A Scottish deerhound named Hickory won “best in show” Tuesday night at the Westminster Kennel Club’s 135th annual dog show. It was quite an exhibition of furry friends. Not all dog lovers aspire to such fame, but that doesn’t diminish our deep attachment to canine companionship. In honor of dogs everywhere — from prize poodles to mongrel menageries like my own — here is a story for dog people.
I got to know a young man named Nelson about seven years ago, thanks to dogs. He had just purchased the local Dogwatch Hidden Fence business from a friend, whom he had assisted for two years. Our household adamantly supports both free-range dogs and dog safety, so we have used underground electronic “fences” for more than a decade. Jonathan and I crawled around a mile of field and forest to lay wire around 10 acres when we first moved to Maine, and that is how we met Nelson.
Nelson is a polite, gentle person with a calm presence around dogs and people. It is no wonder that after 300 fence installations he has a 100 percent success rate and has never been bitten.
Growing up in Old Town, he always enjoyed what dogs, cats and farm animals brought to his family and household. Today he shares his home with Gracie, a beautiful young Weimaraner.
Part of what he loves about his work, he told me, is that “when I leave someone’s house I know that I have helped keep a member of the family safe.”
I know there are skeptics, so I will dispel some doubts about boundary collars. I have trained five dogs to our system, and I can honestly say that I have experienced the “correction” shock more times than any of them. Once was on purpose, just to see. The other times were accidents when I happened to have a collar in my hand and wandered oblivious over the line.
My dogs are more astute learners (with better hearing). After a two-week training period — which means, in most cases, one experience of the shock — dogs learn to back off as soon as they hear a warning beep. There are no more shocks, only audible reminders to stay in bounds.
Loose dogs get lost or hit by cars. Dogs chained on a post all day are hardly better off. Keeping dogs secure and free to run on their own property is responsible and loving. It is keeping a member of the family safe.
The fence business is a side job for Nelson, but safety is central to his primary job as well. He has been in the public service field for 10 years, where confidentiality issues dictate that I not publish his last name.
He was happy, however, to share some of his Dogwatch system stories:
Once we called Nelson after a lightning strike. Occasionally, customers get a break in their wire, and Nelson brings equipment to locate it. Our job broke a record for most time-consuming repair. Maybe it was Nelson’s long afternoon of clambering over bracken in the woods that first impressed me. The system’s grounding rod protected our house, but the wire was blown apart in eight different places on its mile-long route.
More than once Nelson has laid lines into water so dogs at camp can swim and stay in bounds. His most surprising anecdote, though, was installing a system for cats, including an indoor unit that keeps them away from a fish tank and a bird cage. In one way or another, he protects pets of every sort.
You don’t meet too many people as happy in their work as Nelson.
“I enjoy all aspects of it,” he told me. “My life consists of helping people and dogs,” which is pretty important. No matter how scruffy, every beloved dog is “best in show” on the home front.
You can find Nelson, March 11-13 at the Sportsman Show in Orono and April 15-17 at the Home Show in Bangor.