I had just moved to 20 acres in the Ozarks, most of it pasture with a nice barn, and while I enjoyed “Sparky” my 2-year-old toy poodle, I decided to add to the 17 head of cattle a cattle dog.
I rsponded to an ad in the paper advertising weaned Australian Shepherds, and brought home a merle, puppy I called (creative?) “Shep.” Registered name was ‘silver shepherd’ and she was that, with one blue eye and one brown. She was the first dog friend I ever had who grinned, really!
My intention was that she would be the outside dog and figured she’d protect the property, but she was just so darned beautiful!
Anyway, that’s what all the male dogs for a mile around apparently thought when nothing I did could discourage them when she came in heat at 9 months old. When they made a hole in the garage door, she became an inside dog.
I worked out a couple days a week and the rest of the time she was my shadow. Not knowing about working dogs, I was impressed when she was just a few months old when she watched my consternation as two young calves got in the wrong pasture — I was late for an appointment and frustrated at how I was going to move them back where they belonged. She watched and seemed to be just waiting for a command. As I said, my experience was limited, as were my commands. Exasperated, I told her, “Shep, bring them to mommy.” And it was fortunate that I moved quickly because otherwise she would have put them in my lap!
This was just the beginning. She was happiest when she was working, a fact that won’t surprise any one who owns a working dog. Herding the calves, and cattle, the chickens, geese were frustrated when she kept them moving barely allowing them to graze or sight see. Without some direction, the chickens would choose to spend the evening in low-lying branches in the trees, but, given her freedom, Shep conscientiously saw to it that they were safe in their chicken house, and would have closed and latched the door if she only had thumbs.
Shep and I watched a service man pull up in the yard responding to my call for an electrician, as he confidently hopped out of his pickup, headed for the front door. The screen door wasn’t latched as we watched, and, Shep apparently decided he was a little too arrogant. Arrogant he wasn’t as he speedily returned to and jumped back in the bed of his pickup.
A determined dog she was and I found that she did not plan to be left at home without me. If I left her free while I took a short trip to do errands, she would run herself to death alongside the car, attempting to jump in the open passenger side of the vehicle.
Page 2 of 3 - Knowing she was terrified of thunder and lightning (the only thing that she was afraid of), I learned the hard way that fastening her on a chain wouldn’t work. A thunderstorm came and went while she was thusly contained and when I came home, Shep was gone.
For more than two weeks I was desperately putting ads in the paper and responding to calls. The empty chain was an indictment and I realized my error. The day she showed up — looking like a released prisoner of war, thin and filthy (I never learned where she had been) my world was finally back together again and I realized I’d better figure another method. Ultimately I provided a safe cage, with a top and found it necessary to contain her when I left the property.
When I took a trip, I took Shep to “Maudes” in Goodman, a sweet, loving lady who cared for many pets — providing a kennel for Shep with walls that were 10-feet high. Didn’t work! I barely arrived at Branson where I intended to spend a few days when I received a telephone call from a family member. Shep had escaped. Apparently she crawled up the 10-foot wire fence, went over the top and escaped to the nearby woods. The story was every time a car passed she would respond to the edge of the woods, check out the car and when it wasn’t mine, she hid out among the trees and brush. No food, no water, no coaxing , nothing worked until I returned. When she saw it was my car, the door was open, she was like a speeding bullet and settled happily in the floor.
When we moved to 20 acres of woods — my first night I realized there were NO outside lights. No yard light, no porch light and when what I thought sounded like an abandoned calf out by the pond, it was not a problem for me, a single middle-aged woman, as I got my flashlight, my .38 S&W, Shep and checked it out. I chuckled when I realized frogs and toads can make the same kind of sound as a calf, we returned. I lived there for 13 years and any strange noises raised no alarms when I checked Shep and confirmed, she wasn’t alarmed, nothing to worry about.
Thirteen years took their toll on my good friend and as she found it difficult to navigate a few steps in to the house, her vision grew dim, her hearing gone. I asked our good friend, Doc. “W” if I owed it to her to end her misery and, forever competent as well as kind he responded with “You will know when.” It was this kind pet doctor that I left her with when I took some aunts to the “city” and was gone just a couple of days. When I went to pick Shep up, there was a mournful wailing sound, a sound of lonesome misery and pain. When I entered the veterinarian’s office I asked, “Whose dog is that?” never having heard such sadness. “That,” said my kind friend, “Is your dog and she has been doing that ever since you left.” Refusing to eat, to be walked, she had laid in her own droppings and howled her misery.
Page 3 of 3 - The time had come, the time I had dreaded.
Later my employer inquired of my co-workers, “what’s wrong with her, what’s got her down?” And when they responded that I had had to put my dog down, his response, (so ignorant, right?) “It’s only a dog.”
Eighteen years have passed and that happy life ended with Shep. No longer feeling that safety, no longer with that companion, I sold the property and relocated.
Lately I’ve read of an Australian Shepherd, abandoned. I was so very tempted to seek hopefully, another Shep but since I no longer have a job for her, no more cattle, no more chickens, no more geese, there’s no way ‘second Shep’ could be that happy so I will just have to enjoy my photos and my precious memories of a very dear friend and hope that those who insist that they know are correct, that our dear pets await us in a perfect heaven.
Alberta Anders writes a weekly column for the Daily News.