Meet Howard and Piper of Sheltie Planet
Here's the story of how I came to meet my Shelties; the silliest, fluffiest, funniest, noisiest dogs I've ever known.
I discovered Shelties in 2008, when I emigrated to New Zealand. My partner, Pete, and I moved into our first home together and we decided to get a dog.
We researched lots of breeds: Border Collies, Old English Sheepdogs, Pomeranians, Leonbergers, German Shepherds, Pyrenean Mountain Dogs, and Samoyeds. As you can probably tell, we were always destined for a lot of fluff.
Two fateful things happened next. We were leaning towards Pete's dream dog—a German Shepherd—but our landlord said big dogs were off the table. So we narrowed our search to smaller breeds that wouldn't tear the house apart (or, perhaps, scare our landlord when he came to visit). This led us directly to the magnificent Shetland Sheepdog.
Once I saw the pictures and learned about the breed, I set my heart on adopting a Sheltie. I scoured rescue listings and private sales but they turned out to be very unusual dogs in New Zealand.
Eventually I tracked down a breeder within driving distance. To my surprise, she just so happened to be homing a litter of Sheltie puppies that next week. But my excitement was short lived. The breeder told me that all of her puppies were destined for families who had signed up months ago. She said she might have another litter next year if I wanted to wait.
We were so eager to get a dog that waiting a year for a breed I'd never met actually before seemed too much. Perhaps a Sheltie just wasn't meant to be?
We had even found a litter of Rough Collie puppies—surely the next best thing to a Sheltie—when I got a call from the Sheltie breeder.
One of her buyers had broken her ankle and was postponing her puppy plans until the next litter. And just like that, "Toes" was ours if we still wanted him (so named for his little white socks on each paw).
I was so excited. We drove down to her kennels a few days later to meet the little fella. He was even more gorgeous in real life, and holding him for the first time felt surreal. We brought him home that same day, and settled on the grand name of Howard Woofington Moon.
Little Howard didn't leave my side for the next three days straight. I could see he was scared and vulnerable having been parted from his littermates. And he peed everywhere. My work as a writer fell by the wayside, and I spent the next solid week playing with Howard and cleaning up his emissions.
Howard was the first ever puppy of my own, and I was pretty overwhelmed at the amount of attention he needed. I thought this must be what it's like to have a newborn baby. (Two children later, I can have a laugh at that.) But at the time, it felt like we'd taken on a huge responsibility without knowing what we were really getting into. I learned the reality of puppy ownership fast.
Luckily for Howard, he was completely and utterly loveable. And as he settled into his new family, he grew increasingly bold and curious. He began to explore further and further away from me, learning all about his new house and garden with all its strange objects and smells.
He played with lemons in the garden, pulling them off the tree.
Soon, we began to take Howard out on social trips, where he met lots of new people. Everyone wanted to hold and stroke and play with our gorgeous little puppy. He was just adorable whatever he did. He was amazing.
After Howard had his next round of vaccinations, we started taking him for walks along the beach. Even as a tiny pup, he loved to bound up to far bigger dogs and invite them to play. And he didn't hesitate to run up to strangers. This was definitely not the shy Sheltie dog breed I'd read about.
Howard rapidly grew into a confident teenager. Here he is in his gangly coyote stage, right before his thick double coat came in.
And here he is at one year old, looking like the classic English-type Sheltie we all recognize. Totally handsome and confident to boot. Check out these photos of puppies growing up to see the transition in detail.
Along Came Piper
Let's wind back a tiny bit. When Howard was nine months old, I emailed his breeder with some up-to-date photos. I mentioned in passing that we would love to have another Sheltie some day. I didn't expect her to call five minutes later and offer us Howard's brother.
The breeder had kept his brother to be a show dog, and perhaps to breed down the line. Piper was extremely eager to please but had also grown up to be extremely nervous. This is not unusual in Shelties, who are very sensitive dogs. Piper wasn't going to handle the show dog lifestyle at all. He needed a loving family where he could feel secure. Would we like him?
Pete and I mulled it over for a day but deep down we already knew the answer. Of course we would have another Sheltie. We went down to the kennels the next day to meet our second Sheltie baby.
Since they were half brothers, I was expecting to meet a dog very similar to Howard Woofington Moon. I had a vision of him looking just like Howard but in denim dungarees for some unfathomable reason. But the moment I laid eyes on Piper, I realized he was completely different to our bold Howard. When Piper caught sight of us, he crouched up into a tiny ball like a hedgehog. Terrified and anxious, he tried to melt himself into the grass so we wouldn't see him. Here he is a little later, having developed the confidence to sit up.
Howard, on the other hand, was busy peeing on the breeder's foot.
We introduced the boys, who responded to each other with pricked ears and high tails, whiffing each other's faces and butts. Howard had a little something to prove, being the boss and everything, and Piper let him do all the talking. From then we knew they'd get along great.
We took a tour of the kennels and met the boys' father, Storm, who was a real handsome devil like Howard. We met a dozen other beautiful Shelties that day; by then I was obsessed and it was an enormous treat to meet so many of them. I was in Sheltie paradise.
The journey home was scary for Piper. He sat tensed and scared on my lap. He threw up twice as well. I did everything I could to reassure him, but, besides the car sickness, he was just so scared of everything.
Life got a lot better for Piper after that. Reunited with his brother, he settled into his new home with tons of love and affection from us. The timid little guy found his voice too. When anyone asks if Shelties bark a lot, I just look at Piper and he immediately proves my point.
Piper had a gorgeous habit of howling like a baby wolf when the answer machine went off. Sometimes we went on big hikes into the forest and howled ourselves, so Howard and Piper could really go for it. It was such a great feeling when we all howled together. We were like a bunch of wild animals.
Piper was the perfect lap dog. You only needed to make eye contact across the room and he'd sit up immediately, ears pricked, tail wagging, waiting for you to invite him up. He's still the smartest and most sensitive dog I've ever met, reading facial expressions and responding to my gestures.
Our Shelties excelled at teamwork. When they were young, Piper used his nose to open sock drawers, and Howard used his teeth to displace the contents around the house. It wasn't unusual for visitors to see Howard proudly trotting into the living room with my underpants in his mouth.
When Howard and Piper were four, they welcomed our first child, Fox, into the family. That's right: in our house the animals get human names, and the humans get animal names. That's just how it's done.
Later, when the dogs were ten years old, we had another baby, Kea. The Shelties were so gentle with her, and put up with a fair bit of vigorous patting and fur pulling in her toddler years. They adjusted to our growing family so well, and by 2019 when Kea was born, our unit was complete.
But, inevitably, it didn't stay that way forever. It was in early 2021 that we lost our lovely Howard. He was a grand old dog of 12.5 years when, on top of his arthritis, he developed congestive heart failure. Saying goodbye to him was one of the worst days of our lives. We think of Howard every day, and are making the most of the time we have left with our beautiful Piper.
Howard gave us years of joy and, I hope, we gave him the best life possible. Among many things, he was my first puppy, the inspiration for Sheltie Planet, and the reason we found Piper. I still love him to bits.
Perhaps you have a young Sheltie of your own, and such times feel a million miles away. Good. Don't waste precious time worrying about how it will all end. Enjoy every moment with your Sheltie, knowing that the connection you have will imprint on you both forever.
Sheltie Planet is dedicated to our courageous, hilarious, playful, wave-chasing, food-centric, scruff-loving Howard.