Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Virginia Morell & Buckaroo

Who is in the photo at right?

Virginia Morell. I'm a correspondent for Science magazine, a regular contributor to National Geographic and other publications, and the author of four books. My latest, Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures, came out last month. I'm with Buckaroo, our 6-year-old male American Working Farm Collie, or more simply, Scotch Collie.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

We stopped by Noble Coffee Roasting, 281 Fourth St. in Ashland, one of our favorite coffee houses, for an energy hit before taking a hike in Oredson-Todd Woods.

What's brewing? Any treats for you or Buckaroo on this occasion?

I'm having a Cafe Mocha using Noble Coffee's "World Tour Blend"; my husband (not pictured because he was taking the photo) had a cup of French pressed Kenyan "Kia Oro."

We're about to devour the chocolate and apricot croissants. Buck would like to sample both, but because chocolate can make dogs sick, we'll only let him taste the apricot one.

How were you and Buckaroo united?

We wanted a mixed collie pup after our first dog (a collie, Australian shepherd, husky mix) died, but couldn't find one. So I googled "mixed collie puppies" one day, and up popped a site about American Working Farm Collies, and the farmers and ranchers who are trying to bring back a healthy, working farm collie (like the original Lad and Lassie). There were links to breeders; some were in Oregon, but all their puppies were already spoken for. I eventually found a breeder and goat farmer (Angela Smith of CartAngel Acres) in De Queen, Arkansas. She had a banner on her website--"Our American Idol Puppies Are Here!"--which made me laugh. She'd named all the puppies after some of the more famous American Idol contestants. There was something so touching and funny about that, I thought she must have good dogs--and she did. She wasn't running a puppy mill. She had one sire and one dam (and they were both working dogs, caring for the goats), and this was their second litter. It turned out to be their last, too, because the dam died two years later. Angela picked out a puppy for us and sent us his photograph showing his "cheesy smile," as she called it, and as strange as it sounds--we fell in love with him.

How did your Buck get his name? Any aliases?

His breeder, Angela Smith, named him Reuben for Reuben Studdard, the American Idol contestant with the big-hearted smile. She told us her pup Reuben had that same sunny, "live-happy attitude"--and he does-- but we decided to rename him; maybe it was a way of making him our own. We chose 'Buckaroo' because it's an Oregon name, and captures his happy, energetic spirit--plus the "roo" at the end reminds us of Reuben. We call him Buck most of the time, but also Bucky, Beautiful Buck, Mr. Buck--which sometimes, when he's being particularly mischievous and playful, gets transformed into Mr. Bugs.

Does Buckaroo have a favorite place to go for outings?

One of his favorite hikes is along Clay Creek in the Oredson-Todd Woods [photo left]. He meets many other dogs, including some of his best dog-pals, on this trail, and the forest is rich with the scents of squirrels, deer, foxes, black bear, and cougars.

Does Buck do more to help or to hinder your writing?

He is essential to my writing; he keeps me grounded, and makes sure that I take breaks. Usually he lies at my feet, patiently waiting for me while I write. But if I'm in danger of spending too much time writing, he gently nudges my hand away from the keyboard. Buck has also given me "story material"--things he's done or adventures we've had together have led to some of my best stories. He's one of the main reasons that I wrote Animal Wise--I wanted to know more about how he and other animals think; what their emotional lives are like; how they experience the world.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

Buck loves tennis balls, especially the four that fit into the mouth of one of his stuffed toys (the Big-Mouthed Dog); with that toy, he can carry four balls to us. He has two favorite stuffed squeaky toys, "Santa Teddy" [photo right] and "Mr. Bill".

Buck loves fetching sticks, and often brings us sticks on our hikes to throw for him. Sometimes when he's trying to get another dog to play with him, he'll pick up a stick and toss it around, and then let the other dog steal it from him.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

His breeder told us that it was a farm collie's nature to protect any animals that his/her owner cares for. We put out peanuts-in-the-shell for our resident Steller and scrub jays, so Buck guards them as if they were his flock. He's always on the look-out for neighborhood cats and chases them out of our yard. But he doesn't chase our own kitty, Nini. He likes the postman because he often gives Buck a biscuit; also, Buck helps to carry in our mail (it's one of his jobs), and we give him a treat, too. He likes to chase squirrels in the woods, but has never caught one; we don't want him to, and call him back from any chases that look as if they're not going to end well.

Who are Buckaroo's best pet-pals?

He loves Maya, a Bernese Mountain Dog, that a neighbor owns. They played together as puppies, and adore each other. He also is fast-friends with Kobe, a pit-bull mix, and he absolutely hero-worshipped Blue, a beautiful golden retriever, who (it breaks my heart to write this) died just a couple of days ago. We haven't been to Blue's home with Buck since Blue passed away; I don't know how Buck will respond. I'm sure he will wonder "Where is Blue?"

What is Buckaroo's best quality?

It's hard to pick one. Buckaroo is such a good, loving, loyal, and protective pal, and he has such a sunny, happy personality. He loves to make us laugh.

If your dog could change one thing about you, what would it be?

He would change the amount of time I spend sitting in front of my computer; if it were up to Buck, I'd probably be at my desk for 1 hour a day, and 8 hours in the woods, instead of the other way around.

If Buckaroo could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him?

What is it like to see through your nose, to see the world via scents and odors? I know he's reading intriguing stories with his nose, but I can only guess at them.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Buckaroo could speak, who should voice him?

Sean Connery.

Read more about Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures.

--Marshal Zeringue


  1. I love that you feel in love with Buckaroo like that and the way you write about him makes me curious to read more of your work - thanks! PS You're right...he's more a Buckaroo than Reuben but I get why the Reuben name was choosen too :) - thanks for the post!

  2. Loved to read your thoughts about buckaroo. I have a dog too and he's like my best friend. Thanks for sharing the blog post.