Visitors are rare at the Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue farm in rural Maryland, so when people do come, friendly dogs in the large fenced yard happily greet them. When a FedEx Ground delivery truck pulled up on June 19, there were eight dogs in plain view when the driver opened the gate and drove onto the driveway.
Sarah Ruckelshaus went out into the yard when she heard the dogs greeting the truck. Two of the dogs, Yogi and Scot, ran through the open gate and into the busy road in front of her property.
“By the time I got out of the driveway, both dogs were dead. It happened quickly. The driver watched me pick those dogs up off the road. He watched me, and he did not help me,” said Ms. Ruckelshaus, executive director of the rescue organization.
Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue has found homes for 1,700 border collies since 1997. Some of them have found homes in Pittsburgh. Ms Ruckelshaus has owned Victory Farm since 1995. Some of the rescue dogs live with her and others with foster families.
Although the farm is located in rural Chestertown, Md., the road in front is heavily traveled by vacationers driving to the Chesapeake Bay or to the Eastern Shore communities.
Anyone who opens a gate should immediately close it behind him, even if the yard or pasture is empty. Fences and gates are erected to keep animals -- and often children -- in and to keep others out. There is also a danger to any person who opens a gate to enter a yard or pasture that contains several dogs or large hoofed animals. Anyone could be bitten, kicked or trampled.
Victory Farm gets deliveries all the time. On the day of the accident, FedEx was delivering a shipment of donated dog food. The driver was not one of the regular deliverers.
“Drivers usually drop off packages outside the gate,” Ms. Ruckelshaus said. “Sometimes they beep the horn. They have my phone number and sometimes they call,” and she goes outside the fence to get the package. “Generally people don‘t come here unannounced.”
Four of the dogs in the yard that day are her personal pets. Four were rescue dogs waiting to be adopted, including Yogi, who had been at the farm for more than a year, and Scot, who had been there for one month. Both dogs were red and white, and both were 16 months old.
The border collies are never in the yard unless Ms. Ruckelshaus is home to supervise them.
“Border collies really like to be with their people,” she said. “My dogs are not used to people pulling up the driveway. It was very exciting for them” when that happened on June 19.
I asked her if Yogi had been in the rescue for so long because he had special needs that made him hard to place.
“Yogi was a heart dog,” she said, using the term dog lovers use to describe dogs they especially love. “Every once in a while a dog comes through that is super special. I don‘t keep them, but I place them with someone who lives close enough that I can see them regularly.”
Her personal pets help her herd the 40-75 sheep she keeps at Victory Farm. While that is exactly what border collies were bred to do, most aren’t actually good at it. Yogi, however, was showing signs that he might have what it takes to herd sheep, and that makes his death harder for her to take.
“I don‘t have a solution” for preventing future tragedies, she said. She has dismissed the idea of putting a lock on the gate because that would create a problem if fire trucks or ambulances needed to come to the farm. A volunteer offered to make a sign for the gate, “but I hear people just ignore signs” asking not to open the gate because animals are inside.
She has talked to FedEx officials “and they did apologize,” she said, but they have not given her what she would really like -- a promise that they would adopt a policy that would require drivers to close any gate they might open -- or don’t open it at all.
I couldn‘t get an interview, but here‘s the email sent by the company: “At FedEx Ground, safety is the No. 1 priority. That includes the safety of the drivers delivering FedEx Ground packages as well as our customers and their pets. Accordingly drivers make every reasonable effort to get the instructions of shopper and customer and deliver packages to a safe and secure location, which includes keeping a package protected from the elements.
“For the drivers’ safety, we ask that homeowners keep their animals secure when expecting delivery.
“Customers can easily keep track of shipments on their way to their home by signing up for FedEx Delivery Manager.”
FedEx delivery people aren’t the only ones who open gates and fail to close them. On June 26 the local rescue group Going Home Greyhounds sent an email blast about Hanna, a black and white greyhound who ran out of her yard in West Deer after workers at the home left the gate open. An email two hours later said Hanna was home, safe and sound.
Years ago when I lived in Pittsburgh, I came home from work one day and the gate was open. Big men’s boots left footprints in the snow, up the driveway, through the gate, into the yard to the electric meter and back out again. No harm that time because the dog and cat were in the house. The utility company employee that I spoke to on the phone was completely unapologetic and just couldn’t have cared less that the meter reader could have left my dog in harm’s way.
Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3064. See more stories at www.post-gazette.com/pets -- our new Pets page.