Prince of the Stock Yard

Prince was a wiry dog who weighed a lean sixty pounds when wet.  He was a farm shepherd, dutiful but non-spectacular in any noticeable way. In looks or general behavior, Prince shared little in common with bench-show dogs of his day.  He had a glossy black coat, a tan spot above each eye, and a tan bar across the chest.  He had little aptitude for training and could not compete in an organized event to save his own life.   He could not have earned a medal or a ribbon in any way.  But Prince knew where his frugal meals came from, and he perceived why he got them.  His keep was paid to herd and drive cattle, chase tramps from the pasture, and guard the farmer’s front door yard.  All day, every day, whatever the weather, Prince was on duty as duty required.   For his efforts, he got no special rewards and he expected none.  Everything Prince did, he did for the farmer, whom he worshipped. In short, Prince lived the life of one-hundred-thousand farm dogs all over the country.

One frigorific morn in December, Prince had driven the cattle out to the newly broken ice of the drinking troughs. Having had their fill, he began herding and driving them back to their stalls.  It was a busy job for one dog, and Prince had no eyes or ears for anything else.  Meanwhile, the farmer was busy with his chores around the stables.  He was certain that Prince could do his job without human supervision.  Without a second thought, the man entered the box stall of his fifteen-hundred-pound bull.  As a rule, the bull was gentle enough.  The farmer had no reason to fear him.  Without pause, he went about feeding the bull as he had one hundred times before.

Any farmer will tell you that there is no special danger from a bull who is known to be vicious.  By default, such animals are handled with extreme caution.  Many safeguards are arranged to prevent them from doing damage to their handlers. In almost all cases, it is the gentle or quiet bull that turns at an unexpected moment and causes the most harm.  It is that tame bull who has not shown an ugly temper and from which nothing is feared who goes on a rampage.  His handlers are injured because they have taken down their guard.  And so it was with this farmer on this December morning.  With his back to the bull, the man was filling a manger with fodder.  The bull scraped the stall floor with his front hooves, lowered his massive head, and charged. The unsuspecting farmer was hurled into the air and crushed against the side of the stall.  By the time he tumbled to the floor, several of his ribs had already been smashed.  The breath was knocked from his lungs.  He would like to have fainted from the shock and pain.  As the farmer sank to the edge of consciousness, he mustered what voice he could and called out.  By some miracle, a wisp of the man’s feeble voice reached the farm shepherd’s ears.  The black and tan English shepherd cocked his head and pushed his ears forward.  As his eyes narrowed, Prince recognized the pain and fear in the tone of the farmer’s voice.  The hair on his back stood up, and his lips pulled into a tight curl, exposing both front and rear teeth.  The wiry frame of the unspectacular dog took on a heroic shape now.  His tail went erect and his ears turned back.  With the blood of his ancestors now rushing hotly through him, the transformed dog coiled backward onto his powerful rear legs and launched himself headlong toward the farmer’s voice.

Back in the barn, the bull lowered his head to charge again at the helpless and fallen man.  The injured farmer could not raise himself off the stall floor or even muster to roll out of the beast’s path.  The bull charged, and the farmer steeled himself for death.  Raking horns approached the groaning man when out of nowhere a slender black and tan body flashed into the stall.  Vaulting over the farmer’s prostrate form, Prince hurled himself at the bull’s plunging head.  The canine’s white teeth tore into the bull’s sensitive nostrils.  The farm dog deftly leveraged his momentum to deflect the charge. With torn and bleeding nostrils, the bull’s assault veered slightly aside, barely missing his victim. The bull wheeled about and charged again.  And once more Prince thwarted him with teeth raking at the sensitive flesh of his nostrils. The bull concluded to deal with the dog before finishing the man.  He whirled upon Prince within the tight confines of the narrow stall, assailing him with blind fury.  In so small a space the advantage was with the bull, as the dog had scant space to dodge or to retreat.  But undaunted and tireless, Prince rallied at the bull time and time again.  Up and down the stall the bull lumbered and the dog flew.  The black and tan English shepherd seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  He darted beneath murderous horns and countered to render flesh from bone.  He leaped high in the air, landing on the bull’s broad back to drive home his curved, sharp teeth.  He ducked and side-stepped, maneuvering with purpose so the beast would not tread upon the fallen man.

At last, bleeding and groaning, the bull sought to flee the savage dog.  He bellowed in frustration, turned, and ran out of the stall.  Unconvinced, Prince stood with legs braced and head lowered.  Although he was exhausted and winded, his narrowed eyes transfixed on the stall doorway lest the bull should decide to return.  He had been faced with a rampaging beast of thirty times his size, but Prince had responded with the heroic instincts produced by generations of consistent selection and breeding.   On this day, Prince represented his bloodline well, stepping selflessly into the breach of danger to protect his farmer.  Barely conscious, the grateful farmer raised his head from the box stall floor and admired his black and tan English shepherd.  “Good boy,” he whispered to the dutiful, non-spectacular farm dog.  The barely audible tone of praise was simple and unexpected, but Prince’s ears relaxed, his eyes rounded and he broomed an arc in the straw with his swishing tail.  ∎

Prince of the Stockyard was originally published in September of 2021 in the Vol. 1, Issue 3 print edition of American Farm Shepherds Illustrated. AFSI is a quarterly newsletter published by the Old-fashioned Black and Tan English Shepherd Association.

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