A full circle journey at the Meeker Classic for a Border Collie named Quill | PostIndependent.com

A full circle journey at the Meeker Classic for a Border Collie named Quill

Mary “Maym” Cunningham
Special to The Citizen Telegram
Contributed Photo
Staff Photo |

The roster of dogs at the Meeker Classic Championship Sheepdog Trials boasts a variety of backgrounds and circumstances. They come from all parts of the world, descend from a long line of proven dogs or just possess an innate instinct to gather and move stock. Each will face the same challenge as they walk onto the field at Meeker.

This year, when Angie Coker Sells and her dog, Quill, walk out on the field, it will be a homecoming of sorts. Their story started four years ago during the 2009 Meeker Classic. Angie, a Meeker Classic Champion in 1999, was the judge for the 2009 classic and Elaine Wood was volunteering at Meeker with the Humane Society Rescue Rig.

Some hunters stopped by with a young Border Collie they’d found running loose in the high country above Meeker. His face covered with porcupine quills, the hunters knew the dog needed attention, but found the local veterinarian away for the weekend. Not knowing where else to take the dog and passing by the trial field, they decided to stop in to see if anyone recognized the dog. Upon seeing the dog, Wood, a veterinary technician, knew he needed to see a vet right away. She took him to Rifle (40 miles south of Meeker) to an emergency veterinarian, where they spent almost two hours pulling out perhaps thousands of quills while the dog was under general anesthesia. They covered his face and were inside his mouth, tongue and the roof of his mouth. Needing a name for the dog, “Quill” was the obvious choice and it stuck. Scared, alone and in obvious pain, Quill was a soft, quiet little gentleman through the whole ordeal.

Travelling back to Meeker with Wood, he spent the rest of the Meeker Classic hanging out at the trial field with her and making friends where ever he went. Wood, Ellen Nieslanik and others checked in with local ranchers to see if anyone recognized the dog or claimed ownership. He had a collar, but no tags. Several people came by to see Quill, but unfortunately, none recognized him or had any idea who he might belong to. By the end of the trial, no one had stepped forward to take responsibility for Quill, and Wood had become attached to the sweet, gentle pup. She decided to take him home with her to Greeley.

Over the next several weeks, porcupine quills that had been imbedded under the dog’s skin continued to migrate their way out. One came out from behind his eye and several came out the top of his nose. Two more trips to the veterinarian necessitated sedation to remove a couple hundred more quills. During all of this, Quill never lost his sweet nature and was Wood’s constant shadow, quickly becoming a favorite at the veterinarian’s office.

Months later, having recuperated from the porcupine quills, Quill was showing a natural inclination to work sheep. To see if Quill might have what it took to become a sheep dog, Wood took him to see Angie Coker Sells, who helped train most of Wood’s Border Collies, in Tecumseh, Okla.

Coker Sells saw Quill’s natural talent, and Quill took to life on the ranch. Because he was a fast learner and had plenty of grit, Coker Sells also had to keep an eye on Quill, manage his energy and direct his instinct. It wasn’t long before Coker Sells asked Woods if she might be interested or willing to let her keep Quill. He had all the makings of a great ranch dog for what Coker Sells needed, and she knew he’d be a good candidate for a trial dog.

Wood agreed, and Quill quickly became the “go-to” dog for Coker Sells on the ranch. Willing to work anything — horses, cats, goats, cattle and sheep — Coker Sells preferred he stick with the sheep and goats.

“I am thankful that Quill found his way into my life, first and foremost he’s part of our family and my main helper on the ranch, and will live out his days with us,” said Coker Sells.

Since he’s begun trialing, Quill won an open trial and qualified for the 2012 National Finals, but had to pull out three weeks before competing due to a lameness issue.

Who would have guessed that the young, astray Border Collie, covered in porcupine quills would make the full circle and come back to compete on the same field where he showed up in such need of help? Win, lose or draw, Coker Sells and Woods are thrilled he’ll be back this year. You can watch Quill run on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 5, at the 27th annual Meeker Classic.

Mary “Maym” Cunningham has been the trial director of the Meeker Classic for three years, is the daughter of Rio Blanco County cattle ranchers Mary and the late Bart Strang and niece of Mike and Kit Strang of the Strang Ranch in Carbondale.

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