A big thank you to Sean Leslie from Outdoor Research for submitting this blog post to us. Sean is a fellow outdoor enthusiast who loves to share his outdoor pursuits with his wife Karaka and four-legged best friend Nessie!
To the best of our knowledge, our dog Nessie is a Border Collie mix with some Flat Coat Retriever thrown in for good measure. More often than not, the Border Collie part of her wins out, meaning 90% of the time, she’s a hyper-active, neurotic whirlwind, desperate for exercise and difficult to calm down. She could happily run all day, chasing balls, rabbits, squirrels and anything and everything else she catches moving out of the corner of her eye.
Nessie is the sweetest dog in the world toward me and my wife Karaka, doting on both of us and licking our face when we come home from work, curling up under our feet when we’re sitting on the couch, and wedging herself between us in warm bed and dozing on a lazy weekend morning.
But her neurosis makes her scared of anything, everything and everyone she doesn’t know. To Nessie, every stranger is a threat, every noise represents an unseen danger. A rescue dog, perhaps there’s something in her past that causes her suspicion; When we adopted her, her story was cloudy and confused, so there’s no way for us to know.
Nessie displays her fear first by cowering, and then through aggression, trying to scare away anyone and anything that makes her uncomfortable. We learned just how fear-aggressive she could be when she bit a repairman who came to fix our clothes dryer, an episode that resulted in very little blood drawn, but a large fine and many tears for me and Karaka.
Despite our best efforts – private sessions with numerous trainers and specialists, positive reinforcement with copious amounts of treats while she’s around friends and strangers alike, and more – Nessie’s fear aggression is so bad we often have to sequester away “The Loch Ness Monster” when we have visitors to the house, and we’re forced to deny strangers’ requests to pet her when we take her for walks; It breaks our heart to tell people, “I’m sorry, but she’s not friendly.”
Because of the liability Nessie presents in Seattle, the city we call home, walks and runs with her — a Border Collie, she demands lots of both — are high-security affairs, where the leash is tight and we cross the street when we see someone walking toward us on the sidewalk.
So Nessie’s chances to run free and unfettered come almost exclusively in the wilderness. We try to take her to the mountains, to the woods, to far-removed and difficult-to-get-to places where we’re unlikely to see another soul. As outdoorspeople ourselves, Karaka and I love these remote places, too, and our enjoyment of them has multiplied exponentially now we know this is where Nessie can freely roam without fear and where we can confidently allow her to explore and run wild off leash.
We’ve taken her high into the Cascades, to snow-covered alpine meadows in the early season, when we’re unlikely to encounter other backpackers or hikers and she can roam and explore in every direction. In the heart of summer, she’s happily trotted along the trail for miles, up to high-mountain lakes where she can swim to her heart’s content without fear of spotting a stranger to awaken her mysterious fear. And in the fall, she’s bedded down in the tent on her Ruffwear bed, between our sleeping bags, sometimes covered in a down jacket to keep her warm.
We’ve been advised by more than one person to give Nessie up, as her tendency toward aggression makes it difficult to include her in our life the way we want, and finding someone to watch her when we travel too far for her to join us is exceedingly difficult; The number of people she likes – and who like her – is few.
But she’s part of our family, and we love her too much to even consider parting with her. And we also know she needs us; Karaka and I realize full well we represent Nessie’s best chance for a long and happy life. We don’t even want to contemplate her likely fate without us and our constant vigilance. If anything, we love her all the more knowing she relies on us so completely.
Nessie is with us for the long haul, and we are just as devoted to her as she is to us. Perhaps she’ll mellow with age, and perhaps we’ll finally be able to teach her no harm will befall her on our watch. And maybe then she’ll be able to let down her guard. Or perhaps not, and the dog that loves us so much will love only us for her entire life. We’ll love her just as much if the latter turns out to be true.
Either way, for now our time in the wilderness is when Nessie, Karaka and I can relax and enjoy ourselves the most. There she is a loyal, joyful companion, eager to lead us to every river valley, alpine meadow and wind-scoured summit.
And for all our sakes, we’re happy to let her.
Thank you Sean for sharing your story with us!