(Read Part II here)
The search had been in the works, quietly and patiently, for the past couple of years. One day, not long ago, my hubby said to me, “I can’t imagine being on this farm without these dogs. I hate to admit it, but our two are getting on in years.”
After a long drive to the Raleigh-Durham area last Friday from our Ohio home, we were ready to visit a young litter of English Shepherd puppies. As we started back a long drive, made a turn in to a clearing, we found ourselves on the most incredibly beautiful tobacco farm of days gone by.
It didn’t take long to realize we were in the right place. Puppies came to greet us, as well as the kind couple who had raised this litter to preserve the good old-style black and tan English Shepherd so many farm folks grew up knowing.
True to breed
Many written conversations had revealed a common bond — the willingness to work hard in raising a litter of pups simply to keep this line alive. Now listed as a rare breed, the steady, sturdy black and tan stock dog that helped build American farms in the early 1900s and beyond is getting harder and harder to find.
As we watched the puppies playing, I couldn’t help but put myself in the shoes of many happy families who once visited the farm of my grandparents in the 1930s and ‘40s.
My father once told me the number of puppy visitors seemed endless, with many returning for a second or third English Shepherd pup over the years. Many were shipped by rail, but visitors also came to the farm in horse-drawn buggies, cars and trucks, eager to choose a pup to take home.
Now, I was the one searching for that new addition to my farm and home. We met the two pups Rebecca had helped us select, sight unseen, through correspondence in earlier weeks, as the pups revealed personalities.
As my grandfather used to say, a well-bred English Shepherd, black with a tan spot over each eye, a tan chest and socks, will vary little if the breeding line has been kept pure and strong.
This litter was impressive. The biggest female of the crew was eager to meet us, then hurried off to explore the wide open farm, checking back in with us once in awhile.
A beautiful male greeted us calmly and stayed close, looking up as though he understood every word.
Rebecca and Paul’s first English Shepherd, a gift from a brother-in-law, had years ago impressed them with a wise, alert but calm presence. When it came time to find another, it proved difficult.
They saw some with lots of white, a totally different body style, and though surely good dogs, this just wasn’t the English Shepherd they had come to know and love. So, they searched, eventually making an 8-hour trip to acquire the female and later the male, that produced this fine litter.
We enjoyed getting to know this admirable couple and their dogs, swapping observations and stories of a shared passion to preserve this breed. Early the next morning, we loaded our two new pups and said our good-byes.
Initially, the male we named Spencer cried and howled. I quickly thought to play music of Paul’s family, the Truman Greene Family, which the couple had produced in their studio and gifted to us.
Calming them down
Lovely classic gospel and bluegrass from the 1930s and ‘40s soothed the puppies, settling in for the long ride to their new home. When evening fell, we pulled back the long lane to our century-old farm, greeted by family and friends who were anxious to meet the new additions.
Spencer and Miss Rigby sweetly sniffed each hand, happily accepting all the attention.
My sisters, in separate conversations with me, said they could feel the blessings of our grandparents shining on this new kinship, carried forward on the paws of two southern-bred puppies.
(Next week – part two.)
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