The Texas Pack

The Texas Pack

By G. S. Norwood

Here at Weird Sisters we love dogs. We thought our readers might like a glimpse of the characters that make up The Texas Pack who lives with me.

Yes, author Jan S. Gephardt spent several years researching canine cognition before she wrote What’s Bred in the Bone. As readers of her blog know, animal cognition is an emerging field of study. Every day we learn new things about how dogs and other animals experience and process the world they live in.

But she’s not the only author writing about dogs (Ace the Hell Hound in Deep Ellum Pawn is just one small, opening example). And you can’t write a convincing dog story unless you also know dogs on the day-to-day basis of living with a pack.

So let me introduce you to The Texas Pack.

Tam, the Gentle Ambassador

Gigi's dog Tam looks up from the chair where he's settled.
Meet Tam, not sure about the photo Gigi’s taking. (Photo by G.S. Norwood).

Found as a stray puppy and raised in a no-kill shelter, beautiful Tam is a perfect example of the way black dogs are often overlooked. He was three years old when I adopted him, shy, and largely unsocialized.

It took months for him to realize that the strange, whirling things overhead in the house were just ceiling fans, and not dangerous. More months still to work up the courage to walk down the hall and around the dark, scary corner that led past the furnace and the water heater into the kitchen.

Now, eight years later, he’s the gentle ambassador for The Texas
Pack—the first to greet new pack members or foster dogs, and happily secure in his house, big back yard, and place of honor on the foot of the bed.

Gigi's dogs Kata and Tam stand near each other in her back yard.
Kata (see below) and Tam look as if they’re having a conversation. (Photo by G.S. Norwood).

Designer “oops”?

We believe he was bred to be a designer dog, back when labradoodles were all the rage. Some backyard breeders were experimenting with border collie/golden retriever crosses.

They may have dreamed of beautiful, brilliant gold and white dogs, but genetics will beat dreams every time. Solid colors are dominant over two-color or tri coats, and black is dominant over gold.

So these amateur geneticists wound up with a lot of large black crossbreeds who look like Tam. He may not be gold and white, but we still think he’s beautiful and brilliant.

Chess, the Warrior Dog

Chess goes into a typical border collie "stalk" to check out some anomaly in Gigi's back yard.
Whatever it is, Chess is checking it out. (Photo by G.S. Norwood)

Life is weird. Chess should have spent his life herding sheep and lording it over a farm somewhere. Instead, this smart, scrappy, independent-minded border collie found himself in an animal shelter at the tender age of four months, sick, hairless, and miserable.

I can never resist a challenge like that, and I’d just recently begun volunteering for a border collie rescue group. I offered to foster him before he was tagged as too sick to be adoptable and put on the euthanasia list.

Chess figured he’d found his forever home by the end of that first week. It took me another nine months to admit that he was right. The hair loss turned out to be allergies.

Now Chess, aka Warrior Dog, is always at my side to protect me, even if I do insist on trying to comb and clip the mats out of his long, beautiful coat.

Sheriff Zoe

Zoe is the undisputed Queen and Lawgiver of The Texas Pack. (Photo by G.S. Norwood)

If you’re detecting a distinct border collie theme in The Texas Pack, it’s probably because Jan and I grew up under the watchful eye of Penny, a border collie our mother rescued the year before Jan was born.

That classic black and white look became the subconscious archetype of “dog” for me. I’ve had other breeds, but there’s just something about a border collie that rings all the bells and checks all the boxes for me.

So, when my ancient and beloved border collie Liam died at the ripe old age of 18, I went looking for another black and white dog to share my home with.

I figured a female would be gentler to sweet, shy Tam. When I was asked to help transport a young female from a shelter in Oklahoma, I was happy to get an advance look at a dog who was skinny, stinky, but classically beautiful.

Forget “foster failure”

Zoe and I met in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart in McAllister, Oklahoma, and it was pretty much love at first sight for both of us. Zoe sealed the deal by curling up next to me as we drove south in my old pickup truck.

When we crossed the Red River, Zoe heaved a huge sigh of relief, and relaxed into deep sleep with her head on my leg. Whatever her origin story, she was glad to be a Texas girl.

By the time I got home, I was on the phone with the rescue group coordinators, confessing that I was not only a foster failure, I was a transport failure.

Zoe races to decisively take care of whatever-it-is.
Sometimes the Sheriff has to put on the lights and sirens and just GO. (Photo by G.S. Norwood)

Queen and Lawgiver

In the years since, Zoe has established herself as the Queen and Lawgiver of the pack, ruling over Tam, Chess, and whatever foster dogs might wander in and out of the house.

I have learned that Zoe has a special bark that means, “Come here. I have a situation I need your help with.” When summoned that way, I’ve come to expect I’ll find Zoe has backed some hapless foster dog into a corner and is holding him “under arrest” until I can deal with the trash he has spread all over the kitchen or whatever other rule infraction he has committed.

As smart as she is beautiful, Zoe has earned the title “Sheriff Zoe” a hundred times over.

Subtle, versatile Kata

Two views of Kata, each in a different mood.
Gotta watch the K-Girl. She’ll charm your socks right off. (Photos by G.S. Norwood)

Kata doesn’t look much like a border collie, until you start looking for examples of smooth-coated sable border collies.

Yes, they exist, and they pretty much look just like Kata. In fact, Kata is a tri-factored sable—a genetic mix where a whole bunch of recessive traits come out to play.

Although she doesn’t have nearly the herding drive Chess has, Kata is a master at using her southern belle charm to sugar people into doing her will. I was definitely not looking for a fourth dog when I agreed to foster Kata.

This photo captures Chess and Kata at a full run, playing with each other.
Chess (at L) and Kata (at R) like to try to psych each other out on the run. (Photo by G.S. Norwood)

A “done deal” before she knew it

But, like Chess, Kata took one look at my house, yard, and dog pack, and decided she had found her forever home. Still a pup at seven months, Kata wormed her way into Tam’s heart, then made a pact with Zoe not to challenge the Sheriff’s authority.

Finally, she set her sights on winning Chess over, and would not let up until she coaxed him to play with her. These days, outdoor time isn’t complete unless Chess and Kata get in a vigorous game of “cut off and herd,” zooming all around the yard.

Beyond her powers of persuasion, Kata has another skill: she can climb. Fences? Furniture? Window sills? No problem. Trees? Piece of cake! Never underestimate the subtle power of the K-Girl.

Yes, Kata really does climb trees. Here she's about five feet off the ground in the crotch of a tree in Gigi's back yard, looking very pleased with herself.
Of course she climbs trees. Why wouldn’t she? (Photo by G.S. Norwood)

IMAGE CREDITS: All photos are by G.S. Norwood. Please feel free to reblog or use these photos, but only with an attribution back to G.S. Norwood as the photographer, and hyperlink to this post if possible. Thank you!

Read a bit of fiction about a dog (and many other interesting creatures) in G.S. Norwood’s acclaimed novelette Deep Ellum Pawn. If you love reading about super-smart dogs in speculative fiction, try Jan S. Gephardt’s novel What’s Bred in the Bone.

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