I was skeptical when my daughter and future son-in-law told me they were bringing me a puppy on the eve of their wedding in 2001. The wiggling, tail-wagging, tri-color border collie was absolutely adorable and, despite my misgivings, I was smitten. She and I became friends almost immediately, even though I am not really fond of puppies. I love dogs. I just don’t enjoy puppies’ habits of chewing on everything and carrying off all boots, gloves and other small objects not nailed down. I am fully aware of the time needed to raise a good dog. I wasn’t sure I had the skills nor the time and energy to train a sheep dog, especially one as smart as Sophie.
But, there she was, and I really did need help herding my sheep.
We got through the wedding and when we got past her puppyhood, Sophie and I became co-workers. We spent a lot of time together. Her early attempts to help me with sheep herding were not always successful. Often she would hear what I asked her to do and respond with a look of disbelief which said, “Are you sure that’s what you want?” She worked tirelessly. I would have to lock her up at night just so she would take time to eat. Sophie always knew where I was and, in seconds of my coming out of the house would be at my side. Sophie never could figure out why anyone would chase a ball or a frisbee. I think it seemed a silly, useless endeavor to her. Her favorite game was chasing and grabbing quack grass roots as I threw them out of the garden. She would viciously shake them to be sure they were dead before dropping them in the lawn. We could pull quack grass for hours and she never got tired of her work.
We could never have competed in herding contests, but that was because I am hard to train. She and I developed our own signals and probably unorthodox ways of communicating. She understood when I asked her to “heel” that she was to walk beside me no matter what those crazy sheep were doing. She could understand when I told her to get the stragglers and she could stop the flock from heading the wrong direction. She even learned to find my husband, when I asked her, although herding him in for dinner was another matter.
Sophie died unexpectedly in December, 2009.
I missed her companionship, but the sheep don’t get herded much in the winter. I had not realized how much I missed her work until I started moving sheep the next spring without her. Even the sheep seemed confused without her directions. Without her presence on one side of me or the other, the sheep wanted to run in a circle around me instead of through the gate. I am just not fast enough to head off those renegades who see an opportunity to get past me and escape.
Missing my dog reminded me to recognize the gifts I am given every day. She did what she was bred and trained to do without hesitation or pay other than love and dog food at the end of the day. I am reminded how much I depend on the generosity of others and how much of my living is given to me by the abundance of the earth. I am reminded to be grateful for the soil, water and seeds that make our crops grow and feed our animals. I need to steward the gifts of the earth carefully so my grandchildren can also enjoy them. I need to appreciate the people around me and to say, “Thank you,” more often.
You can learn a lot from a dog like Sophie.
After much debate, I have another puppy. Ivy, a tri-color English shepherd, has joined our household. English shepherds are also called “Old Farm Collies.” They are smart, good herders and just a little calmer than border collies. I have fond memories of, Fido, the first dog I ever knew. He too was an Old Farm Collie. Ivy is just a baby, but she greets me with excited tail wagging each morning and makes every day just a bit brighter. I’m sure she can teach me some new tricks.
Copyright © 2011 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains