- Written by Denise Dehne Borgoyn
- Category: The Love That Binds
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When I first put out the notice looking for stories for this new column , Elaine Reynolds contacted me and said that she knew someone I should talk to. Shortly after, I reached out to Sarah H., who owns a 6 1/2 year old shaded sable and white female English Shepherd named Sadie.
I caught Sarah between arranging deliveries of organic feed and coordinating a crew of carpenters and roofers repairing her roof due to a large tree dropping on it. Her house was built in 1909 so a lot of replacement was going on to make it structurally sound. We were able to talk on Labor Day in between interruptions from the crew.
Farm Shepherd Magazine: How did you first become involved with the English Shepherd breed?
Sarah: When Mom and Dad lived in Iowa, and I was just a little girl, Mom surprised us one day by coming home with a puppy that she picked up at a farmhouse. She called it a "collie shepherd" and told us that he was 1/2 Lassie and 1/2 German Shepherd. I have many early memories of happy times playing with Rocky, I also have a clear memory of my mother explaining to me what death was when Rocky passed away. I feel like ever since then, all of my life, I’ve been looking for him, trying to replace him.
I've always believed that working dogs were possible and I've researched everything from Old Time Scotch Collies to American Working Farm Collies to English Shepherds. I found all to be wonderful breeds and unique in their own way. Eventually though, I decided on the English Shepherd for a farm partner, and I purchased a puppy from Elaine Reynolds.
FSM: What have you found to be special about these dogs since owning your own?
Sarah: That these dogs are so amazing and can do some surprising things, especially in how they behave! But I think some people might be looking for big, obvious actions and behaviors and be disappointed. Because many of the “gifts” of the farm shepherds are much more subtle, tiny but intentional micro-behaviors. You have to know your dog, and watch very carefully, or you might miss one. It's an almost imperceptible touch or look designed to communicate or affect their environment and those around them. They take these actions using their common sense (which yes, they have), or what they have learned by watching you.
For example, when I’m working with my poultry there are times when I need Sadie’s assistance in managing the flock. Sadie will herd them, but to the casual eye it doesn’t appear that she is. She knows where they need to go, and she pushes them without being obvious --- it's more of a soft eye at the chicken, an implied pressure, and a slowly tightening circle. As with the best human-canine relationships, Sadie and I have worked together long enough to have an understanding, and we’ve formed a strong bond, a mutual trust in each other.
Another way Sadie helps is by watching out for my safety and warning me of danger even when I don’t perceive any. One day I was in the yard working in my perennial herb garden. It was warm day and I was tackling some overdue weeding along a slope. I pulled on a vine and saw a solitary bee that I had disturbed. Moments later Sadie, who of course is my shadow and never far away, started bumping me with her body, repeatedly, and then making as if she were running away. It's almost like she was saying "come on! let's go?". At first I paid her no mind, but she was insistent and persistent. Then I noticed a hole downhill with ground wasps streaming out of it. We both high-tailed it out of there! I was so grateful that day!
FSM: Tell me more stories please. People love stories!
Sarah: OK. We also have a house bunny that roams free on the back porch. When it's really cold I put the rabbit, Beatrix, up for the night somewhere a little less exposed. Sadie helps me catch her without hurting her. The most remarkable thing about this – – Sadie also is an avid wild rabbit hunter, chaser, and eater, Sadie is so gentle with her pack member rabbit! We also have two kittens, five months old, and something new for Sadie. Sadie had never seen or been near a cat before we got these kittens. It’s great how well she's doing with them. I guess she knows that they’re members of our “pack”.
Also, right after I got Sadie at 10 weeks old, in fact I’d had her less than 24 hours, when we went out to do routine outside chores. Sadie was on a short leash attached to me, so she was no further away than the length of my arm. I went in to feed the buck, dumping the feed in the feeder like always. The buck unfortunately stepped onto my little toe as he settled in to eat. He had done this before, two months earlier, and didn’t get off my foot so I had to finally I pull the foot out from under him, dislocating my little toe. So little, but so very painful! Since then my little toe had slowly started to stay in place and was not nearly so sore. But now here was the brute, standing on that same little toe again!! Under my breath I was saying "ow, ow, ow" while nudging him in the ribs with my free foot. The buck didn't even flick an ear. Then Sadie simply reached over and gripped him on the ankle. The buck promptly moved over, without even stopping his meal. It was Sadie's first "good job!"
FSM: Every farm shepherd needs a job. What is Sadie's job?
Sarah: I am her job, I am her work and her life, 24×7. I’m legally disabled, and she is the guardian and companion that I must have to make my independence possible, and that includes my farm lifestyle. Sadie is my right hand, my partner, when it comes to handling the dairy goats, chickens and ducks that share my world.
FSM: Thank you for your time. Is there anything that you'd like to add?
Sarah: I have had lots of different dogs over the years, many of them rescues, from dachshunds, Russell terriers, and Pomeranians to Labrador retrievers, goldens, and dalmatians. I've learned that you need to find the dog's best side and allow relationships to develop.
Although I've loved all of my dogs, I would never have another of any of them. I know that from now on, for the rest of my life, I will always have an English Shepherd.