Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cabin Life: Pico’s Adirondack Journey

Pico.  What a lucky mutt.  As far as anyone can tell, he is half border collie and half Australian shepherd.  Seems good to me, and he really doesn’t care what you call him.

A couple of weeks after I moved to Florida, I realized that living with my brother was the first place I had ever lived where I could have a dog.  So I went out and got a dog.  I checked the local shelters and there were no border collies, so, I went on to Petfinder.  There were border collies galore on the site.  Most people think they want a border collie until the dog begins outsmarting them and gets bored and starts destroying things.

As I scrolled down the page looking for my new little buddy, Pico’s picture popped up.  He had a huge smile on his face and was lying contentedly on a piece of plywood.  I emailed the organization that was fostering him, and got a phone call later that day.  The woman on the phone really wanted to know about me, and she grilled me about owning a border collie.  She wanted to know about my job, my yard, my plans, if I had a girlfriend, and lots of other stuff.

After convincing her that I knew what I was getting into, I was allowed to go see him in person.  The forty-five minute phone interview was just the first part.  My friend Brett and I drove the hour and a half to Port Orange, FL to meet the foster parents and Pico.

He came charging out of their office on a leash that one of the women could barely hold onto.  He immediately started jumping on us and trying to chew on my shoes as we talked.  I tried to restrain him the best I could, but at about a year-and-a-half old, he was already pretty powerful.  The women filled me in on his history:  They had taken him and two other dogs out of a shelter on the day they were due to be euthanized.  The other dogs’ names were Roscoe and Train.  Put all three names together and you get Roscoe P. Cotrain, the sheriff from The Dukes of Hazzard.  Yup, I was living in the south.

They had Pico for a while because the people who were interested in adopting him had either been turned-off by his exuberance or rejected by the organization.  I was something like the eighth or ninth person to come and see Pico.  This crazy mutt with the sob story had me from the start.  The women agreed to take him back at any point in the future, regardless of the circumstances, but I knew I was in for the long haul.

On the way back to Jacksonville, Pico started eating the seat belt in the back seat.  When we got home, him and Duff (my brother’s huge German Shepherd) took off running in our tiny yard.  Pico was explosively fast and literally had a crazy look in his eye when he was running at full bore.  You’d better watch out because when he runs like that he is not in control of his own body.  It’s hilarious and terrifying at the same time.

In addition to being really high energy, it soon became apparent that the foster moms had not taught Pico any manners, or really anything except his name.  He was not housebroken, begged for food, jumped on the furniture, and every other ridiculous behavior that you can imagine.  But, being a smart dog and completely obsessed with the treats I dispensed, he learned pretty quickly.

I also learned swiftly that Jacksonville was no place to have a dog that needed as much exercise and room to run as Pico did.  We had a few quiet city parks where I could take him off leash, and then there was the pay-to-go dog park that was nice, but I couldn’t afford it.  I took him hiking, played Frisbee and walked him regularly.  His behavior improved consistently, even with a few bad habits hanging on.

For a few years, I had tried to get my old job back  in New York, mainly because I felt bad about being so unfair to Pico.  After having him for a while, he was a hell of a lot better-behaved, destroyed almost nothing, and was my constant companion and friend.  He deserved to run around without a leash and I became determined to provide that opportunity for him.

We had come up to New York for vacation a couple of times, and I noticed that he seemed to be right at home in the Adirondacks.  In Jacksonville, he ran all over the place, on and off trail.  In New York, he rarely ventured from the trail, and never took off after wildlife.  He was an Adirondack trail dog, no doubt about it.

When it finally came time to pack my stuff and leave Florida, the main criteria I used in finding an apartment was that they had lots of open country around the house.  I found a place outside Dannemora that had a five-acre field and no one cared where he ran or what he did.  (That place was nice and I would have stayed there, but there was a double murder in the house shortly before I moved in that the landlord didn’t tell me about and it kind of freaked me out).

I’d like to say that I did all this for him, but maybe it’s something more.  Maybe he came into my life to get me back to the mountains.  Maybe we led each other here.  I don’t know, but I do know that we’re both happy to be having the cabin experience together.

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Having grown up in the southern Adirondacks, Justin has always been at home in the mountains of New York. After graduating from Paul Smiths College, he began his career in the environmental field working for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. After a brief five year detour to Florida, Justin returned to the Adirondacks to live off the grid in a small cabin with no running water or electricity.

Justin continues to work and play in the outdoors, and maintains a blog about living off grid, hiking, and being outside in the Adirondacks called Middle of the Trail.

One Response

  1. Ellen says:

    What a great story. And kudos to you for adopting such a high-energy dog, and finding ways to channel that energy!

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