“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring — it was peace.”— Milan Kundera
I was raised a dog lover. Maybe it is born in to us, or maybe it is nurtured in us. Either way, I cannot even begin to imagine a life without the company of dogs.It was a quiet, gray, drizzly day; the kind so much of our summer has featured this year. I was standing on our back porch, watching the small herd of Holstein heifers in the pasture.On duty.
Our English Shepherd, Billy, in that tuned-in way he has, was suddenly aware I was watching. He came cruising from the barn and decided to show off a bit, running full-speed along the pasture fence line, letting out two little barks at the cattle, as if to say, “I’m watchin’ you. Don’t try anything tricky.”
What Billy didn’t seem to notice is that he was being followed. The 2-month-old English Shepherd pup, sired by Billy, paid close attention to all of this.As Billy sauntered on back to the barn, the male pup we call Beckett sat down, facing the pasture, and took it all in. I saw his head tip one way, then another, as he watched the Holstein heifers.
The pup took a step or two forward, getting closer to those cows.Instinct. He seemed drawn to them, unsure as to why, but he couldn’t take his eyes off of them. It runs deep in his blood to herd, to watch over, to protect, to correct.
One of my favorite keepsakes is a black and white photo of a little boy, about age 2, wearing a dress coat and hat, his tiny hand lovingly placed on the head of an English Shepherd sitting next to him.
My dad and the dog he grew up with, Major, stand in front of the Victorian house my ancestors built, and the English Shepherds grew right along with the family farm.
As friends have pointed out to me, the breeding of this line remains so true to this day that the dog in the photograph could easily be one of ours.When my dad was 10 years old, he rode a pony to the far pastures of the farm to bring in the milk cows each evening. Major always went along.A horse had gotten in with the cows and Major was trying to herd only the cattle, holding the horse back. The horse didn’t like being told what to do, and as it made a quick turn, it kicked out, striking my dad hard enough that he was thrown from the pony. His leg was broken badly.
Major, unwilling to leave his boy, also seemed to know if the cows turned up right at milking time, all would seem normal. The herd dog continually circled that herd, not allowing them to move forward, while sorting the horse out of the herd. The pony stood still over the injured rider. Major began barking a frantic bark, as if calling for help.
When his father realized there were no cows waiting to be milked, he assumed his son was joy-riding his pony and was contemplating discipline. He then realized he heard a bark unlike anything he had heard prior to this, and went in search of the barking dog.
He found his young son in great pain with a compound fracture, and a thoroughly exhausted dog, wise enough to know how to summon help while also protecting his boy.
I treasure the stories my dad passed down to me, along with the love of this working breed. It is joy doubled to see my daughter drawn to it, too, as she exclaims how bright each pup is, how quick to learn, how calm and sensible and loyal.
I sense the shadow of my dad, nodding his head, a smile acknowledging there are stories to be told and stories yet to come.
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