Twirley Jane: The true leader of the pack

There's an old Gary Larson cartoon that depicts a family herded against their will into a tight bunch in their living room by the family dog. The little boy tells his mom he needs to use the facilities. But the circling canine won't allow any of his flock to stray.

The caption reads, "Why stupid people should not own border collies."

My border collie, Twirley Jane, has been driving me in circles for the past few weeks.

I have long suspected she is the smarter of our duo. But I figured the way we met, plus my opposable thumb, gave me the Alpha Bitch status. Lately, Ms. Jane has been resorting to psychological warfare to demonstrate her intellectual superiority.

Twirley Jane and I teamed up in Pasadena during the days I managed a large equine facility. I arrived at the barn one day to a cacophony of urgent pleas from borders and staff. I must "rescue" the lost and starving black-and-white dog.

"She won't let anyone near her. Do your dog whisperer thing," they said.

I'm no canine miracle worker. But I do have a theory about shy creatures in general. Play, but pay them no mind — and they'll be all over you. Dogs. Cats. Kids. Works every time.

Taking a lead rope and a tennis ball, I headed over to the sports field where she'd last been seen. Pointedly ignoring the skulking shadow in the brushy hillside, I began to play with the ball. Eventually, I was prone on the grass, a nonthreatening mass of potential ball-tosser. As I began my third chorus of "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf," a little black nose nuzzled my shoulder. I slipped the lead rope over her head, gave her the ball, and took her home.

I put up fliers, called the vets and notified animal control. But nobody claimed the spooky girl. Since I already had adopted two other hairy beasts who'd been dumped near our stables, I figured Twirley Jane might as well complete our allotment of allowable pets.

A dozen years later, she's managed to outlive the rest of my pack. She's the most loyal and steadfast creature imaginable. When I arrive home, she's waiting on the porch watching over the property — continually watching out for me.

I remember one lonely night in the years between losing the hubby and finding The Englishman, I awoke from a bad dream aching for a hug. As soon as the thought was formed, Twirley hopped up on the bed and pressed her full length against my back. Unbidden. Unexpected. It was the best hug ever.

But now I wonder whether her Lassieness has been an elaborate charade to lull me into a false sense of security. Perhaps she wants the bedall to herself. Or the deed to the house.

See, that's the point. I don't precisely know what she wants — except she's developed an apparent desire to party all night long.

All I know for sure is that she's using sleep deprivation and mind games to break me. And sleep has become as important as oxygen to these aging brain cells.

Twirley's "let the games begin" started one night at about 2 a.m., pacing from side to side around the bed, dog tags jingling, offering breathy little woofs. I awoke to the certain knowledge that Ms. Jane required my immediate attention.

"What is it girl? Everything OK?" I asked.

She gave me a canine grin and wagged her tail hopefully. "Thank God you're awake!" she seemed to say.

I know what you're thinking. Potty emergency.

Since we have a perfectly good doggy door she uses regularly, I figured maybe her cataracts or arthritic joints made the back deck steps seem too daunting that night. So I got up and groped my way to the front door. Only three stairs there. Slipping the locks, I opened the door.

"There ya go, Girl," I said, reminding myself she's 98 in human years.

The Queen of All She Surveys stood peering out into the darkness. Then she looked up at me as if I were an imbecile to think she'd want to go out in the freezing cold in the middle of the night. She moon-walked back into the center of the living room, turned around twice and gave me another, louder, woof.

OK. She's hungry, you're thinking.

Nuh uh. She wasn't hungry. Oh, she deigned to accept a carrot snack. But she wasn't interested in serious vittles.

Eventually, she allowed us to go back to bed. She was snoring in minutes. I was reading for hours.

The next morning I still was scratching my head at her unusual behavior. Concerned, I took my best gal to the vet. Maybe there's an underlying medical issue? Nope. She's fine. Physically.

But a few nights later she was at it again — at 3 a.m. Maybe she has "Sundowners Syndrome," she's anxious about the night in general? I tried to reassure her with gentle pats and comforting words.

"Jane!" I shouted. "You're OK. I'm here. It's all good."

I fell back onto my bed and was almost back asleep when she upped the get-up ante.

Eeeeeeerrrrrrk!!!!!! Like something out of a horror movie, my bedroom door gave off an eerie squeal.

"What's that? Who's there?" Silence, except some steady heavy breathing. Then. Again. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrk!!!

Heart racing, I turned on the lamp by my bed.

Twirley stood nosing the open bedroom door away from the wall, and back again — just enough to make the slow creaking squeak.

"Woof!" she said, wagging her tail. Laughing at me. Reveling in her superior intellect.

Reach Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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