Some dogs are simply a rare gift

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As the combine moves across the fields, closing in on the soybean harvest, our English Shepherd posts himself in the best place to observe, waiting patiently, watching the dust fly.

When the combine stops, Billy moves closer to investigate, to see if his services are required. He retreats after the hopper is unloaded, but stays attentive to that combine throughout the long day.

From the time this shepherd arrived here as a gangly pup from a large litter born in Michigan, he has been a wise farm dog. He knew, without ever being taught, to move from the driveway and on to the sidewalk whenever he heard a car or truck arriving in our lane.

He has always known to be close, without being too close, when tractors are working. He seems to understand that tractors, combines, and large grain trucks all mean that work is being accomplished and he might be called upon to help in some way.

On alert

Each day when one of us return to the farm after any time away, Billy feels the need to prove himself a hard worker by running like the wind around the perimeter of the pastures, showing us he was on high alert the entire time we were gone, then running to our side, quietly assuring us that all is well.

He loves helping in the barn, asking only to be patted on the head once in awhile in return for his loyal presence.

Wise namesake. Just 2 years old, this dog is a wise old soul. Named after the English Shepherd with whom I grew up, there are so many similarities it is uncanny. “Young’s Old Bill Blazin’ Anew” is Billy’s registered name, and he lives up to it.

The dog I grew up with had been born in the final litter my paternal grandfather raised, after having been a well-known breeder of English Shepherds from the 1930s through to the early 1960s. One pup in this final litter had too much white on him to satisfy grandpa’s repeat buyers of black and tan shepherds, so the pup was offered to us.

My dad, who never got to name anything, is the one who said, “I am naming this pup. His name is Bill.”

A farm hand from the very start, Bill could sort hogs, sending the fattened to the stock truck, holding the smaller ones back. Dad’s only complaint with Bill in this job is that he sometimes showed a little too much enthusiasm, leaving a nip mark or two along the way.

He knew the importance of bringing in the cows at milking time, and did his job without being told. When the clocks were changed, Bill would become confused and upset with himself as one of us would beat him to the job. That dog would hang his head in shame, as though he had woefully let us down.

Billy aims to please, too. Billy, with a blaze of white on his chest reminiscent of Bill, is harder on himself than we ever would be. He aims to please, loves to work, lives to herd livestock, and will even herd children when the need arises.

My nephew Todd was visiting with his little 2-year-old, Oliver, earlier this summer. We were busy putting in a swimming pool, the open hole of great interest to a little boy. Billy placed himself protectively between the pool and Oliver, his massive body serving as a blockade, moving each time Oliver did.

Billy’s sensible nature is a gift, right along the lines of Miss Murphy, the shepherd who helped raise my children.

There is no gift like that of a wise and wonderful dog. I have been blessed more than anyone could hope for!

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

One Comment

  1. Diane S. says:

    I agree completely with your thoughts for this breed. What a wonderful dog/best friend. We also are lucky enough to have made the choice in having an English Shepherd, couldn’t ask for a better dog, always willing to work the sheep and at full attention.

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