the dog park, though it took a few months and lots of rescue remedy before he learned to enjoy it. July 4th requires tranquilizers (lots of goings-on locally, including 3 fireworks shows). He's learned that the silverware drawer is not evil, nor is closing my laptop. He now knows that riding in a car doesn't always mean a trip to the vet. I had to learn to groom a coated dog, and he's a groomer's dream as far as behavior! He's lost many pounds now, and is in good health except for minor orthopedic problems, and eye problems that can be helped with trust and training. He's learned the fun of nylabones, and how to play with me a bit, and we now have doggie races across the house most nights when I get home. He's become the poster boy for my Can We Help You Keep Your Pet website.
While he can't jump much because the orthopedic problems, he was sound enough to learn to herd. He passed his herding instinct test in a major gale, with LOTS of noise. I half expected him to climb out the sheep pen in a panic! I did put him in herding training for a while, but it was not to be. He just didn't have the confidence to leave my side and follow the sheep very much. Diagnosed with possibility of PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy - an untreatable eye disease) in early 2001, I've decided to stop searching for an organized sport that suits him. After all, he's already had quite a promotion from backyard dog to spoiled house dog, floor rug, and security alarm. They are jobs he loves, and he will be able to continue doing them.
Now, he and Leilah are best buddies, and they are like my kids. All my original worries were for naught, and I can't imagine life without the two of them. Copper came to me at a point in my life when Leilah and I really need him, and he needed us. I like to think Nick arranged this.
It's like a match made
Nick's Lucky Copper
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Last updated January 12, 2002