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Posts Tagged ‘Farm collie’

Community dog

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He was the kind of dog you get not because you’re looking for him. He was the kind you get when some neighbor up the road had a litter and soon found himself in a tizzy trying to find homes for them. He was the kind brought home on muddy April afternoon to wait leaping and screaming for the farm kids to come home from school, where they would behold their new prize.

Yes, Jocko was that kind of dog. The above paragraph was his childhood autobiography, and like most farm collie-type dogs in the foothills of West Virginia’s Alleghenies, he wandered the land most of the day. He learned not to chase chickens or worry sheep, but he knew how to jump a rabbit or grouse for the shotgun. He knew how to tree a squirrel or a corn-raiding raccoon, and he could put the cows out of the big vegetable patch or the apple orchard.

Every farmer in the little hamlet knew Jocko and new him well. He was the dog you called on when you gut-shot a deer and needed the expertise of a fine tracker to follow its death course through the briers and brush. He was the dog that lined your hound bitches, and though you coursed the crossing, you half-hoped the collie-ish genes would add a bit of sagacity to the mongrel pups.

He would roll in cow-pies with reckless abandon, but he savored the road apples of horses, savoring their sweet stink as he downed them through his collie maw.

When the coyotes howled at night, he gave back his domestic cursing barks. “Dare not tread here, you wild fiends!” the surliness in his voice seemed to say.

When he spied their scat on forest trails, he’d lift high his left hind-leg, piss out a few drops of urine, and then kick up the leaves in territorial disgust.

Every weekday afternoon, he’d mosey to the bus house where the farm children were dropped off. He’d wag and lick their hands softly, and then follow them back to their homes. He knew that his domain ended where the black-top began, a bit he learned through only his collie intuition and nothing else. So though he came to take the children home, he never once wandered into highway where the cats and opossums perished by the score.

For twelve years, this creature served man in his own way. He lived the life of a domestic servant but was still wild and unknown. He was the way dogs were not so long ago, before we turned them into caricatures of what they really are.

In the winter of that twelfth year, his ears and eyes were failing him, and now he felt the weakness that comes from cancer of the spleen.

And they euthanized him beneath the sweeping veil of the old ash tree, itself dying hard from the work of those invasive borers. In a year, a summer storm would make it fall to the ground, but for now, its shadow would the lawn where the old dog was put to rest.

A few old farmers came by to pay their respects. They’d tell his owners about the groundhogs the old boy had killed or how they’d loved the way the dog had walked their little girl home from school. They tell these stories and choke back a few gruff tears.

But so few came to mourn the old dog. The children of the farms had moved on to what they thought were better things. They worked in factories, sailed ships, tried cases, and treated wounds in hospitals. They didn’t work the cattle or feed the chickens as their mothers and father had.

And with their removal to the newer world, the community of farms began to die. Progress can be a cancer in the spleen of a collie, but it can be the uplift to a higher plain of human conscience, one that sees us as united with all the rest of humanity and all the rest of life in a common purpose of survival.

And so we do not keep dogs like Jocko this way anymore. We have leash laws and dog wardens. We keep them in fenced yards.

A few of those transplanted farm people keep a collie or even an English shepherd in the suburbs and dream that this dog would somehow become Jocko. But try as the dog might, it will never be Jocko. It will be a mere facsimile of what was once and will never be again.

Better in some ways. Worse in others. But not ever the same.

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This is me on Ginger Ale with Bull the farm collie in the background:

me on ginger and bull

The photo was taken in my grandparents’ backyard.

 

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Over the years, I’ve made mention of the fact that English shepherds are a very common breed in West Virginia. Indeed, I knew what an English shepherd was long before I’d ever heard the words “border collie.”  English shepherds are pretty common in the Eastern and Midwestern US.

But only in the rural areas. In most towns around here, many people adopt “collie mixes” without ever knowing what they actually have.

They are derived from the farm dogs of the British Isles, with maybe a little bit of German, Swiss, or Native dog crossed in. They very strongly resemble the “shepherd’s dogs” that were commonly published in eighteenth and nineteenth century texts about dogs in the British Isles. He has the same broad head and curled tail, as well as the common black and white color. In America, they were used for livestock herding, but they were also used to guard properties and hunt game.

This dog came into area, probably because the gut pile from my deer isn’t 100 yards away in the woods behind the camera.

So Ol’ Shep was enjoying him a taste of raw green tripe, and no one had to spend a fortune on it.

Yes, these old dogs are pretty common, but I never thought I’d catch one on the trail camera!

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I am in the two-year-old range in this photo.  Bull is the collie lying close to the house, while Frito is the Norwegian elkhound, who was part black and part gray elkhound. Yes, my hair actually was that blond!

Sorry about the resolution of this film. I have been taking these photos of these older photos with my iPAD2, and the resolution just isn’t that great.

 

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Bull

This is me at about the age of three with Bull, my dad’s unregistered collie.

 

He had drop ears, and his sable actually changed colors as he aged. Where he was cream and brown here, it all turned light steely gray.

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From Country Life in America ( June 1902):

“Shep” is the thoroughbred collie that prevents the coyotes from howling too unpleasantly near the Box S Ranch in New Mexico. This keeps her much awake of nights— particularly when the smell of a fresh-slain steer edges the hunger of these prairie wolves in winter. But Shep is alert in the daytime, even when she seems to be dozing; and whether it is the melancholy howl of a coyote at sunset, the bass and falsetto outcry of a vagrant bull, or the squeak and grunt of a too-familiar pig, she is up and ready for action.

Now, the pigs are her special annoyance. Their greed and impudence combined urge them to the very kitchen door; and Shep has been instructed to resent their close approach with bark and bite. A nip at the heels sends them scampering, and back they go to the alfalfa field.

It happened that seven pups were born to Shep about the same time that a like number of porkers was littered by one of the sows. The pups in time opened their eyes and played about the barn, and the porkers, in their youthful ignorance of social distinctions, were inclined to frolic with the canine family. Shep did not rebuke this liberty. Not only did she allow her aristocratic progeny to mingle freely with the outcast swine, but she seemed to recognize that the sow was now a mother like herself, with a large family to provide for. Thenceforth this particular pig was singled out from the others as one permitted the freedom of the ranch. Bite and bark were reserved for the rest; but the sow with the little ones was never more molested in her wanderings about the place.

There was only one circumstance growing out of this new toleration which aroused the dog’s objections. This was when Shep suckled her puppies, and some of the young pigs, with dull indifference as to the source of their nourishment, would attempt to share the meal. On such occasions the collie’s expression was a comical one of blended dignity and resentment. She would snap protestingly at the impertinent pigs, without disturbing her own youngsters; and the porkers would take the hint.

It followed that six of the seven pups were weaned, and dispersed among friends at Fort Wingate. The remaining one retained at the ranch was christened Woolly—owing partly to the curliness of his coat and partly to goodhumored recognition of a term which self-contented Easterners who have never traveled with the setting sun in their own country sometimes apply to the great West. Woolly soon learned to join his mother in pursuit of the pigs, and, like her, learned also to spare the small porkers and their mother. Then Shep was sent away for a time to the sheep camp on the mountain; whereupon Woolly, having no canine companion, fell back on the young pigs for playmates. The first litter had reached the age when all young animals pass from the gambols and grace of youth to the commonplaceness of maturity; but another litter had been born, and these were Woolly’s delight. The pup was three times the size of his newfound friends, and perhaps his bulk alarmed them a little. At any rate, they were slow in responding to his demonstrations of affection. Frantic, almost, were the efforts he made to induce them to paw him and leap with him as his mother had done. He would frisk about them in high glee, and then lie flat on his stomach, with outstretchedforepaws and nose on the ground, and ears pricked expectantly. It was a plain invitation to play tag. But, alas! a pig is a pig, you know; and these diminutive emblems of stupidity and greed turned down their noses and showed themselves altogether unworthy of the condescension. And I have fancied that Woolly, by way of retaliation, barks and bites harder than before when the older pigs come around.

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For all of you English shepherd, farm collie, border collie, Lacey dog, McNab shepherd, and Australian [sic] shepherd fans out there:

Source.

And here’s a wonderful article on the old-collie-type landrace, which our so many Americans knew so well.

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