It began with a fluffy puppy named Patches.
Bette Green had never had a dog before, not even as a kid. But with two children of her own, she and her husband, Walter, were looking for a family dog.
"I just wanted a small, low-maintenance dog; and my mother-in-law bought us an Old English Sheepdog puppy. That was Patches."
Green knew nothing about the breed, and did not know that Patches was going to turn out to be the opposite of her wishes.
Small? Old English Sheepdogs grow to be 60 to 100 pounds, with a height of 22 inches and up for the male. Low-maintenance? Old English Sheepdogs are "very high energy," Green said. "They're just active all the time. They're herding dogs; they want something to do."
They're also high maintenance in terms of grooming; they can grow very long coats, with fur covering the face and eyes. "I tell people, you either need to know how to groom or you need to have the money to have somebody do it."
There was one more thing she didn't know at the time: that she would grow to love that dog so much.
"We were absolutely hooked," Green said.
They got Patches in 1985. While he remained strictly a companion dog, Green got involved in obedience and conformation competition with her second Old English, a show dog. She remained involved in that world for two decades or so, then got involved in dog ability.
"I'm still involved somewhat in conformation, but my real love is the agility world, so that's what I compete in now and that's what I train," she said. Behind her home in Falcon is an indoor arena for agility training.
It was at a conformation show in California - "probably '98 or so" - that she came across an Old English Sheepdog rescue. There was no such group back in Colorado that she knew of, so she decided she needed to go home and start one herself.
Green founded Old English Sheepdog Rescue of Colorado Inc., in 1999. While she obviously saw a need for such a group, she figured it would not be overly busy. The Old English Sheepdog, after all, is not a breed you see that much out and about, she said.
But the need was indeed out there - and greater than she figured. For the first 15 years or so, the group took in, cared for and adopted out 40 to 50 dogs a year. "That's a lot for a breed-specific rescue," Green noted. Things have slowed down in recent years - until this year, when the pace picked up again.
Today, she typically learns about dogs in need through email and the Internet. In the beginning, though, she contacted shelters in the area and elsewhere in Colorado "to let them know I was out there, Green said. They would contact me if they had a dog or let other people know. I would go and take the dogs in, same thing I do now and evaluate them, see what they need medically do they need shots, spay or neuter."
There is typically a need for grooming as well. Once the dog is determined to be healthy and ready for adoption, the search is on for a suitable home. Green has volunteers and facilities that provide boarding or fostering during that search. While Green runs the rescue group and handles intake and placement of dogs, she doesn't do fostering herself. "I just find it's too hard on my own dogs to have dogs in and out," she said. (Green currently has three Old English Sheepdogs.)
Funding is always a challenge. Caring for the dogs, particularly those with health issues, can be costly. The group's annual picnic in September includes an auction, and sometimes the group produces and sells a calendar. Green has "a solid group of 15 volunteers that are always involved and always helping" and a broader base of supporters she can turn to in times of crisis. And those who adopt a dog are asked to make a $300 donation.
The stories don't always have a happy ending. One dog that was rescued from a shelter in Denver was thought to have kennel cough, but it turned out to be canine influenza. "Just a wonderful, wonderful dog," Green said - but one that required extensive care, culminating in the use of human injectable drugs to clear its lungs. But once it was placed and taken off the drugs, it got sick again and had to be euthanized.
Such stories are overshadowed by "lots and lots" of happy endings, by the stories of dogs that find a perfect home and owners who fill a hole in their heart with the perfect dog. That's what keeps you going," Green said.
To learn more about Old English Sheepdog Rescue of Colorado, visit http://www.facebook.com/groups/oescolorado/.
Bette Green started an Old English Sheepdog rescue in 1999 after falling in love with her first Sheepdog. She now has three two of them shown in this photo. Photo by Bill Radford