Literally. His name is Rafa and he’s a 15 month old border collie. Except he doesn’t look much like a collie since he’s mostly black. Rafa likes balls. He really likes them. If a ball is flying, Rafa is close behind. I love Rafa but he can also drive me nuts and make me miserable. He’s not terrifically cooperative. He has his own agenda, and I suspect it usually has to do with balls. I tell Rafa that he’s like a slasher movie. You turn around and he’s there, wielding a ball, although you didn’t hear him come in and you really thought you’d tidied up the balls. Creepy.
But Rafa is cuddly and waggy so more often than not it’s nice to see him. He always greets me when I come in the door, with the most incredible enthusiasm. Sometimes, quite a bit of the time, he even does what I tell him to and it makes me extremely proud. It is incredible to be able to communicate such a lot with such a different animal. Rafa is funny. He seems to have a knack for comically timed yawns. One of his most comical moments, though, is when he does what the trainer calls “wall of death”. This is when, for no apparent reason, he runs around and around at top speed, practically bouncing off the walls, until he wears himself out and collapses in a doggy heap.
Sometimes I think Rafa and I are remarkably alike. Obsessive and compulsive? Check. For Rafa this must surely centre on balls. Nervous? Check. Rafa is nervous around many things, including backpacks. Allergic? Check. Rafa gets hives like me. Overly health conscious? Check. Rafa doesn’t do rain, if he can help it. Prone to ill health? Check. Thank goodness I live around the corner from a vet. Prone to burning ourselves out through over exertion? Check. Please see “wall of death” above. Bit too smart for our good? (I don’t mean to flatter myself because I don’t really mean this in a good way.) Check. Too often Rafa knows what’s coming next, making it difficult to clean his paws, administer medication and generally do what’s good for him.
I’m learning about myself through Rafa. For one, I now know about the limitations of my patience but, more interestingly, I think I’m learning about OCD. It has been fascinating to see just how much of Rafa’s behaviour looks like it is purely genetic. Since the age of five months, when I got him, he has developed many identifiably collie behaviours without having had the possibility of learning them from other collies. For example, he often circles the ball instead of retrieving it as though he were rounding up a sheep. It’s amazing to watch. I have much less difficulty in seeing OCD as, to a large extent, hard-wired into my brain from birth having seen Rafa herd imaginary sheep. Secondly, I empathise with my difficulties by empathising with Rafa’s. Sometimes he works himself into a terrible state over kayaks on the canal. He barks and pulls towards them as though he had rabies or something. It takes all my strength to restrain him. I ask him to sit and I see he tries but he can’t. He just can’t. He sits for a second while crying as though in physical pain then jumps up again. I just have to get him out of there. I could cry thinking about him fighting with himself as he tries to do what he knows he should and fails. It’s like me fighting a compulsion.
So, yes. Rafa, or Rafula as we sometimes call him (think Dracula), is creepy, cute and fascinating. I’m so lucky to have him.