Printed from:

Welcome to Columbia Magazine  

Happy Tail: Sydney, the best dog

Sydney was saved from euthanization by a 'humane' shelter in Connecticut because it behaviorist said there was something she didn't like about the dog. For Peg Schaeffer he's turned out to as 'close to perfect a dog you could ask for.' Now totally blind and deaf, he still makes the best of things. There's a lot to learn from Sydney.
The next earlier Peg Schaeffer column - Happy Tail - Precious, the precosish cat Posted July 27, 2014.

By Peg Schaeffer

In the fall of 2002 while I was still in Connecticut, I received a phone call from a shelter in Newington about an Australian Cattle Dog to rescue. Even back then they were going down South to save dogs from kill shelters and would bring them up North to find homes for them. They had a Red Merle male that had come from the "Dog Zoo", as they called it, in Georgia. Joanne, the animal behaviorist, told me there was something she didn't like about this dog and that if I didn't take him he would be euthanized. Those are the magic words. The next day I drove to Newington to see the dog.

They put me in one of the visitation rooms where I waited to meet this dog that Joanne didn't like. In came a handsome Cattle Dog who so typified the breed. He came over to me, put his paws on my knees and licked my face. I didn't see any reason not to like this dog so I agreed to take him home. He hadn't been neutered yet but I didn't see a reason to neuter him if I got him home and found what there was wrong with him. After two weeks I couldn't find any faults with him so then I took him back to be neutered. His name was "Herda Sheep" and that was changed to Sydney, a good Australian name.

Sydney was as close to perfect a dog you could ask for

Sydney was as close to perfect a dog you could ask for. He wasn't a barker, a biter, a chewer, or a troublemaker in any way. We would take him to horse shows everywhere and he was always well behaved. It didn't take us long to find out that he was also an asset.

We would take Sydney with us whenever we had a horse transport job. He'd ride in the back seat of the truck. He'd stay in the truck while we'd load the horses. If one gave us a hard time that's when we'd put Sydney to work. We'd open the door and he'd follow us to the back of the trailer. Usually it took just a few nips with the right timing and the horse would leap into the trailer. Sydney would get an "atta boy" and he'd go back into the truck. He was smart about not getting kicked. When he'd nip the horse's heel he'd duck so if the horse kicked at him it went over his head. His bite was always quick and sharp, a Cattle Dog trait, and he always got the job done.

Horses became obedient at the sound of his name

At home if I had a horse that would even hesitate walking onto the trailer all I had to do was say "Sydney" and the horse would jump into the trailer. If they heard the tags on his collar they knew they better load pronto.

We had a woman call us once to transport a pony. When we arrived this pony had made up his mind that there was "NO WAY" he was getting into the trailer. This was a valuable pony that was going on trial. After quite a few attempts to load the pony it was time to get the big guns. Sydney knew what to do when the door opened. He started heading towards the pony. The owner was quite concerned. She told us the pony hated dogs and was afraid Sydney would get hurt. I told her not to worry. This pony kicked at Sydney several times, missing Sydney time after time. In just a few minutes the pony leaped into the trailer glad to get away from that dog. And the best part - Sydney never drew blood or even left a mark.

A few weeks later the woman called us again. Would we please go and pick up the pony from where we had delivered it. No one else could get the pony to load. So we went to pick the pony up. He gave us a hard time for only a minute. Once he saw the red dog jump out of the truck he was in the trailer in a flash.

He was a personal body guard

I would take Sydney to horse shows with me all over the east and sometimes Florida. He was a great companion in the truck and stayed at the hotels with me. He would sleep on the floor at the foot of the bed guarding just in case someone would try to get in. Once I was at a show and had left the door open so Sydney could go in and out. I was watching TV and the hotel manager came to the door. Sydney got up and stood between us. The manager took a step inside the door and the hair on Sydney's neck rose and he growled. He made it quite clear that the manager better not take another step.

I had Sydney for about a year when I noticed what seemed to be a cataract in his eye. I took him to the vet who referred him to a veterinary ophthalmology service in Rhode Island. After examination the vet diagnosed him with "progressive retinal atrophy", PRA. The prognosis for Sydney's vision was poor.

Sydney was going blind

This broke my heart. How sad to have such a great dog and he was going blind. The vet told me that dogs aren't like people. They don't feel sorry for themselves. He said Sydney would adapt and his other senses would become sharper. Despite the vet's encouragement I cried the whole way home.

The blindness eventually came but it took a long time. I was very gradual and took a few years. Three years later when we moved to KY Sydney could see shadows. He adapted to his new surroundings in no time. By the time he became totally blind he was comfortable enough to go anywhere with minimum difficulty. One of the most amazing things was his uncanny ability to know if we were going for a ride in the truck or the Tahoe. The truck is a one ton four wheel drive so it's very high off the ground. The Tahoe is much lower to the ground and even has a step. Yet Sydney knew if he were going in the truck he would have to jump high but if we were taking the Tahoe he could climb in easily.

Sydney loves squeaky toys. Since he was blind and couldn't see them he loved the fact he could make noises with them. The other dogs would tease him. They knew he couldn't see so they would steal his toys if he stopped chewing them for a minute. One of his favorite toys was a plush monkey. You could wrap his arms and legs around Sydney's neck and he would bite at it. It had the most annoying "screech" but Sydney loved it and loved to torture us with it.

A dog with uncanny taste

Sydney has uncanny taste. He eats anything that doesn't eat him first. If I get fast food he always gets the pickle. He eats almost anything - lettuce, tomatoes, and any other vegetable you offer him. Of course he loves sweets - there isn't anything he won't eat - except - Pringles. Hand him a Pringle and he'll push your hand away. Not so dumb - he knows they're unhealthy, give him a real chip.

Not long after Sydney became totally blind one of his eyes became swollen. You could see it was very painful for him so I took him to the vet. After examining Sydney the vet said he would be better if we removed the eye. I reacted with a "no way" but the vet made a valid point. He can't see out of it anyway. So Sydney had his eye removed. I picked him up the next day and took him home. Even the next day you could tell he was feeling much better.

Now as Sydney is approaching 14 years of age he has lost his hearing. Despite this he still maneuvers with little difficulty. He knows how to use the pet door and goes outside onto the deck. He knows where the water buckets are and often lays in the sun for fresh air.

There's a lot to learn from Sydney

We can all learn a lot from Sydney. He adapted to every situation and never gives up. He doesn't have self-pity and makes the best of everything. His favorite trick: We keep dog treats in a cupboard in the kitchen. Sydney knows if he can find his way to the cupboard he can have a treat. When I started the game he was given a treat a day. But he changed the rules. Several times a day he makes his way to the cupboard. He stands by the door and barks and barks and barks - until he gets his "cookie". This was only supposed to happen once a day but now it happens 5 or 6 times a day and Sydney won't be ignored. Problem is now all of the dogs know our game. So when Sydney stands by the cookie cabinet and barks the other dogs line up knowing Sydney's going to get a cookie and they want one too.

Sydney's motto: When life gives you lemons - make lemonade! Or find the cookie cabinet.
Peg Schaeffer, Sugarfoot Farm Rescue, 860 Sparksville Road, Columbia, KY 42728 Telephone: home 270-378-4521 or cell 270-634-4675 email:

This story was posted on 2014-08-03 04:27:13
Printable: this page is now automatically formatted for printing.
Have comments or corrections for this story? Use our contact form and let us know.


Quick Links to Popular Features

Looking for a story or picture?
Try our Photo Archive or our Stories Archive for all the information that's appeared on


Contact us: Columbia Magazine and are published by Linda Waggener and Pen Waggener, PO Box 906, Columbia, KY 42728.
Phone: 270.403.0017

Please use our contact page, or send questions about technical issues with this site to All logos and trademarks used on this site are property of their respective owners. All comments remain the property and responsibility of their posters, all articles and photos remain the property of their creators, and all the rest is copyright 1995-Present by Columbia Magazine. Privacy policy: use of this site requires no sharing of information. Voluntarily shared information may be published and made available to the public on this site and/or stored electronically. Anonymous submissions will be subject to additional verification. Cookies are not required to use our site. However, if you have cookies enabled in your web browser, some of our advertisers may use cookies for interest-based advertising across multiple domains. For more information about third-party advertising, visit the NAI web privacy site.