“Our first dogs were the big ones, and since they were bird dogs, they had a fine and natural inclination to hunt. Yet Skip was the best of all, for he trampled the woods with an inborn sense of possibility and adventure. I came across a photograph of him not long ago, his black face with the long snout sniffing at something in the air, his tail straight and pointing, his eyes flashing in some momentary excitement. Looking at a faded photograph taken more than forty years before, even as a grown man, I would admit I still missed him.”
— My Dog Skip, by Willie Morris
Over the course of my lifetime, I have been blessed with the loyal companionship of some great dogs. I have always felt heartsick when I hear of someone searching for a lost dog, and have done whatever I could do to help.
I was one of the lucky ones; I had never had a dog come up missing. Until now. It has been one week since I’ve seen our beautiful English Shepherd male.
I now know the punch-to-the-gut heartache of this most helpless feeling. Billy is eight years old and has never been gone a single night from us because he has always seen his job as farm watchdog.
When he first arrived, a four-month-old pup from Michigan with great breeding, we were so impressed by his level-headed temperament, we knew we had hit the puppy jackpot.
I was outside with him in the early days of his life with us. He heard the approaching truck before I did, and darted away from me.
I was about to scold him for it, but I suddenly heard a truck coming up our long lane and realized the pup had run to sit on the sidewalk where he stayed in a firm sit until the truck stopped. Billy then came to me, looked up as if to ask what I would like for him to do.
From the very start, he has loved greeting people, and I felt grateful that even in his enthusiasm he was wise enough to stay far away from moving vehicles. A herding dog with instincts running through his bones, this big black dog with tan markings, a white blaze on his chest, is one beautiful dog to watch work.
He once held an escaped small flock of sheep for me when I was here alone, trying to figure out what more he could do to help. He rarely ever barks, but that day he did. His rather frantic bark got my attention because it was so rare.
Doing his job
I went to the pasture gate, opened it, and watched Billy move the ewes smoothly to safe ground, with the movement of a champion. When we had a ewe named Doris that got out every single day, Billy calmly walked her back in.
Once a day, every day. His patience began to wear down over several seasons. The day we decided Doris the Dorset had to take a trip in the livestock trailer, Billy didn’t seem too heartbroken to bid her adieu.
The day that will stay with me forever happened one sunny day in early Spring about five years back. I went in the barn, instructed Billy to herd ‘em up as I got my small flock of fainting goats ready to leave the barn after a long winter, pointing to the pasture where I wanted him to take them.
A little too excited to prove himself, Billy came on strong. In a running blaze of glory, he started pushing the little goats as I lead the oldest one. As I turned to watch the progress, one by one every single goat fell over in a dead faint.
Billy put on the brakes, dropped his head to the ground, his back end up, laid his ears back and made direct eye contact with me. He didn’t need to be able to talk for me to know he was saying, “What did I do?”
I laughed so hard I fell over, too. Billy surely aged a year on that day. An incredibly wise dog who can open a gate and figure out a way to remove any collar we have ever put on him, Billy hates to be confined.
He is forever a freedom fighter in the dog sense, not wishing to come inside no matter how much I beg him. He will stay in the barn on a fresh bed of straw on cold nights, but he demands us to leave a small opening in the door so he can be on guard.
In nice weather, he prefers to sleep on the porch, his back firmly against the door where we come and go. Always happy to follow a scent track, I’ve watched him many times moving across the western horizon of our property, all open farm fields.
He visits our Amish neighbors, even further off the road than us, and that was where we assumed he was when he didn’t see him.
Our female, Channing, older than Billy by several years, is as puzzled as we are. Where is he?
The dog who sees himself as farm manager is painfully absent. We have searched, spread the word, posted pictures, shared with humane centers, friends, family and hundreds of dog lovers.
A dear friend in Georgia, heartsick for us, even put a flyer together and circulated it to area vet clinics and various dog sites.
Returning home after hours out searching is the very hardest thing to do, as Channing, a solitary presence, walks slowly toward me.
We all feel very lost without our big, cheerful Billy. As bad as this hurts, the rallying support of so many people who care lifts us up and keeps us hopeful.
The sweetest words continue to come to me from friends and strangers alike: Keep the faith.
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