Champ The Weather Dog or How I Paid $264 for a Deep Breath

Champ in Alabama


I love my dog.

I know. I know. Lots of people love their dogs. Lots of people love all animals. It isn’t like this sets me apart from anyone. Except that I don’t have a reputation for being a “dog person” because I don’t tend to get all excited when I encounter strange dogs. And that’s because I’ve had some ugly experiences with other folks’ dogs.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not anti-dog or heartless. I get teary eyed when a friend loses a pet and I’m dismayed by animal cruelty of any kind. I just don’t tend to run up to greet every furbaby that crosses my path.

So, it kind of surprised some folks when I started talking about getting a dog last summer. Call it timing. Call it craziness. I wanted a dog for the first time in about 20 years. I really wanted a dog. So, I called my dear friend, Ona, who has been working in animal rescue for about as long as I’ve been raising kids.

Ona knows my crew. Her advice was to adopt an adult dog. She had a long list of really good reasons — some of them I’d thought of myself. They have a predictable temperament. They are typically housebroken.  They’re usually fixed (critical with overpopulation). But the most compelling reason is that they are harder for rescue groups to place into forever homes.

Champ's Ad

"Collies are the most beautiful dogs!"

Always one to be part of the solution, I took Ona’s advice and started searching Petfinder for adult dogs we thought might be a good fit for us. I started looking for medium-sized short hair doggies — thinking I wanted a dog large enough to go on long walks with us, but small enough and — um — low maintenance enough to live in our home without requiring a complete remodel.

I started sending Ned Andrew links to dogs that I thought were potential housemates. He would look and comment and not get particularly excited. He was sort of unsure about this commitment. We do have four kids, full-time jobs and he does a lot of those daily tasks that running a household requires. But after several weeks of discussions, he sort of casually mentioned that he’d always liked Collies — that they were the most beautiful dogs.

Within 20 minutes, I’d culled the entire offering of Collies in the southeastern US and sent a few links to Ned. “No, hon,” Ned would say, “not that kind of Collie. A ‘Lassie’ Collie.” Okay — 5 clicks later, I had a list of Rough Collies. If you aren’t familiar with Collie types, let’s just say that by “Rough” they mean “incredibly furry and likely to shed a large cat each day.” Undaunted (but a little incredulous — seriously? You’re okay with 11″ fur on every surface? Ooookay.) I started reading the stories posted on Petfinder. And then I found Champ’s listing. I read his story — that he was a 5 year old sweetie whose family had been transferred overseas and couldn’t take him with them.

Already in tears, I sent the link to Ned who immediately asked what would be involved to adopt this boy. I contacted the folks in Alabama. Emails and an application and phone calls and more emails flew back and forth over the next couple of days as we first found out more about Champ, then expressed interest, passed inspection, and arranged to meet him that week.

Champ & The Little Kids

Champ meets the Little Kids in Alabama

Champ’s family was eerily similar to ours — with kids the same ages and adults with shared interests — and we instantly connected. We spent an hour or so talking with Champ’s family about him and their panic and then sadness as they realized the impossibility of his going overseas. He was 2 inches too long to fly in a standard pet crate. He would have to be shipped — at a cost of over $6,000 — with no guarantee that he’d make it alive. They just couldn’t risk his being hurt or killed — at any price — and had put the sale of their home and everything else on the back burner as they frantically searched for a new family for Champ.

We walked to our car, chatting away about how gorgeous, calm, loving, and wonderful Champ was. It was our intention to be thoughtful about our choice and to go back to Tennessee and talk it over before making a decision. But as we continued our walk down the street toward our car, I started feeling a little panicky. That was *my* dog back there and I didn’t want him going to another family. But I squashed that thought.

Until we got into the car and I started to drive away. I made it all of a block before I pulled into a culdesac and took a poll. Did we want Champ as part of our family? Yes. Yes. Yes. YES! I pulled out my checkbook and wrote out a check while Ned called the rescue folks to tell them that we were coming back to place a hold on Champ. That is, if we’d passed inspection. We were told that the family was so hoping we’d want Champ because they wanted him to be with us.

Champ stayed with his Alabama family for a few more weeks, and as the transfer date drew closer, they drove him up to Tennessee to stay. It was a bittersweet day as we welcomed Champ to our home while knowing how hard it was on this family. They clearly loved their dog.

Champ Guards the Landing

Where's Champ? In the way!

Fast forward a year.

I love this dog. But you know that. He sits at my feet as I work and follows me from room to room throughout the day. He guards the house — announcing the arrivals of everyone from the UPS guy to neighbors to Ned as he pulls in from his day downtown — and the kitchen appliances as we cook dinner. We joke that the only answer to the question, “Where’s Champ?” is “In the way.” Because he’s always right where you’re planning to go next.

I sweep up daily piles of soft, Collie fur and cook him homemade food to mix in with his dry doggie kibble. He’s not particularly fond of dog food, but he does love broccoli and burger! We take long walks twice a day — often as a family — and he’s introduced us to just about everyone in our neighborhood.

His previous family warned us that people love Champ and will stop their cars to pet him — and they do. They also warned us that he would be up pacing and panting with every thunderstorm — and he is. We lovingly call him “Champ the Weather Dog” because he can predict a thunderstorm 45 minutes before we get any signs of one. This means we’ve spent many, many stormy nights hanging out in my studio and many, many mornings after napping on the sofa.

Champ Relaxed

Being on duty is exhausting!

Champ’s kept me company this past year as I lost my Grandmommy Wandi, struggled with the decision to homeschool B, and dealt with those daily realities that having four kiddos introduces to our calendars. He’s very nearly my best friend.

So, you can imagine my panic — sheer panic — when we found him non-responsive on Wednesday morning. The faithful guy who tracks my every step wouldn’t open his eyes or lift his head. We determined that he was breathing, but barely. After loads of coaxing and a fair amount of worry, he finally responded and then got up. We took him for his walk and he was slow, but seemed okay. We got home and he took a nap. When I was readying for an appointment, I noticed he wasn’t following me and went to check on him. He was completely out and, again, non-responsive. I could not rouse this dog. I called for help from Ned, the neighbors, and contacted the vet. I planned to carry him — all 80 pounds of him — to the car. Just as I went to lift him, he opened his eyes. I was able to coax him down the stairs and outside.

Once at the vet’s office, he was awake but very, very slow. She examined him, took bloods, and we waited for the results. Everything looked fine. He was incredibly groggy — spreading out flat on the floor even in the ordinarily-fascinating exam room — but we had no explanation.


Wherever we go, he goes!

We did have a $264 vet bill, but — please, don’t tell Ned — I would have paid double that to know that Champ would be okay.

I took my first deep breath of the day.

He has continued to improve and seems about 80% himself today. The vet called to check on him and is just as confused as we are about what caused him to be so — well — so out of it. Hopefully it was just “one of those things” and it will never, ever happen again.

Because, man, I love this dog.


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