Epitaph to a Guardian

 

 

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Big showshoe paws

plod plod across the lot

broad polar bear head

eyes squinted in a smile

tail curled nearly spiraling

swinging in a rhythm

 

Bear

a perfect name

for this snow-white Anatolian

Guardian of flock and home place

Chaser of rabbits and coyotes

Collector of carcasses

In his prime

suddenly cancer eating his bones

pain and stiffness

he doesn’t deserve

Goodbye gentle Bear

I am glad

All dogs go to heaven.

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A Job For Every Dog

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Country dogs have lots of jobs. They are herders, protectors, guardians, security, companions, and even babysitters. Here at C & S Border Collies we have all types of dogs with all types of jobs.

My husband Chris (the “C” in C & S) and I have been raising and trialling Border Collies for nearly 30 years. We have had the privilege of sharing our home and our hearts with many dogs; most of them Border Collies who herd our sheep. A Border Collie’s job is pretty obvious. But what about the other dogs we’ve shared our home with; like the little house dogs or the oversized guardian dogs?

What kind of job do these guys have?

Lately I’ve been wondering (sometimes a scary thing!) about that question. Does every dog really have a job?

One answer, an obvious one, is yes, every dog gives us humans pleasure in one form or another. Our Border Collies make the task of gathering the sheep very easy. Simply watching them cast out, cover the whole group, and bring them to us is a pleasing sight. The guardian dogs make it easier to have a good night’s sleep when we know they are on the watch for predators. Even the yappy house dog, who welcomes us home with so much joy, who sits in our laps and begs for our attention, makes for a pleasing companion.

I say that every dog has a higher calling than simply that of giving us pleasure. I say every dog has their own unique job and it’s our job to figure out what that is.

To prove my point, I invite you to join me as I share stories about our ranch dogs – large and small – and what I have discovered about my relationship with them. Many times, as I examine my life with each dog, I’m amazed to find that there are layers of interaction that I never appreciated until I started paying attention.

I’m going to start, not with one of the working dogs, but with Lucy.

The first time I saw Lucy she was peering out the driver’s side window of my daughter’s truck.

I watched warily as Jennifer got out, holding a black and brown sausage in her arms.

“I found her down the road,” Jennifer said, adding hastily as her father approached, “She was sitting in a box by the road, with her brother.”

My immediate thought: where’s the brother?

“He was dead. I couldn’t just leave her there.”

Her eyes were on me, but her words were directed at Dad, who refused to take in any stray. Beside the fact that we already had too many doggy mouths to feed and care for, a stray could potentially pass something dangerous to the other dogs.

I was unable to resist the sharp little nose and liquid dark eyes peering out from beneath Jennifer’s arm. The little dog was incredibly cute, with brown points, pert hound dog ears, and bits of white on her chest, feet, and tail. One hundred percent mutt, she was shaped like a dachshund but with longer, stouter legs and a broad forehead that indicated Corgi perhaps in her lineage.

I reached out to pet her and she licked my hand, her whole body wriggling.

“She’s yours if you want her,” Jennifer said, handing her over. “If you don’t,” this with a glance at her dad, “I don’t know what I’ll do with her. I just couldn’t leave her.”

She was little but stout and tense in my arms. I fell in love immediately but waited for Chris’s verdict. When I heard his exasperated sigh, I knew she had touched his heart too.

So Lucy joined the gang. She is mostly black and that’s about all she has in common with the Border Collies. She stays in the kennels with them, runs in the dog pasture when everyone is let out, goes on walks down the road with everyone, and plays with puppies until they get too big for her to knock over.

We were inseparable from the beginning. Lucy follows me around as I do chores and will sit with me on the porch when I relax for a minute. She’ll even be brave and ride the four-wheeler with me even though the noise makes her want to head to her pen.

Lucy is a contradiction of a dog. She has a timid side, yet will run down a rat and kill it, or bravely step out to investigate a snake. She is shy around new people, coming to stand close to my leg at their approach. Then, like a switch, she goes over to sniff an ankle and lick a hand while enjoying a pat. She’ll chase things I throw but won’t bring them back, although she wants me to throw them again.

The sheep and chickens scare her and it’s one of the rare times when she wants me to pick her up. But then as we drive them out to pasture, she’ll run full speed through the sheep, scattering them, and then race back to me. She is full of energy to the point of hyperactivity yet will melt onto her back for a belly rub.

Her favorite thing is to run. Full speed, racing around trees, up and over the porch; circling back to zoom past me. She will run full speed to me and then spin in place like a top at full speed. She’ll do this over and over again and then stop with her tongue hanging out, sides heaving, and lips pulled back in a happy smile.

So what exactly is Lucy’s job? She gives me pleasure, but all the dogs do that. It finally came to me one morning, listening as she crunched a dog biscuit. Lucy has the most satisfying crunch when she eats something hard. I can’t help but pause to enjoy the sound of her chewing. She’ll glance up at me with twinkling eyes, jaws moving, and her pleasure is plain to see.

That’s when I knew what job she has. Lucy’s job is to let everyone know what a joy life can be.

That’s it. That’s her job. Lucy leaps into every situation, every opportunity, with enthusiasm, excitement, and curiosity. Every situation is a chance for her to live full speed and take from it the joy available. She only sees positives, even in stressful times. She trusts that I will keep her safe whether it’s from the sheep, the chickens, or the cat sitting in her way.

Every day when we’re together doing chores, I have opportunities to laugh with delight at this crazy dog, running full speed around and around the greenhouse, then stopping at my feet to look at me with her happy doggy grin.

Her job? Show me, and the people who share her with me, that there is joy waiting to found in every situation. To not only find that joy, but revel in it; let happiness fill me instead of worry, doubt, and fear.

I’m not a person who thinks of a dog in human terms; they think differently than we do. they act like dogs, not like people. Lucy comes by this joyfulness naturally. She can’t help but look for the happy things around her, just like a Border Collie can’t help looking for something to herd. And Lucy’s humans, me especially, are privileged to receive that joy.

To have such a fine example of how to enjoy life and accept the joy found in it is something I am truly grateful for.

What about your dog(s)? Have you figured out what their job is? Let me know. And let me know what you think about Lucy and her job. Please leave a comment, and feel free to share Lucy’s story with your friends.

Watch for my next story, this time about a Border Collie and my husband the handler. Thanks for taking the time to share my story about Lucy.

  

 

 

 

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Alpha Dog

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My husband, Chris, is clearly the alpha dog in our pack of Border Collies. He takes on this role naturally and the dogs don’t have a problem with it. Each acknowledges his status as leader; acknowledges and accepts it as the normal course of things.

It is vital in a pack to have an alpha; one who keeps the group strong and in order. Chris demands obedience from the dogs, but only after demonstrating how to obey.

When they go out to work stock, the dog waits on Chris to go through the gate first; then walks beside or slightly behind on the approach to the stock. But what appears to be submission is actually respect; at a command the dog is off on his outrun and the fun commences.

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                                  A Border Collie exists to work stock. 

Working stock is a partnership. Chris demands compliance to his commands in the field, but will allow the dog to dictate the flow if he demonstrates a sense for the task on hand. Chris celebrates the intelligence of the breed by allowing the dog to work out some situations by himself. What an awe-inspiring sight to watch dog and handler move the sheep in a choreographed manner across the field.

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Watch Chris in the pasture with the dogs scampering around, totally ignoring the sheep scattered in the field. Then, with a shrill whistle, all the dogs drop to the ground. The dog whose command Chris uses next will launch himself from the ground and take off around the scattered flock. The other dogs stay where they are.

If you look closely, you can see their bodies twitch in envy as they watch the chosen dog gather the sheep. The restraint shown here is an indication of the intelligence of the breed. But it also shows the deference shown to the alpha leader; a deference that extends back to their wild ancestors.

 Off the field, the lines are more ambiguous. Chris keeps a ready supply of balls for one of the pack’s favorite games. He is still alpha, even in play, but here you can start to see the other dynamics of the pack.

Tweed is second in line of command; although as he gets older and slower, Cooper is beginning to push his boundaries. More and more often he gets to the ball first and brings it back to Chris for another throw. The two younger dogs, both female, stay on the edges of the game, circling and dodging the older dogs. Belle, however, will take advantage of a moment of distraction to grab the ball and take off. She brings it right to Chris to throw, even though she knows she will probably not touch it again.

I am a recipient of the pack’s respect. I think I’m looked at as more like the alpha dog’s favorite; tolerantly obeyed because it makes the top guy happy. When I play with them, however, the ball is never brought right back. I have to follow the ball holder around a little before he will drop it. Just a small act of defiance; enough to show that they know who I am and my place in the pack.

 Who is alpha in your pack? Tell me about your dogs in the comments.

 

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The Koi Pond

I released the koi back into the pond today. I scooped them out of their temporary home in one of our sheep troughs, toted them carefully out to the yard, and gently held each fish in the water until it recovered itself and swam off. Then I sat back with a glass of wine and watched them explore their new world.

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The koi and their pond are one component of our porch-side aquaponics system. Their function is to look pretty while producing waste which provides nutrients for the plants in grow boxes connected to their watery home.

Last spring, my husband came up with an excellent idea: put in a koi pond. It sits at the end of our porch; a place where we spend a lot of time. He dug out an old garden plot, put in a liner, and filled it with water. I bought fish and added them; a total of seven koi and several goldfish. Oh, and two goggle eyed goldfish, courtesy of my son and his girlfriend.

I came up with the idea to incorporate the pond in growing vegetables. My husband and I were both intrigued by aquaponics – using fish water to irrigate and fertilize plants. I encouraged him to have two grow beds built and we ran pipe from the pond into the beds.

20150201_175949[1]Putting the liner in the grow beds

 We put in the grow beds, lined them, filled them with lava rock, a barrier cloth, and soil, and planted vegetables. It worked great; the plants grew quickly and soon we were eating radishes, cilantro, banana and jalapeno peppers, and were looking forward to juicy tomatoes. 

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The beginning of beautiful tomatoes; in half the time!

                                                           

 

 

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          Successful aquaponics!

Nasty green water! Where have the fish gone?!

20150502_195157[1]Then our inexperience caught up with us. The water that was supposed to be cleaned by the rocks in the grow boxes wasn’t coming out so clean. In fact, it began to turn green. Algae had bloomed big time. We fought it the rest of the summer, never quite getting ahead of it. Too much sun; too warm temperature of water; not enough agitation; we struggled with it all. Finally, we decided to drain the pond, dig it out deeper, and start over. Our thoughts were that the water might stay cooler and so less conducive to growing the nasty green stuff.

It’s been a long two weeks of draining, digging through almost solid rock, and cleaning out grow boxes and filters. But the pond is finally back together again. The koi are back where they belong and the grow boxes are ready to be planted. This time, we are going to load them down with plants; our theory being that more plants will mean more cleaning of the water, more consumption of nutrients, and less algae. I hope we are on the right track this time.

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Ready to try it again!

 I intend to enjoy the pond and my fish for the rest of the summer and into the fall. By the time winter blows in I hope the beds will be full of healthy plants and the fish will be fat and happy. If there’s another setback, we’ll just start again. Half the fun with a project like this is the tinkering. For now, I’ll sit back and enjoy the flash of gold and white scales and the music of splashing water.

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The One-Legged Quail

We lost the one-legged quail today. I took him to the brush pile so he would be cremated. I couldn’t allow a varmint to dig him up or eat him.

That quail lived a long time. His leg was taken off when he was just a youngster and he lived his life with a stump. It slowed him down some and he was prohibited from living a regular quail’s life, but nevertheless he endured. His life was a testament to tenaciousness.

The little quail’s death hit especially hard because he was the last living reminder of a good friend who died a few months ago. James was a dairyman who lived about two miles down the road. My daughter milked for him and took care of the rest of his animals: chickens, ducks, pigs, and the quail. As often as I could, I visited the dairy; pitching in by washing eggs or feeding.

James was a man with big dreams. He had grand plans for his little farm. The quail played a minuscule part in that dream, but he had his appointed role in the scheme of things. James called him his “guard dog”; at night the quail raised a ruckus if anything came around the yard. Then a burst blood vessel cut our friend’s dreams short.

The dairy shut down right after James’ death; all the animals were sold. Saying goodbye to our friend went from difficult to impossible, as we saw all his dreams dismantled.

My daughter brought the crippled quail home. No one else would look after him. To me, the tiny bird stood for a little piece of our friend living on.

He didn’t have a wonderful life; with only one leg he rarely got out of his cage. But he sang nearly every morning and chittered softly whenever we went by. His attitude was always upbeat, and he gave me pleasure just caring for him.

Then one day, he was still, lifeless, and silent. Perhaps the heat was too much for him. Or it was just his time; he was three years old by then.

Losing the little guy was sad. Hardest to take, though, was losing this last reminder of my friend. It brought his loss back to my mind to be felt all over again. I have good memories of James; stories to relate and episodes to relive; buckets and tubs and milk jugs as reminders. But the empty space his death caused is a little larger at the loss of the quail.

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Hello, my name is…

Hi, I’m Sally, a country girl whose passions are writing, border collies (and dogs in general), goats, writing, sheep, chickens, and writing. I teach pre-k at a small school three miles from home. Summer is my favorite time of year, go figure. I’ve published two novels, both romantic suspense, and am working on a third plus a science fiction series.

I am new to blogging and hope to learn about it. I love to write about anything; in fact I have a journal for my koi pond, for my goats, for my garden, and one just for random thoughts. My presence on social media needs serious work, and I’m hoping by learning more about what a blog should be and how to use it, I can open myself up to more people and maybe interest more readers.

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A Little Excitement vs. The Right Man?

How many of you, like me, crave a little excitement in life? Of course, if I got my wish, I’d probably run the other way. But I know there are more like me out there. What about the “good girl from the good family” who keeps going for the “bad boy”? That situation seems to repeat itself again and again. I went through it in my early years. The attraction to someone who doesn’t fit the slot that parents have picked out for us. I know the guy was not the best choice in a date, but once you got to know him he turned out to be a creative, intelligent, rebellious, yet gentle guy.

Now that I have a daughter of my own, I feel for my mom who must have worried those nights I didn’t come home until after curfew. According to her, my husband was not the type of man I should have married. When she met him he was impetuous, headstrong, and fiercely independent, all traits I found fascinating. But she eventually admitted to me that I’d made a good choice. And he has turned out to be the best partner I could ask for. Goes to show, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

In my novel, “Lunch Date”, I explore this theme with my main characters Meagan and Jack. Meagan is quiet and sweet and firmly grounded to home and friends. Jack is a mystery through most of the book. Is he a criminal using Meagan for his own ends? Or is what she sees in him the actual man; deeply committed and loyal and tenacious when it comes to something – or someone – he cares for. He’s the type of guy I would forbid my daughter to see, but could I be mistaken? He’s rough and ruthless at times, but there’s a gentle, genuine side to him. That guy I would have no objection to. But who can tell? Like my mother did before me, I will just have to trust that my daughter’s choice is a good one – and watch anyone she dates like a hawk watches a chicken in the pasture. Let me know your take on the attraction for the “bad boys (or girls)” in your life.

If you’d like to read a story about my fantasy with an excitement-filled life, check out my book, “Lunch Date”, found on Amazon and other booksellers, or from me, txthomson@yahoo.com.

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