Sunday, July 6, 2008


A hot, sunny day in Toronto. The second week of July and we have had few of these so some kind of primal impulse demands: Off to the beach!

Or, this being Toronto, off to the Beaches .. or is it the Beach? Let me explain. So Toronto sprawls along this puny body of water known as Lake Ontario, something like 7,000 square kilometers of water, smallest of the Great Lakes, separates us from the USA ... it's just a lot of water, ok? Toronto has something like 46 kilometers of waterfront but when people say the Beaches they are usually to referring to a stretch of public beaches, east of Yonge Street. For as long as I have lived in Toronto we have called this neighbourhood the Beaches but now, for some reason, they want us to call it the Beach ... Miss Hayley cocks her head and looks at me and says "Sand, water, the swimming dogs I refer to as Water Sheep .." and she begins trotting herself to the subway.

The Beaches have two "off leash" areas, where dogs are allowed to run at large. Dogs running at large is a big issue in Toronto. We have traffic jams, pollution, escalating gun crime, crumbling infrastructures, cops being busted as dope dealers, people who can't afford food and rent in the same month ... and the city government is obsessed with dogs running around without their leashes. In point of fact it is illegal for dogs to be on any beach in Ontario (unless designated leash free) even on leash. Something about maintaining some kind of environmental status. On hot days in Toronto your eyes tear and your lungs burn but dammit, we don't have dogs on the beach ... but I digress. This isn't about politics, it's about border collies on the beach.

So paranoia about dog poop aside, there are a few off leash areas in the Beaches. One is a large fenced in area at Kew Beach, where the shoreline is mostly gravel, there are a lot of weeds growing around, and the sand is more gravel ... all of which concerns Miss Hayley not a whit. There is water here. And rocks. And Water Sheep. Understand: Miss Hayley has never actually seen a sheep. This is a working dog that took a very early retirement .. like at birth. So, dogs are sheep, animals of lesser intelligence whose sole purpose is to be herded. Mind you, in Hayley's world, pretty much everything alive is an animal of lesser intelligence. Including me. But her food comes in bags, and I have thumbs and access to scissors, so she tolerates me.

If you have watched some of the other Miss Hayley videos on this blog you have seen several shots of her wading around in the water. Wading is the operative term. Hayley does not swim. Oh, Hayley can swim, and she swims quite well. If Collette or I are swimming she will go out with us as far as we go; you can grab her by the base of her tail and she will pull you through the water; she is a strong swimmer. She can swim but in true border collie fashion she just chooses not to. It may have something to do with not liking when her feet leave the earth. Border collies are swift, agile, nimble runners, if there is nothing solid under one's paws, you are not running ... that would not be logical. So, when the Water Sheep are foolishly venturing out into the deep water, our border collie's herding technique changes from gripping (a grip is when the border collie turns her head, opens her mouth, places it around the shins of the animal being chased, then swiftly closes her jaws, causing the sheep to lose its footing .. this is not biting .. oh no .. this is gripping ...) to loudly barking. Incessantly, loudly barking. I am not sure what Miss Hayley is saying when she does this, perhaps something like: "You do realize, I know you are coming back, so you can't lure me out there, and when you do get back, boy are you getting bitten .. er .. I mean gripped"

When one owns the world's only Water Sheep herding dog, it is refreshing to watch other dogs playing; yes, playing. Humans throw balls into the water, the dogs swim into the water, dogs fetch the balls, dogs return the balls to their humans. This is not Miss Hayley behaviour. Humans throw spherical objects into the water, Water Sheep think about swimming into the water, World's Smartest Dog lunges into the water and turns the Water Sheep back towards shore, leaving spherical object to bob in the water, forlorn and unfetched. World's Smartest Dog smugly lays on the beach, surveying her masterpiece of mayhem.

Though, it should be noted here for the record, Miss Hayley actually waded into water, put a ball in her jaws, brought it back up the beach and dropped it at my feet. But surely this was not fetching. This was tennis ball herding. With a very special grip. Um .. sure.

Miss Hayley is adept at herding all kinds of critters. Here she has just successfully herded a hairy video editor who, in turn, apparently just herded a runaway sandal.

After a long and arduous day of Water Sheep herding what is a border collie and her pack leaders to do? Well, obviously, they go have a beer. Well, the humans have beer. Miss Hayley has hand baked goodies from the Three Dog Bakery called Pup Tarts ... I know, I know, so please stop snickering.

Here is the little video I made to accompany Collette's photos. In the long shots you will see what we Torontoians refer to as "haze". Everyone else calls it smog. Ah, well, it was still a great day. Music is .. hell, you'll know it ...

Miss Hayley on the Beach from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

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