A Dog by Any Other Name

 
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Originally published on April 18, 2019 in the Tribune & Georgian

Farming is a tough business.

These days the small to medium size family type farm has all but disappeared. Sure, you’ll see a few of us scattered here and there, like fire ants grabbing a floating twig on a flooded river, but for the most part we are vanishing. Drifting on those swollen waters, one by one dropping off that twig, gone forever.

As that way of life and commerce fades into our collective memory, with it go those old timey notions of a people in tune with nature and seasonal change. A people not afraid of hard work. A people possessed of a deep sense of place and geographical pride. As society has changed, humans and beasts alike have settled into new roles.

I was reminded of this the other day when I saw a man walking a dog, leash in one hand, plastic bag in the other. When the dog went, the man bent to pick it up. I greatly appreciated his concern for others but I had to chuckle to myself. The dog as king. He must feel like a million bucks when he sees the old leash come out.

In the not so distant past, no farm was complete without a good working dog or two. Useful to guard against predators, both the two and four legged kind. Second to none as a means to handle and move livestock.

I keep a handful of dogs at the farm. Chance, the old lab, content to lay around, sleep, and eat. Otis, the pit bull, rescued off the dirt road as a castaway puppy who was too weak to stand. Over the years he has blossomed into a fantastic catch dog. Stout, observant and typically on my hip, eager to help. Chase, an athletic specimen of a pooch who is pretty well oblivious to pretty much everything except chasing rabbits. My garden is thankful.

Then I have my two Great Pyrenees. A dog unlike any other. A true livestock guard dog. Born of old world genetics. Born to guard flocks. As a breed they developed in the Pyrenees Mountains of France where for hundreds of years they have accompanied shepherds as they protect their sheep. Large dogs. They are independent thinkers. Instinctively protective but not aggressive. Non neurotic. They’re not interested in playing games. A confident breed that doesn’t need reassurance from a human. Interestingly, they are primarily nocturnal. A trait that bodes well for predator control.

I’ve see them wait with sheep while they give birth in the field. I’ve seen them ever so carefully lick the baby clean and consume the afterbirth to keep predators away. Usually they’ll stay with mama and baby for a couple days extra close, keeping a watchful eye. They’ll guard against everything from buzzards to coyotes and anything in between. Absolutely the most gentle dogs I’ve ever been around.

Mine are sisters. Their names are “Number 1” and “Number 2.” We got them some years back, at a particularly exciting but exhausting time and I mentally just didn’t have the energy to think of two names. They both groom each other as well as the other dogs. I love watching them care for each other. Prior to them I’d never seen a dog worry about another dog’s discomfort. They will clean the other dogs, gently gnawing at fleas or other pests. The beneficiary seems to enjoy being tended to. They seem to genuinely enjoy caring for other animals. I have not yet seen them carry a plastic bag behind the others but honestly it wouldn’t surprise me.

Super easy going. Super mellow. But capable of getting after it if need be. They killed a coyote a few weeks back. They’ve only ridden in a vehicle once or twice. They’ve never set foot inside a house nor have they known the restraint of a leash. They live an envious life, wild and free yet the yoke of instinctive responsibility bounds them to my parcel.

Without them this would be a tough row to hoe.