My aging stock dog and I were bickering like an old married couple.
It was raining lightly on a cold and blustery day. I hurried across the yard looking for a staple gun in a tool shed. Out of habit, I called my Border Collie/Aussie cross dog to follow me. Halfway across the yard, I realized she wasn’t tagging along.
Turning, I gestured for her to come with me. She’s trained in voice commands as well as hand signals. However, her body language indicated she wasn’t sure I “really” wanted her.
I sighed and gestured again. She continued to ask, “Are you sure?” I could easily stop what I was doing and force a battle of wills. We both knew who’d win. After all, she and I have worked together for many years.
The weather was uncomfortable. Her arthritic hips were aching. I hadn’t indicated by the timbre in my voice that I “really” wanted her to come. She was probably hearing her name called more clearly by the warm rug next to the woodstove— a very selective type of hearing.
Willi and I have been together since she was born, 12 years ago. We know each other well—maybe too well. When I’m frustrated, she’s usually in a shadow somewhere waiting for me to get over it. If I’m in a hurry, she stays three paces behind me to avoid being stepped on when I turn. When I’m distracted, she’ll hang out and wait for me to “mentally” return to the ranch.
For years, she’s been my emotional barometer. Sometimes, I spend too much time hunched over the computer in my office. Cobwebs collect and clog my brain. When this happens, she’ll insert herself into my visual space repeatedly until I’m remind ed
I need to take a break and get outside. Most of the time, I’ll take the hint and move away from my desk.
It doesn’t matter what we do—split some firewood, check the rain gauge, take a tour of the sheep pens—but, we do it together.
For years now: I breathe out ... she breathes in. She breathes out ... I breathe in.
My old dog was hurting in the chilly and damp weather. From her point of view, she was asking a legitimate question: ‘Is what you’re doing important enough for me to push through the haze of pain and follow you?’ I thought, briefly, and decided that it wasn’t.
“Come or don’t,” I said, “but I’m headed to the tool shed and out of this rain.”
I turned and hurried across the lawn. A few moments later, my little black shadow was hot on my heels.
After more than a decade, our relationship is changing.
We no longer allow her to jump fences. Her job is to guard the ATV and keep
marauding sheep away from grain buckets. She still helps catch-and-hold an errant ram that has sneaked out. Mostly though, she helps keep the sheep bunched in a corner while our younger dog does the hard work. She’s increasingly content to sit back and watch the action while the next generation handles the rough stuff.
That’s OK with me. I don’t handle the rough stuff like I did when I was younger either. I understand.
One day her time will come. And that’s OK with me too. We’ve had a good long run. I’m content to spend the time we have left, bickering on the porch or daydreaming by the wood stove. Either way, we’ll be doing what we’ve always done best: me breathing in ... her breathing out. Her breathing in ... me breathing out. — D. “Bing” Bingham
[Bing Bingham is a writer, rancher and storyteller. His old dog passed and has gone to a spot where all good stock dogs go. If you have a dog story to pass along, contact him at bing@bingbingham. net.]