Just so you know, at the time of this writing, Arrow is still with us, but he’s been slowing down for some time, and is now definitely showing his age.
On our farm, we have a number of animals who are NOT meat producers.
There are the horses and donkey (I’ll write about them some other time), but there are also the dogs and cats, without whom I could never do what I do.
The dogs especially.
I currently have two livestock guardian dogs who live outside 24/7 and who protect my poultry and rabbits from local predators.
They do a good job.
They do a crucial job.
I could NOT do what I do without them.
They make it so I can sleep soundly at night because I know someone is protecting the defenseless critters here.
And THIS is where my feelings of grief come into focus.
I have had a total of four livestock guardian dogs (a.k.a. LGDs).
One, our very first – Scanner – a Great Pyrenees (born in 1997), lived to be nearly 12 and taught me a great deal about LGDs, as well as about dogs in general.
In my hubris, I actually thought I “knew” dogs, after having lived with one breed (Rottweilers) for 25 years. Scanner taught me that I actually I knew next to nothing.
Scanner was an amazing dog.
She was kind, fair, and fierce. She protected our birds, faithfully and alone, for many years.
She broke up goose fights by pushing between the warring factions, and accepting their indignation and abuse without protest. That is something I have never had the courage to do.
Scanner was an amazing asset and friend to her last day.
We acquired our second LGD (Arrow) in 2005, when Scanner was 9. Scanner helped us raise him, and helped ensure that Arrow grew into a kind, respectful, solid guardian of all things on our farm.
We started him as all good puppies should be started: loose ONLY when under supervision, and confined when not – in his case in a large chain-link kennel with a choice of shelters. He, as dogs often do, had other plans. He became effectively un-containable at around 5 months of age. He was determined to stay with Scanner where-ever she went.
There was NOTHING I could build that would keep him in, so eventually, I quit trying.
Arrow stayed in the yard with his mentor, Scanner, but NOTHING I came up with would separate him from her.
Now 5 months is WAY too young for a puppy to be left unattended with stock, but my opinion on the matter didn’t seem to matter, and, for a while everything was great!
Inevitably though, puberty hit.
Arrow became rambunctious.
When a juvenile, “loose” LGD becomes rambunctious, he almost always focuses that energy on his charges. So, Arrow killed some of my birds. Actually, he killed quite a few of my birds. He seemed to especially like my guinea fowl. In fact, he liked them SO much that in one week he killed (and ate) eight of them.
I’m still convinced he did not intend to kill them, but when a rambunctious, 100(ish) pound puppy plays with a 5(ish) pound bird, the poor bird quickly becomes EX-livestock.
I didn’t know what to do. There was nothing I could build that would keep him contained, and yet I knew he was too young to be loose without guidance.
Perhaps I could reason with him.
(Don’t laugh…. I’m far from the first person to try this.)
I told him that if he killed all of my birds, he would no longer have a job, AND, if he had no job, there was no compelling reason for me to keep him. I don’t know if he understood me, but those guineas were the last critters of mine he ever killed.
He stopped killing my birds.
(Of course, it is entirely possible he simply grew out of it, but, then again, WHO KNOWS?)
Arrow grew into the absolute most trustworthy guardian any human could ever hope to ask for.
He steadfastly REFUSED to harm ANYTHING (that didn’t belong on our property**).
This is the third in a series of posts about Arrow, and about grief.
Stay tuned for more in the coming days.
If you are at all curious why I named this guy “Arrow”: