Saying goodbye to a good farm dog

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cherry tree

My second-floor writing room faces true west, with a window on our lamb pasture and a hayfield beyond it, beautifully green, open farmland. Tall trees, where songbirds love to gather, frame my view.

Over the past week, I have watched rabbits, a white-tailed doe deer with her fawn, the vibrant Baltimore orioles that have graced us with their birdsong this nesting season, the flock of young lambs grazing on lush pasture and growing before my eyes and the early-morning view of our farm waking at sunrise.

Often, I can hear the call of the bobwhite, as I watch the English Shepherds explore the hayfield, rousting out a groundhog or two, and the chase is on.

It’s a wonder I ever get a sentence put together with all the entertainment out this window.

In this life, we are blessed with so much, and there are times when we should note the finest of them all.

Loss

Our farm has lost its grand dame, our oldest dog just four days shy of turning 14.

Channing was a joyful addition for all of us, brought home to this farm as a tiny pup just a few months after we purchased this place, because, in my dad’s words, a good farm needs an English Shepherd. She was a joy.

Channing died on what would have been my father’s 88th birthday, in the early morning hours as the sun came up. I heard her cries of despair and could do nothing to soothe her. It nearly crushed my spirit.

She was fine and sprightly the night before. We commented she still didn’t look like an old dog. She carried herself like the great dog she was right to the end.

Protective

Channing was a quiet, peaceful dog until she needed to step in with a fierce bark. She had a sixth sense about people and kept herself between me and a stranger. When she was on high alert, I knew that I needed to be too.

Channing was nearly four years old when Billy came to the farm to be her partner. She helped to make him an incredible dog, and she sweetly let him shine. Together, they produced beautiful black and tan puppies that have made other families happy, including my sister and brother-in-law, who have the single pup Channing’s final litter produced.

Rest

“Sutherland’s Enchanting Channing” is laid to rest, and a chapter of my life has closed. It was a bittersweet day with tears and an incredibly heavy heart, but as my husband noted, my dad deserved a good English Shepherd on his birthday.

We adored our Channing, the dog who carried herself like a lady. She stepped around mud and muck but could herd livestock with fierce determination. She sat with me on the porch, not as quick to rise when a distraction caught her attention. I held her face in my hands and told her she had earned her rest.

Chores

This morning, the lambs are playing in the sunshine, a pair of bluebirds sing from the grove of cherry trees and a single, random bucket sits in the middle of my view, a trademark of our young English Shepherd pup, Kip. He can carry a bucket, filled with feed, out of the barn without spilling a speck, bringing it up to the house. “Why?” is the bigger question.

I say it makes him feel he is doing his chores. We carry things into the barn, he carries them out.

Teaching

For the first four days, Kip would not leave Channing’s grave, and even then it took great persuasion. In his year here with us, Channing took him under her watchful eye.

She taught Kip to be a better dog. Often a single bark would scold him; a nuzzle would praise him. She did her best, even on days she preferred to rest. Every day, I tried to show her my gratitude. Our grief will lift, but there is an emptiness that will remain for a long time to come.

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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.

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