(My apologies for the lack of photos with this post. I am one place and my discs and flash drives are in another. I have time to post now, but by the time I am reunited with the photos, will not have time to post. Story of my life. More pics later. Promise.)
To say Jamie was the reason I started camping would not be the entire truth but he was the driving force behind my decision to start sleeping outdoors like a gypsy in a tent on show weekends.
By the time I started showing him in obedience and agility, I was still showing Connor in both as well. Double your fun! Double your entry fees! Run out of money twice as fast! This was back in the day when there wasn’t an agility trial on every street corner and we frequently had to travel out of state to run. That meant overnight stays and that meant motels and that meant bills that added up in a hurry.
So several like-minded friends and I decided we would try camping. Heck, we'd been Girl Scouts once. We could still pitch a tent and set marshmallows on fire with the best of them. You could get a tent site for around $20 a night at most campgrounds and we could put more than one tent on a site. Sure beat $70 or $80 bucks a night for a motel.
Yes. Tents. Not RVs. If we could have afforded RVs, we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place. For the better part of 15 years, a band of friends and I camped at state parks, county conservation areas, forest preserves, KOA campgrounds and sometimes, at the show sites themselves. It was always an adventure, juggling the economics of where we could pitch our tents against the degree of comfort the amenities offered. Sometimes the economics were great and the amenities were lacking, but the dogs didn’t care if we had hot showers or not.
Jamie loved camping. He love to lay and look out the tent door, and when it got dark, he loved snuggling up on the air mattress while I read by lantern light. I loved being surrounded by the smell of warm dogs and the soft sounds of their breathing. I will always cherish those moments at the end of the day when the shelties and Jamie and I — and later, Phoenix — curled up and fell asleep together.
I always felt safe with Jamie there, no matter if we were in a crowded urban campground or a remote forest preserve. Even though he could be a complete goofball, he had a presence that made people think twice before they did something stupid. Many dogs have this, by merit of their size, but I always felt Jamie projected an aura of thoughtful watchfulness and a quiet but unarguable willingness to rise to the occasion as needed. He had this effect on other dogs, too, and could defuse a canine challenge with a posture or a glance.
One of my favorite Jamie stories happened when we were camped at an agility trial site one summer weekend. We’d settled down for the night and I was half asleep when footsteps approached the back window of my tent.
“Shannon? Shannon, is that you?” a voice whispered as a strange face pressed against the mesh.
Jamie thought this was highly inappropriate. He launched, snarling, at the window and stopped a fraction of an inch from the mesh, teeth snapping and a growl rumbling in his chest.
I could hear footsteps hastily retreating and an agitated voice calling out “THAT’S NOT SHANNON!”
Jamie gave them a volley of barks for good measure, then flopped back down next to me, content that the invaders had been repelled and perimeter was once again secure.
The next day, I located the real Shannon, whose tent was on the other side of the agility fields, and we had a good laugh. To this day, we still joke about the “That’s not Shannon!” incident.
Another time, I camped by myself at a county fairgrounds on the outskirts of a town for a UKC obedience trial. It was a remote location but there were a few other campers scattered around the site so I wasn’t totally alone. In the evening, I was sitting in front of my tent, reading. The shelties were in an x-pen and Jamie was sprawled in the grass nearby.
Two guys stopped at my campsite as they were walking past. We made pleasant idle talk for a few minutes and it was clear they were not connected to any of the obedience trial people. I’m not a suspicious person but something about those two guys made me a little uncomfortable. My grandmother would have called them “shifty” and “up to no good.” They seemed particularly interested in my van and its contents.
The polite small talk ran out fairly soon but they seemed reluctant to leave. Finally, one of them walked toward me and asked, “Do your dogs bite?” He was looking at the shelties.
Without a sound, Jamie stood up and stepped in front of me. He was totally quiet. His hackles were up. His lips were drawn back just enough to show fang.
“Yes,” I said. “They do.”
I’ve never seen two guys find somewhere else they needed to be so fast.
Aside from being my protector, Jamie was not above occasionally using his size for his own ill-gotten gains.
One year we camped near a lake for an early fall agility trial. The weather was unusually warm and late in the afternoon, a group of us took our dogs down to the water to swim and fetch bumpers.
Jamie loved the water. He never swam but loved to splash in the shallows. If there was a body of water available, he was in it. Creeks, streams, lakes, ponds and wading pools meet his approval. Bathtubs did not.
That afternoon, he played along the shoreline and waited for the labs and PWDs to swim out a distance and get the bumpers. When they got back to shallow water, he waded in and took them away.
Never a growl or overtly pushy body language. He just splashed up to them, chomped onto the bumper, looked the other dog in the eye, took the bumper out of their mouth, then ran around with it like it was his idea in the first place while they all chased him. I put an end to that game shortly after it began because it was admittedly rude even though the other dogs didn’t seem to mind and everyone was having a grand time.
When I think of my favorite times with my dog friends, those camping trips always come to mind – walking the trails, playing in the lake, sitting around a campfire, reading by lantern light – always with Jamie next to me.
Next: the power of the nose.