She was never supposed to be my dog. I was working on that fall Saturday when my wife and our four children visited a farm near Leipsic to look at Border Collie puppies.
I didn’t know which one, but I knew they would be coming back with a dog. You don’t take four very animal-friendly kids to “look at” puppies without bringing one home.
This farmer had kept purebred Border Collies on hand as ever vigilant four-legged labor. Their herding prowess was the breed’s calling card long before they started going airborne to acrobatically catch Frisbees.
We had chickens at the time, and pigs that had their own fenced-in enclosure, so we didn’t need a herder. But these kids needed a dog. They needed a playmate that had the same boundless energy as them, and one who would keep track of them all across our rural homestead.
For most of her long life, Libby was the consummate watch dog and black-caped guardian angel. Although there were no fences, she never left the property, but she endlessly patrolled its perimeter, and she paced like a nervous first-time father in a maternity ward whenever the kids were outside. She loved to race up and down along the creek bank, in mock pursuit of trucks or farm equipment passing by on the county road that ran parallel to the waterway.
Libby taught us a lot about instincts. Without so much as a single day of training, she would relentlessly herd. She would loop back and forth, herding vehicles leaving the driveway. She would follow the tractor as we mowed, always making that herding arc right behind. And even though they were all good swimmers, Libby would try to herd the kids away from the pond. While they were swimming on a hot summer day, she paced nervously nearby, never stepping away from her guard duty.
As our children grew older and got busy with high school and then college, it became evident that Libby was now focusing her attention on me. If I was trimming the trees in the orchard, she was right there by the base of the ladder, pacing and watching. If I was working in the garden, she was always close by, her head on a swivel as she constantly scanned the area for any perceived danger. No one would get close to that kale while she was around.
If it was a 95-degree day in August and I was going out to pick sweet corn, Libby was right there a couple of paces behind me. And in the dead of winter, wind blowing, snow swirling, and the cold trying to cut through you like a straight razor, she was still there. If I went out to get firewood, she always went along. If I made the long walk out to the barn, trudging through deep snow, that loyal Border Collie never let me make that trip alone. In her twilight years, she was clearly my dog.
We lost Libby several months ago, her years of service ended, leaving us with those icky mixed feelings — we hated to see her go, but we also did not want to see arthritis and other ailments continue to strip her of that robust watchdog skill set. She is missed — by the UPS guy who always had a treat ready when he backed up the drive, by the country neighbors who saw her as a fixture in the sprawling neighborhood, and by everyone who got to witness her greyhound sprints, her relentless herding, and her unwavering loyalty.
On that long walk to the barn after a recent snow, I stopped and looked back toward the house and there were only my footprints. No more Libby. No more tracks in the snow.
By late in the summer, as Libby approached 15 years of age, she had slowed down considerably. She only ran halfway down the long drive when vehicles pulled away from the house, she could no longer bound up the four steps to join us on the deck, and she was regularly napping during the day for the first time in her life.
Then one day she was gone — physically gone. This dog that had never left the property, never crossed the bridge and gone onto the road, and never failed to be there at the door to join me on the walk to the garden or the barn — this dog was nowhere in sight.
We searched every corner of the barn, the now empty chicken coop, under the deck, and inside the double row of large arbor vitae that form a windbreak around the pond. We combed the immediate area and had numerous country neighbors on the watch. We distributed flyers with her picture, although everyone around knew very well that super-charged Border Collie that was always on sentry duty in our yard.
Her disappearance made no sense since she was anchored instinctively to the property and was likely too old and frail for anyone to steal. For several days we agonized over her fate and found no logical explanation for the mystery.
Then it all came together — she was the faithful herder, the dedicated guardian and protector, to the end. A painstaking inspection of the brushy creek bank, done in hip boots from down at the water level, revealed that she had simply crawled under a pile of brush, laid down, and died.
For one final time, this loyal canine had done what her instincts told her to do, what thousands of years programmed into her breed’s DNA showed her. As she sensed death was approaching, Libby got far away from the herd she had been protecting (us), so as not to draw any predators close to the herd once the odor of death brought those scavengers to her corpse.
After 15 years of dedicated, never-wavering service to our family, this soldier of a dog used her final pulses of life to protect us once again. She’s buried out by the chicken house, where her high-alert patrols often startled the hens but no doubt kept the coyotes and foxes away.
Other pets — rabbits, cats, chickens, and maybe an amphibian or two — occupy the same general plot, but only Libby gets a marker. She was more than a dog. Those tracks in the snow told me she was always on duty, serving and protecting. This winter, there are no more tracks in the snow.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.
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