In 1997, a young 13-year-old boy began to tell his story to strangers he met online. This was before Facebook, before Twitter, before newspapers were beginning to race to get the news out before Internet venues had it shot it out into cyberspace. This is how the man now accused of credit card fraud and animal cruelty began his journey.
The term blog was coined in 1999. Twitter was founded in 2006. Facebook was founded in 2004. Wikipedia launched in 2001. The discussion board Yahoo groups was launched in 1998.
In 1997, cyberspace conversations between people with similar interests took place on listservs, usually based on university computer accounts. That's when a boy began to tell his story to fellow collie lovers.
The boy was Nicholas Patterson; the first archived message found on the Farm Collie listserv was dated 2 August 1997. By August of 1997, he'd been on the Collie-L listserv since May. He posts again the next day and his story is sad: His first collie was named Lassie but wasn't registered and had been purposely hit by a drunk driver one night.
A few days later, 7 August 1997, he again introduces himself. He lives in Alabama on 200 acres in Alexander City. His first collie was run over. He had a German shepherd that had saved him from downing. Three years before, that dog was put down. He had a collie named Lucky that had mange and bad eyes.
His current dog is Happy. Happy, however, isn't happy. He hasn't been eating lately. But last night things improved and, something unusual for a young man, Patterson writes "praise the Lord."
Then Patterson lists his accomplishments. He's a student at Alexander City Middle School and he active in clubs with leadership positions. One almost wants to hear from his band teacher and the 4-H club advisor.
In all, he writes seven messages including one to advertise dogs for sale for a friend--no name for that person.
There are not messages until 5 October 1997 (Sunday) when his dog Happy was hit by a car on Friday. The surgery was going to cost $1750 and would be done in Birmingham, Auburn or Tuskegee. He had posted on Collie-L. He told Happy's breeder and she came with another puppy, Pal.
On 15 October 1997, Jan posts the following: " I heard from Nick this morning and Happy made it it through his surgery with flying colors and will be coming home next Monday. Someone from the Collie list came forward with the money to pay for Happy's operation and Nick really appreciates everyone's help and care. I know the purebred dog fancies frequently get slammed for all kinds of pettiness and the Collie fancy certainly comes in for it's fair share of nastiness - so the next time someone says something underhanded about collie people you can instead think of all the great people who have helped out Nick and Happy."
Patterson returns to the listserv in November. He describes the injury of Happy, but also says that he's going to pay for it himself, with computer work. He writes: "I am 14, and I am taking care of a dog that just got hit October 3, and had to have the ball off of his femer, his pelvis was broken in 4 places, his right knee had 4 chips, and his pubic bones were broken. He got out of the kennels :-( I have always been responsible enough to take care of my dogs and I will ALWAYS! I am going to pay for Happy's sugery my self..The bill is $1500... I do web pages and I fix computers so.. it might not be long on that.."
Patterson also declares that he takes really good care of his dogs and has taught his seven-year-old cousin how to feed, clean and gently train dogs.
There seems to be a contradiction between what the person Jan posted and what Patterson posted in November.
What happened on the Collie-L listserv might be interesting. So far the only one person from the Collie-L has come forward to comment on record: Joan Hamilton of Colliewoode Productions. In an email, Hamilton explained that her company and the associated websites "we've had connections with Lassie since 1995 and been blessed to have a number of line dog descendants as our pets."
Hamilton further recalled, "The internet was young when Nick was 13 and there was a collie email list called "collie-l" that most of the collie community gravitated to. Nick appeared on the list and told the story that he was breeding authentic line dog descendants of Lassie for sale. Needless to say he was quickly exposed by me as that not being the case. If I remember correctly he changed his story to his dog's name was Lassie."
Hamilton then added that his story on the Collie-L list serve was much the same as it was on the Farm Collie listserv. She wrote, "I don't know if he actually even bred collies back then but he did say he got a collie pup named Happy and shared pictures of him. Not long after that he told people that Happy had somehow had a terrible accident and was hit by a car and needed surgery which he didn't have the money for. I don't know if anyone ever sent him any money. Shortly after that he got a second collie pup."
Another source, who wished to remain anonymous, thought a collie breeder from Texas had paid for the surgery.
The internet gave Patterson a way to enter into the collie world on a broader scale. His ability to build websites also must have come in handy as older collie people were grappling with the new technology and possibly technophobia. Nick Patterson became Nic Patterson and eventually the center of a horrific story about championship level dogs starved to death in Alabama.
If you were on the listserv for either Collie-L or Farm Collie in 1997 and remember these incidents, please write to me and tell me of your experiences and memories of a young precocious Alabama boy named Nicholas Patterson. You can reach me about this and other stories at Jana.Monji@gmail.com.