Wagger Athlete: Blaze

By Phyl Newbeck
Reader Athlete Editor

Breed: Border collie
Age: 3
Residence: Winooski
Family: Viola Chu, Tom Kennedy, Zeke (Border collie), Pika and Fiddler (cats)
Primary Sport: backcountry skiing

VS: How did you get your name?
B: I’d like to say it’s because I’m so good at blazing a trail, but the truth is my first humans named me for the white stripe on my forehead. Here, I suppose it makes me a Long Trail dog.

VS: How did you end up with your current humans?
B: I think I overwhelmed my first humans with my apparently over-exuberant nature. Come to think of it, that’s how my buddy Zeke got thrown out of his first home, too. Glen Highland Farm, a Border collie resettlement agency, hooked me up with my present humans who thankfully thought that plowing through a foot of powder would be a good use of my energy.

VS: Have your people been taking you out on the trail with them, and letting you use that energy?
B: They’re pretty good about that. We’ve had some awesome backcountry ski days together. At one point, the snow was so deep I actually let them break trail for me. Sometimes the humans go to places that don’t allow dogs, and I have to stay home. They make sure they don’t get back too late, so they can give me some quality time. Personally, I think they feel a little guilty when they go out without me, so I milk that to my full advantage.

VS: What are some of your favorite trails?
B: I really like going out on the Catamount Trail. There are some nice sections that aren’t too far from our house. We go out on some of the trails near Mount Mansfield, as well.

VS: What do you like best about backcountry skiing?
B: It’s not that I’m not a social dog, but it’s cool to be out in the woods with so few distractions, both human and canine. It’s enough to make me forget that I live in the city.

VS: Border collies aren’t as common in Vermont as Labs and other retrievers. Why do you think more people don’t share their homes with Border collies?
B: I have no idea. I see those other breeds on the trail with their humans and the people are all spread out. I would never allow that to happen. Humans aren’t sheep, but they can still be herded and it’s important to keep them in close proximity to one another. It’s not safe to leave them out on the trail on their own. They’ve only got two legs and can’t move that well.

VS: What about your legs and feet? Do you pick up a lot of snow when you’re out in the winter?
B: No. My humans are very smart. They put a wax called Musher’s Secret on my feet, and I never pick up big snowballs between my toes like some other dogs I’ve seen.

VS: What do you do after the snow melts?
B: My people like to go hiking, which is also a lot of fun. I like that when the snow melts, I get to eat all the great things that were frozen in the snow all winter.

VS: Where do you like to hike?
B: I think the Camels Hump area is my favorite because there is a lot of variety. I’m also very fond of the Long Trail.

VS: Do prefer hiking in snow or on dry ground?
B: You’ve skipped one option. When there’s no snow on the ground I get to play in the water, and I think that’s what I like best. I love to check out beaver ponds. My humans call me “Swamp Thing.”

VS: Do your humans keep up with you?
B: They’re good people, but I have to be honest, they’re a little on the slow side. They’re particularly bad on icy trails, which are so much fun to scoot down. They stop and contemplate their next step, while I just skitter on down. On the other hand, I’ve seen other humans who are much slower than they are, so I can’t really complain. Besides, they carry treats and this really cool portable water bowl, so they’re very useful to have along.

VS: Tell us about the cats you live with. Do you tolerate them?
B: They sleep a lot, so I don’t really mind them. The main advantage is that I get their food when they’re not looking, and cat food is so much more exciting than dog food.

VS: So is there truth to the rumor that you drink cat food-flavored water on the trail?
B: I’m not ashamed to admit that’s true. Sometimes I’m having such a good time when we’re out on a hike or a ski that I don’t want to take the time to drink water. I mean, there are places to go and scents to sniff and branches to drag. But my humans dissolve some cat food in water for me and it tastes so good that I’m willing to take a break and drink.

VS: Would you like your humans to get some real sheep for you to herd?
B: Definitely. One of my humans knits, but that’s the closest I get to them. I was bred to herd sheep and sometimes I wonder if I’ve missed my calling. On the other hand, I think I do a good job of keeping the humans together on the trail. True, they’re not sheep, but sometimes I pretend they are when they’re too far apart, and it’s almost as good as the real thing. Please don’t tell them I said that.

Phyl Newbeck

Phyl Newbeck lives in Jericho with two spoiled orange cats. She is a skier, skater, cyclist, kayaker, and lover of virtually any sport which does not involve motors. She is the author of “Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving.”