In her first year and a half of life, poor Pixie was bounced like a hot potato to three different families. Why this happened was a mystery to Charlie Woltje, who gave Pixie her fourth and final home. “She was just so loving from the minute we met her,” he said. “I could never understand why she had been passed around that way.”
Pixie had been left alone for long periods of time in her last home, and as a result had formed some sad coping habits. When Charlie and his wife Mary first brought her home, she tried to drink from the toilet and sneak down to the basement to potty in a corner. But those behaviors only lasted for a couple of days, as Pixie soon realized she would be given fresh water and let outside whenever she needed to relieve herself.
It wasn’t that Pixie had been mistreated, and it was actually out of concern that her previous owner had reached out to a rescue for help in rehoming her. Charlie was worried that Pixie would be terribly matted and tangled when he went to pick her up from her previous owners, but that wasn’t the case.
Charlie said, “I believe they did love her. It was a single mom with young children and a new boyfriend who was supposedly allergic to her, and they really didn’t have time for her.” One of the girls, about 5 or 6 years old, was just sobbing over having to give up Pixie. Charlie said it broke their hearts to see the little girl cry, and twice he asked the mom if she was sure. She replied that she was absolutely certain Pixie needed a new home.
So in January of 2008, Pixie started off the new year with a new life. Charlie expected Pixie to miss her last family, and he had prepared himself for a difficult adjustment process. It was much simpler than that. “She walked into our home and acted as if she had been there her entire life,” he said.
Six-year-old Isobel, Charlie’s granddaughter, may have helped with the ease of Pixie’s transition. Pixie absolutely loved children, and Isobel was exactly the playmate and companion she needed. They soon became best friends and had the joy of growing up together.
Daisy, their son’s older Golden Retriever, may have also helped Pixie to settle in so well. Due to their son’s work schedule, the Woltjes often dogsat Daisy on the weekends. Over time, they all became rather attached to each other – and Daisy eventually started refusing to go home!
Prior to Daisy, Charlie really only had experience with Collies. He was fond of the breed, since both of his childhood dogs were Collie mixes. As an adult in the 1980s, he got his first purebred Rough Collie, Duchess. One wasn’t enough though, and Skippy joined their family soon after. The family Collie of the ’90s was Peaches, another sable and white “Lassie dog” like Duchess and Skippy had been.
Then they went through a long decade without a Collie, until they moved out to the country and got Pixie just a month after. A bonus Shetland pony basically came with the house! The Woltjes also acquired Peanut Butter the cat and a horse called Chester for the little eight-acre homestead. Originally the resident barn cat, one day Peanut Butter strolled into the house, decided she liked indoor living, and took up permanent residence there. Peanut Butter liked Pixie, because Pixie had the good sense to show respect and largely leave her alone.
Chester, Mary’s horse, was soon joined by Sugar, a present for Isobel so that grandmother and granddaughter could take riding lessons together. In the summer of 2012, Charlie started volunteering with Isobel at the local animal shelter, Helping Hands Humane Society (HHHS). As an early retiree, he spent much of his time watching Isobel and was looking for something constructive – besides horseback riding – to occupy an 11-year-old girl.
Daisy passed away that year, which meant they had vacancy to foster a dog. When a man surrendered a Golden Retriever to HHHS in early 2013, the Woltjes agreed to keep Cory until a permanent home could be found. After just 5 days, it was clear he had found his permanent home with them. (Some would call that a foster fail, but it seems like a victory to me.)
The decision to keep Cory was a good one, and Isobel and Pixie certainly approved. About a year after Cory’s adoption, the humane society started a therapy program with select dogs and cats. Pixie and Cory both passed temperament and behavior evaluations and qualified, and soon they were visiting nursing homes and schools and being general “rescued dog” representatives for the shelter at community events.
Pixie even got to go to college during final exams week to provide stress relief to the harried students. Laid-back Pixie was perfect as a campus therapy dog, but her favorite outreach was visiting elementary schools to teach children about pet care and safety. She adored them and was unfailingly patient, and they showered her with petting and attention. Charlie said, “She was just so gentle and loving – especially with the school kids.”
Pixie was the most people-oriented Collie that Charlie had ever owned. While he described all his previous Collies as wonderful, he said “Pixie was the absolute best.” Pixie became Charlie’s shadow, but she never limited her affection to the small circle of her family. She was a social canine who always wanted to be around humans and harbored a special soft spot for children.
Unfortunately, Pixie was unable to be a HHHS therapy dog for very long, as she was getting older by the time the shelter started the program. She also started acting like she couldn’t hear when the Woltjes called to her, and she began pacing a lot. Concerned, they took her to the vet, who believed she was developing dementia.
Thinking it might be helpful for people to know some signs of dementia in dogs, I asked Charlie to describe Pixie’s symptoms. Talking about it got him choked up, and I was right there with him. He said she wanted to go out into the back yard more and more, but she often went to the wrong side of the door. Her pacing and panting increased until it continued overnight. She acted disoriented and stood staring into corners.
The vet had warned them that as the disease progressed, Pixie’s behavior might change: she could become distant and possibly aggressive or violent. While the dementia did take its toll and she was not the same, her kind personality never altered. Charlie said, “She was always a happy dog until her health stared declining, and even then she remained loving – just couldn’t run and play like she loved to do.” (Like many Collies, Pixie was very much a fan of the frisbee.)
Pixie was also being treated for skin allergies and for a couple of years had been taking medicine for arthritis. Perhaps from all the pacing, her hips suddenly gave out. Hoping to give her a boost and increase her mobility, their vet gave her steroids. The Woltjes were helping Pixie to go outside to potty, as she was unable to get up and around without assistance; but after 4 days, she could not even stand on her own.
The question of how to know when it’s time to let a beloved fur friend go is one that every dog owner must eventually face. As Charlie put it, “We are never ready even when they are.” Pixie had quit eating and drinking for the most part. “She was ready and let us know. We could see it in her eyes,” Charlie said. “We helped her gain her wings on February 25th, 2019. She went very quickly and peacefully.”
That day, Charlie posted a picture of Isobel and Pixie on social media with the comment, “We had to let our sweet Collie girl go today. Our hearts are broken, but we know we did the right thing for her.” While words alone cannot ease the pain of loss, many sympathetic people did their best to let Charlie know he was not alone and help him process his grief. In some ways, their comments present a picture of dealing with pet bereavement.
Carol: When I saw you had updated your profile picture I thought, “Oh the loves of your life.” Then I read the posts… Sorry you had to make the decision. Know she is having a ball up there.
Kris: One of the hardest things in life… Sorry for your heartache, friend. She was a lucky dog to find your family!
Roger: She definitely knew love and comfort with you in your home! She will be waiting for you at the bridge.
Stephanie: Oh Charlie, I’m so sorry my friend. It’s an anguish like no other. Praying for peace for you🐾🙏🏼
Jo Ellen: The price we pay…
Charlie: And we would do it again in a heartbeat.
DeAnn: So very sorry…😢 Pixie had the best home ever in her later years.
Carrie: I’m so sorry. I grew up with a Collie named Sunflower who was the sweetest girl. I miss her terribly.
Charlie: Thanks, Collies are pretty hard to beat. She was so sweet and loving.
Sue: Sometimes the right things are the toughest! She was a beautiful Collie. Your hearts will heal over time with all the wonderful memories you have. Sending hugs.
Charlie: Thanks, she was beautiful inside and out.
When Charlie had originally shared a professional-looking photo of Pixie in one of the Rough Collie Facebook groups, a woman had contacted him asking if she could use that picture as a reference for a watercolor painting. Being a nice guy, he said yes. And being a nice woman, when he posted that Pixie had passed, she sent him the painting free of charge.
When I questioned Charlie about his favorite memory of Pixie, he said it was difficult to pick just one. “To me, her legacy will be her love for life and everyone she ever met. She never showed one ounce of aggression to any person or animal in all the years she was with us. We got to enjoy and love her for 11 of her 13 years, and she knew and gave love every day she was with us.”
Isobel, who is now a busy college freshman, wrote this when I asked what Pixie had meant to her:
“When my grandparents first got Pixie, I remember being so excited. I had only ever been around smaller dogs (who weren’t so active), and I was excited to finally have a dog to run around and play with. Almost immediately, I developed a strong bond with Pixie, and from then on we were always pretty close.
I spent my summers and days after school at my grandparents’ house, so it felt like Pixie was my dog just as much as theirs. I would run through the grounds with her for hours, wearing both of us out. My favorite thing to do with Pixie was to go on hikes with her and my grandma.
Pixie was an incredibly sweet dog. Seemingly able to tell if you had a rough day, she was always there to rub against you and lick your palm in an attempt to comfort you. She was a special dog, and I miss her very much.”
On the anniversary of Pixie’s passing, Charlie posted a heartfelt social media tribute to Pixie. It made me cry. Naturally, I chose to include it here so you can also cry.
To our dear sweet Pixie,
Today at 12:20 P.M. it will be exactly one year that you closed those beautiful eyes for the last time. I told you then what a sweet and wonderful girl you were and how much you were loved and would be missed. A lot has changed since we said our goodbyes, but none of that has. We still love and miss you every single day.
We will forever remember that day 12 years ago when we picked you up at the family’s home who could no longer let you live with them and weren’t even sure how old you were… Thank you for the 11 wonderful years of love and devotion you gave us. It wasn’t enough; but you were tired and ready to leave this world, and we could not let you suffer. We will never forget or stop loving you, sweet Pixie.
Until we meet again,
Today, Charlie is on the board of directors at Helping Hands Humane Society. He continues doing therapy dog visits and shelter events with Cory, who is now 8 years old and has his Canine Good Citizen certification. According to Charlie, Cory is “more obedient and apt to learn tricks,” while Pixie was more lovey, desirous of attention, and prone to follow her people around – wherever Charlie was, so was Pixie.
Like Pixie, Cory has a great temperament, and he has maintained a relationship with Peanut Butter the cat. I asked Charlie if he thought they would get another Collie in the future. He replied, “We are getting older and one dog is plenty for us, but you never know – if the right one came along. We love the breed dearly.”
But Collies are not very common in Kansas anymore, and shortly after we initially talked, the dog that came along for Charlie and Mary was another Golden Retriever. Rascal had been a breeder dog, and the older couple who owned him were going into a nursing home. The family took him to a veterinary clinic to be euthanized, but the vet refused to put Rascal down since he was only 7 years old and still perfectly healthy.
Instead, Rascal went to Ann’s Angels Canine Rescue, and Charlie and Mary saw his picture on their Facebook page. Knowing older dogs can have a hard time getting adopted, they decided to give Rascal a new life. “We weren’t going to get another dog, but we felt like he needed us,” Charlie told me. Rascal is now learning all about things he had no previous knowledge of – including treats. “He sure knows what they are now!” Charlie laughed.
When I asked Charlie what he would tell someone who is considering rescuing a Collie or any dog, he said:
“From my experience with the humane society, the most important advice I can give is be patient and give them time to adjust. Some adapt right away as both Pixie and our Golden boy Cory did, but not all do. Help them be successful in their new home. Do not set them up to fail.”
To support the good work done by Charlie and his fellow volunteers at HHHS in Kansas, follow the link to learn more about donating time or money. If you’re considering adopting a Collie or other animal, check out our Collie rescue directory or go to the Rescue Me website where you can search by species, breed, and state. Also, you can simply share this story to raise awareness of pet rescue!
Some comments have been edited and condensed for clarity.
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