Francis Chai wasn't planning to get a dog until he saw his roommate's border collie and decided he wanted one as well.
“I knew these dogs were very smart,” Chai said, explaining why he was attracted to border collies.
But what Chai did not know about border collies, at least not until he saw a program about them on television, is that the dogs were originally bred to herd sheep in the colder, rocky climates of England and Scotland. Not wanting to deny his four border collies - Belle, 15, Chime, 10, Loon, 8, and Mark, 4 - their natural purpose in life, the electrical engineer also owns a flock of almost 50 sheep he's tended at a ranch in Tumalo since 2006.
He also takes his dogs to competitive sheep dog events like a proud parent so they can show off their skills.
“That ruined my life,” Chai joked, looking back on the television program that convinced him to let his herding dogs do their job. “Now, I have a full-time job (as an engineer), four dogs and sheep.”
More than three-fourths of the dog breeds officially recognized by the American Kennel Club fall into the club's herding, hound, sporting, terrier, and working dog groups because at one point in their genetic histories they tended livestock, hunted birds and game, chased down rodents or performed other tasks like pulling heavy objects and guarding their owners.
The jobs of working dogs have changed through the years, but dogs of all sorts continue to work in Central Oregon — whether as a herder, a hunter, a therapist or a TV star — and sometimes those jobs become their owners' jobs as well.
Scott Linden, a Horse Butte resident and the author of “What the Dogs Taught Me,” has one reason why he got his first German wire-haired pointer.
“I lost an argument with my wife,” Linden said before he took his dogs on a two- to three-week hunting trip in Kansas, Nebraska and Idaho. “She wanted a dog and I did not. She won the argument and I got to pick out the dogs.”
Linden said he and his wife chose the breed they wanted when they were walking through a parking lot and saw the tell-tale features of a pointer's face - long, wiry whiskers like a beard and bushy eyebrows - sticking out from the window of a pick-up truck.
That dog was pregnant and its owner, who just happened to be one of his wife's sorority sisters, let the Lindens take home a puppy they called Bill.
Linden watched Bill grow up and go from waddling across the floor to running at full speed across open bits of prairie near his home southeast of Bend. But then one day, Bill did something that Linden did not expect: The dog ran straight across a field of sagebrush only to stop on a dime, lift one of his front paws, stick his tail in the air and point to a pheasant hen that had been hiding in the bush and started to fly away.
“He flushed a bird,” said Linden, who at that moment realized his dog - like Chai's border collie - had a job it was aching to do. “I thought, now if he'll do that for me then I guess I better learn how to work a shotgun for him.”
It's been 25 years since Linden first saw Bill's mother in the back of that pickup truck, and he's since purchased and raised three other German wire-haired pointers. Together they hunt upland game birds such as pheasants, quail, grouse and chukar partridges whenever they can, and Linden trains the dogs to spot and retrieve birds at least five times a week. He talks about these experiences in his book and on his television show, “Wing Shooting USA,” which has more than 60 episodes that air on a variety of sports and outdoors television networks.
“Every dog has its good days and its bad days,” Linden said when asked how his dogs hunt. “I'm pretty happy with how they've done.”
Selina Witt wanted to make a difference in people's lives, and she wanted her dog to help her.
So in 2000, Witt started taking her first therapy dog, a 14-year-old whippet named Prints, to hospitals so they could cheer patients and help them recover from illness or injury. She's been taking her second therapy dog, an 8-year-old yellow Labrador named Mingus, to visit patients at the St. Charles Bend and St. Charles Redmond hospitals as a Pet Partners program volunteer since 2007.
“Whenever (Mingus) sees me put on a certain pair of shoes, he knows its time to go to the hospital,” Witt said, adding her whippet Prints has since retired from his duties as a therapy dog and spends most of his time keeping his favorite pillow from floating away.
When Witt and Mingus visit the hospital, they check in with the floor's nursing supervisor to see if there are any appropriate patients — those who are not allergic to dogs and don't have contagious ailments or open wounds — who would like to be visited by a friendly yellow Labrador.
Mingus and Witt then enter the patients' rooms, greet them with a smile and give each person they visit a chance to pet the dog.
“The patients really light up when they see Mingus,” Witt said, explaining the hospital staff members enjoy the dog's visits as well.
Unlike Chai and Linden, Witt actively sought out Prints and Mingus because she thought they'd make excellent therapy dogs. These dogs must have a solid temperament and be able to express a controlled level of enthusiasm when they see the patient so they delight without overwhelming.
Therapy dogs must also complete a training program with their owners that measures how they would react in a medical setting before their first visit to the hospital. According to Therapy Dogs International, a licensing group for therapy dogs, these tests measure how a dog reacts in certain situations, especially those involving loud noises, how it reacts with children and whether it can move up and down a hallway without getting in someone's way.
“Not every dog can be a therapy dog,” said Witt, who seems happy her two dogs managed to get the job she wanted them to have.
The TV star
Not every dog can be a guide dog either. And yet that didn't mean Bruce Cummings' dog Scout was forced to go without a job.
Scout, an 8 1/2-year-old black Labrador, was bred specifically so she could enter the Guiding Eyes for the Blind guide dog program in Yorktown Heights, N.Y..
But she didn't make the cut - something Cummings said happens to about 52 percent of the dogs that try to become a service dog - and when she was 18 months old joined the Cummings household instead.
Three years later, the Cummingses and Scout were living in Bend when BendBroadband's marketing department was getting ready to launch its “Local Dog” advertising campaign. Cummings said the cable company put out some feelers to find a dog that could serve as the perfect face for this ad campaign and found Scout through one of her trainers.
“We had absolutely nothing to do with this,” said Cummings, who never made his dog complete acting classes or even thought she could be a celebrity until her trainer approached him. “The dog just came with all of these gifts that allow her to do what she does.”
During the many film and photo shoots Scout has performed in as part of the “Local Dog” campaign, she has spent a day chasing after a guy who rode a mountain bike up and down the Tumalo Falls Trail, eaten a bowl of Cheerios, watched television and ridden around in a small toy car.
Cummings remembers one particular film shoot where Scout was supposed to climb up on a small pedestal and flap her ears up when she saw something interesting on the television. But the commercial's producers couldn't figure out how to make this happen outside of attaching tape to Scout's ears and pulling them up with some fishing line and a pulley that hung outside the camera's view.
“She just sat there through the whole thing,” Cummings said. “(I thought) if this dog is willing to climb up a barrel and sit with fishing line attached to her ears, then what the heck, let's let her be on TV.”
Cummings said BendBroadband has switched its marketing campaign to one where the ads are focused on local businesses and he's not sure whether Scout will have a chance to reprise her role as the “Local Dog.” He has spoken with another business that would like to use Scout in its ads, but couldn't say whether that deal will go through.
Though even if Scout's acting career is over, its damage - at least when it comes to Cumming's reputation - has been done.
“(My wife and I) are no longer introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Cummings,” Cummings said about one of the unfortunate problems associated with having a celebrity in the family. “We are now simply introduced as the people who own Scout.”