Life on the farm is a great teacher. We learn about care and compassion for livestock, birth and death, the value of sun, rain and the growth of plants, of teamwork and the importance of being in a constant state of preparedness. We appreciate our family and friends both human and animal – those souls that are by our side day in and day out, as we seed, birth, harvest and feed. The role of a stock dog in our world is vital for livestock operations as they are the extra set of legs and often the needed gate in our daily chores. They are companions and fellow workers, protectors of our home and children and the five o’clock alarm. In short, they are family members who live along side a growing team.
Our working dog, Emma, was no exception. For fifteen years this Australian Sheppard dynamo worked at my side. She never let cattle through an open gate, missed a heifer in the field, talked back, missed a child’s birthday party or called it quits even after hours of work. She could calmly sit in a pen of 500 head of cattle and wait for instruction while having zero tolerance for an animal on the wrong side of the fence. She never left home; she was never bitter or unhappy and was always compassionate to our needs. She was sad if we went away and smiling when we came back. She kissed babies and ran off shifty strangers, climbed ladders and snuggled under covers, rode in pickups and on saddle horses. She was a lady and trusted friend at all times.
It is hard to put a value on a working dog like Emma. She saved us thousands of dollars in employment costs, secured the farm when we were home or away, guarded the children and grandchildren, and often rescued us from hours of work by correcting our mistakes, taking the responsibility on herself. She loved three generations of people in this household and never once asked for a day off, extra pay, a change in diet or pain relief. She just lived life with all her heart and gave back to the farm and family with an incredible spirit.
When her time came this past month, it seemed more than we could bear. We suddenly felt a great deal unworthy of this incredible animal and her unconditional giving. I loved Emma. She in turn, had no trouble in expressing her feelings for me. In complete selflessness during her last moments, she slowly raised her head and put her paw on my heart in one last act of unconditional love. And so together, we quietly ended a decade and a half of an incredible partnership.
Why do I write such a personal story? I write it because we all are so privileged on the farm to have these very special relationships. Because we live surrounded by creation and we get to experience it full-on every day. This is our life – the actual weaving of our own stories with all the color of our experiences, beliefs, loves and passions. There is no greater a teacher than the farm – nor is there a more honourable life.