A Story from Merciful Hearts Farm
Deb Potter, 19 July 2008
This week Katy, our youngest, has been away so I've taken on her morning task of feeding the pasture dogs. Amy & Regina are two lovely Anatolian Shepherds. Rudy is just an adorable old Great Pyrennes. All three of these livestock guardian dogs live in the pastures with the sheep, goats, poultry & cattle.
Often when Katy goes out to feed the dogs in the morning, she is gone for a fairly long time. I think nothing of it as it is not unusual for me to look out the kitchen window & notice her dancing in the pastures. Katy loves to dance & will soon be off to college to pursue that interest so I am used to seeing her practicing her leaps & turns among the creatures.
But I forgot how much of Katy's morning time outside is probably due to the trek one must take to feed Rudy. Rudy is a rescue dog. He ended up deposited at the house of a friend who kept goats & was very familiar with his breed. Because he was already an adult dog, she cautiously began the process of introducing him to livestock to see if he could “work”. Although there are a fair number of working breeds, individual dogs due better or worse with livestock. Some bond to their animals & guard as they are supposed to, others ignore the sheep & goats which is not a good thing when they are threatened, & those that just aren't cut out to work are the ones that will chase or even injure their own charges. It is important that a young or unknown dog be properly supervised in a working situation. Rudy took right to work!
Several months after she'd acquired Rudy, we began to search for another dog to help in our pastures. Because she already had a few different dogs, our friend sold Rudy to us. He has been with us now for about six or seven years. Since he was already an adult when he was found, he is now an elderly fellow. Although we don't exactly count on him for serious protection, we still adore him & he keeps Regina company in her pasture which is our largest.
Rudy spends much of his day asleep which is not uncommon for his breed. A Pyr usually walks his fence line all night, barking on occasion just to warn potential predators that he is on guard. Rudy did this faultlessly as a younger fellow. Those low throaty barks throughout the night reassured us that he was alert. And the incessant barking that alerted us to a problem would also set all the other pasture & house dogs into a terrible racket that didn't cease until Mr. Potter went out to the pasture, ran off a predator & settled all the dogs. The rare stray dog or coyote never injured a single animal here.
So Rudy has earned his leisurely retirement. He loves to be brushed but does not want us to remove the dirty matting along his back that he's worked so hard to perfect by his special rolling-in-manure technique. We've read that this is potential protection from a predator that would bite or claw so we do the best we can to keep Rudy less-than-filthy without ruining his hard work. He is content to let me cut out the biggest messy clumps but merely walks away when I'm doing too much damage. He's never had much of a flea issue so I wonder if there is a connection.
Although it sounds as if his coat is a ratty mess, I want you to know that Rudy has a lovely clean face. It is white with just a bit of gray shading around his big eyes. And he always has one of those smiles on his face that tells me he is very happy with his life.
Rudy has selective hearing now. He will let us walk the entire woods yelling for him but other times seems to hear something as quiet as the latch drop at the gate. Some days he follows us as we work outside but other times just stares at us from a hole he's dug in the woods. His appetite also varies from day to day. He is very food protective but many days it seems he prefers the game of keeping the chickens from his food over actually eating. He prefers that I leave his food in the bucket I feed all the dogs from as he loves to just carry it around with him. I usually don't mind but do have to search the woods every few days to retrieve buckets. We have yet to worry that his weight is declining so he must know what he needs.
His pasture covers a good quarter of the farm & includes a nice creek, woods, a hilly field & access to the edge of the chicken yard & the back of the old barn. I've concluded that in a day he still manages to make all of the rounds simply because he seems to have napping place all over property. These napping sites include a few hollowed out trees, a gully or two where the sand has washed out of the bank of a ditch where water runs during a heavy rain, a Rudy-size hole carefully dug in the sunniest spot of the middle of the pasture & up among the gnarly roots of a huge oak where it is all mossy & cool on even the hottest day. He's also content just to lay up against the back wall of the old barn or in the middle of a hay pile set out for the Dexter cattle. He seems to have a nap site for any type of weather or mood.
Now I mentioned earlier that I've been on a daily trek to find Rudy with his breakfast. And it has become quite a production. I don't dare just leave his food out for him as Regina & even the silly chickens would quickly eat it. So I feed Regina & then begin to wander to look for him. I walk down the pasture hill & into the woods where I make a huge sweep along the creek & begin up the hill on the far side of the woods. I follow the path that the cattle have made to the creek, looking at every lump & shadow along the way. I have learned to make my trip without calling Rudy's name as this alerts Regina to what I am doing & she will soon join me in the hopes I'll put down the food bucket. So I sneak through the woods, hoping Regina is still at the back of the barn enjoying her breakfast or playing her game of defending it from the chickens & goats.
Once this week I mistook a large rock protruding out of the ground for Rudy. I was not surprised that it did not move as I quietly called his name while walking up to it. I was about twenty feet from it when I realized it wasn't breathing so it couldn't be Rudy. One morning I walked up on Rudy curled in a pile of leaves. I watched carefully to see if he was breathing but I couldn't see any movement. I often expect him to just die of old age so as I neared his quiet body, I thought how I'd break the sad news of his death. I was only a few yards away when he opened on eye & stared at me. After the moment that it took for him to realize that I was there, he stiffly stretched his legs, opened his other eye & rose for breakfast.
Well, Wednesday I had things to do. I wanted to get some yarns dyed to take to Market & I also wanted to get some sorting & cleaning done in the house. I got up early & made breakfast for the dogs. (Now here is where I will convince you that I truly am an eccentric lady.... I find that the dogs eat better if I doctor up their dry food. The backyard dogs can have their food just sit in a dish for a while but the pasture dogs will lose theirs to the goats if they don't eat it when they get it. So most mornings I will fry a dozen eggs that are too small to take to Market or I will pull a bit of meat or leftover broth out of the freezer. We have a few cows, goats & sheep in the freezer now so there is always a little something to find. Kidneys seem to be a favorite even though the aroma of a boiling kidney will really linger in a house.) Anyways, I made up the dog food & fed all of the yard dogs along the way. Amy, one of the Anatolians, always eats in a stall in the old barn. I discovered that this was the smart way to feed her after she tried to murder one of the house dogs who was following me when I put down food. Amy now meets me at the corner of the fence to be sure I have her food & then races to the back of the barn where she waits for me to open the door. I have to step back quickly as I open the door as Amy simply leaps in. Regina waits for me at another door of the old barn if she's heard me coming or races quickly up the hill once she hears the door open. I rarely have to call her to eat. And then I start to search for Rudy.
Wednesday I started down the hill, didn't see him in the shadows, walked the creek & spoke to the nine Dexter cattle lounging in the shade. He wasn't behind the fallen tree where I'd found him on Monday. He wasn't napping on the moss at the base of the oak. He wasn't even in the gully where he'd been most of Tuesday afternoon. After half an hour in the woods I decided to take his food back to the house for safekeeping & try to find him later. By then Regina had joined me in my hunt so I carried the food bucket carefully at shoulder height as she danced around me. I crested the hill toward the old barn when I noticed a big white lump curled up near the barn foundation. I had apparently walked right by Rudy as I started down the hill to find him. I cannot imagine that he raced up from the woods & fell sound asleep as I searched for him so it must have been my oversight. I left him with his bucket & held Regina at a distance as he dabbled in his breakfast. And I still found time to get my dyeing done before the day was out.