‘Always by My Side’

Rayne, border collie patient of UW Veterinary Care

Patients of UW Veterinary Care have a range of occupations: faithful companions, heroic public servants, and devoted service animals, to name a few. Rayne, a six-year-old border collie, spends her days herding cattle at Sunnybrook Farms in Belvidere, Illinois with her people, Terry and Julie Willis.

An on-farm accident in 2018, however, fractured Rayne’s paw and threatened her leg and her life. But surgery and collaborative treatment at UW Veterinary Care, followed by dedicated aftercare from the Willis family, helped Rayne heal and return to work.

When not tending to cattle, Rayne enjoys visiting nursing home residents as a certified therapy dog. She’s also training in the sport of nose work. Her nurturing demeanor and dedication on and off the farm helped Rayne earn second place in Prairie Farmer magazine’s 2019 Favorite Farm Dog Contest.

“Rayne is really a gift. She will do anything you ask her to do,” says Julie Willis. “We can’t imagine life without her.”

Below, read Julie’s winning essay, originally published in Prairie Farmer, about this kind, resilient canine.

Essay by Julie Willis

Rayne, border collie patient of UW Veterinary Care
A faithful companion, Rayne also nurtures nursing home residents as a therapy dog.

My border collie was aging but I was reluctant to get just any dog. I’m a firm believer in knowing the right dog will find you. So, when my sister called saying she saw a border collie puppy on Craigslist, I said definitely not! Long story short and a 10-hour trip to Iowa, Rayne came to live with us.

She fit right in, shadowed my old dog, learning quickly. We raise and show Belted Galloway cattle, and Rayne always makes sure the show heifers are in their feeding pens, following them into the fan pens. She patrols the fence line, checks gates, and is always by my side.

Her sweet disposition allowed me to train her to become a certified therapy dog. In a care facility, she focuses on the patient, almost melting into them, and will stay with them as long as they like. Little did I know I was getting my own personal therapist in the deal! She was with me and my mom as mom dealt with the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Rayne’s speckled coat absorbed my tears, and she never flinched when I gripped her with one hand, while holding Mom’s with my other.

Shortly after my mom’s funeral, tragedy struck. I was opening a gate to move bulls, when two of them began to fight. Sensing I was in danger in the corner, Rayne rushed in to help separate them. In the fracas, one of her paws was severely crushed. The ensuing infection threatened to take her entire leg.

After two weeks of intensive veterinary care, including a weeklong stay at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s vet hospital, she is fully recovered (minus one toe), and back out helping me with the cattle and bringing joy to nursing home residents all over our community.

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