The First Duke

I grew up on a farm in Appalachia. We were a small community that was still isolated even when I was growing up in the seventies. I cannot imagine they ever used dog breeders there. At least not as we know them now. I recall so many dogs in the area that looked pretty much the same in terms of colors, size, and bearing. A glossy black coat, a tan spot above each eye, and a tan bar across the chest. There existed some intentional breeding based on what qualities one needed. But, folks were so distrustful that I can’t imagine anyone bred to dogs from outside of the region.

English shepherds were just so important back then. And those dogs could do it all. Our first English shepherd named Duke was born in the late thirties. There was a total of six Dukes, the last being the one I grew up with. The first Duke would move cows with grandpa in the morn, then babysit until he moved the cows back at night. He watched my uncle all day, who was quite the wanderer. With so many children and with keeping a farm going, my grandmother needed all the help she could get. So, from the time he was a toddler, my uncle would spend his days outside with Duke. It sounds negligent now, but that was Appalachia in the early forties. Things were different then and, especially, there. My grandmother would call out his name, and Duke’s tail would pop up and wave like a flag over the grasses. Or, he would bark from out in the woods, and she knew all was well. She had a particular whistle for him, and he knew that was when he was to bring my uncle back in.

I know of no English shepherds in the area now. Way of life changed when the big box stores and large grocers started moving in. The dogs died out. Buster died in 1991 as my family’s last English shepherd. We had a Lab, and he was a great dog. My kids still miss him. But he was no English shepherd. There are many stories about the remarkable English shepherds we had through the years. But, my grandmother could tell Duke stories fifty years later and still cry about the loss of that dog.

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