Notes from Windward: #70


Having a Baby Changes Everything

Sarah tells of our new herding pup

     In my young life, thoughts of motherhood have been fleeting and practical: if A, B, and C add up, maybe I'll want to have kids. These musings have yet to reach an emotional level, I have not yet wanted kids, or been able to say for certain that I ever will. But something began to change this spring, quietly. Pregnancy entered my dreams when I least suspected it. Several mornings I woke up recalling that I had been pregnant in some funny dream situation, recalling, most vividly, that I had been OK with it. OK? With being pregnant?!

     So I took inventory. True, reproduction was happening all around me: Mary Lou and I had bred the rabbits, and some of the babies were thriving fluff balls, while other litters were dying. The young chickens were laying their first eggs, Pia (aged 12, which is quite old for a ewe) passed away in the last month of her pregnancy, and we were anxiously awaiting Dolly's safe delivery of one or two lambs. Even friends on the East Coast had recently informed me that their first child is due this summer.

     Each of these happenings had affected me in its own way, but they served as a group to remind me of how intimately and frequently we are participants in the cycle of life and death here on the "farm." In my efforts to participate in butchering this past year, I had distanced myself from the animals a bit. This spring I thought, maybe it's time to take a step closer again. I thought, perhaps if we have an abandoned lamb I'll take on the project of bottle-feeding it. Something like that.

     Then Walt saw a flyer advertising a litter of herding dog puppies. Twenty-four hours later we were in the car on the way to pick up the puppy, and I was to be its caretaker and trainer. I'd always wanted to raise a working dog, and we'd been talking about how a herding dog would enable us to take our sheep out for daily walks, diversifying their diets and perhaps cutting down on the amount of feed we have to purchase.

     I just never expected the dog project to happen so soon.

Charlie pup

     Enter Charlie: a rambunctious black pup, son of two working cattle dogs (a Catahoola hunting hound father, and a Border Collie mom), and Windward's future sheep-herding dog. Charlie has had a bit of a rough start. He was least dominant in his litter, and got bullied by the other pups the day before we picked him up. He had been bitten in the thigh and had a sore leg. The bite turned into a raging infection three days later. Emergency Trip to the Vet #1.

     Then, this week, after great success with house-breaking, he spent one night alone. I came to wake him up and there was a cube of rat poison on the floor. No way to prove he had messed with it, as the rodents are known to throw things about, but there was no way to prove he hadn't. This pup will chew on anything at least momentarily, hence, Emergency Trip to the Vet #2.

     People say that having a puppy is like having a baby. People are exactly right. I have undergone a serious mind-shift since taking Charlie under my wing. My days are no longer my own, even walking in and out of my door requires consideration of who is underfoot. He needs frequent attention, exercise, affection. He needs to know the right things to chew on, he needs socializing, he needs training, he needs his medicine.

Charlie and me

     The past two weeks with Charlie have been a rollercoaster of emotions for me. Of course I fell in love the first day we brought him home, and since then I've felt responsible for his every hardship and success.

     It is exhausting to have a creature dependent on you hour-to-hour, but also hugely rewarding to cuddle up at the end of the day with a happy, furry baby. I've been reading about herding dogs and their training, and I'm excited to move Charlie in that direction.

     I look forward to participating in the ancient relationship of human and working dog which is radically different from how most people interact with their pets today. But for now, we are starting small: beginning to learn our manners, to meet our friends and neighbors, to sleep through the night without crying or going out to go potty.

      Happily, Charlie's leg is fully mended and he seems to have evaded the rat poison threat. And I'm sure he'll be eager to walk all over the keyboard in coming weeks to report on his training progress.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70