THE MEASURE OF A PUPPY’S HEART
by Dana Mackenzie
Betty Williams, an attractive ranch-bred-and-raised woman from Central Montana, told me the following story:
In 1986, my husband fractured his ankle in a freak horseback riding accident, John almost bled to death. With him at the time was a young Australian Shepherd/Australian Cattle Dog cross that was his constant shadow. Tippy wouldn’t leave the spot where John was injured. Days passed. I took food out to the pup but nothing could persuade her to move. Finally our hired man picked her up and brought her to ‘the house. Tippy was accidentally run over and killed on her way back to wait.
I didn’t want John to know what. had happened until he was out of hospital and stronger. So I lied, telling him his dog was doing fine. At this time I scoured the papers and looked all over for another stockdog. Finally a litter of Australian Shepherd pups was located. John required some persuasion but at last agreed to go and just look. The pups were all solid colored except for one blue merle. She looked good to me but John commented on how ugly her splotched color was. That pup picked John out. She kept returning to him over and over. Still, it surprised me when he said, “We’ll take her.”
Penny grew up in my noisy household of kids. Even as a pup she was very protective of the children and our place. We raise cattle, running them in the mountains in the summer months and in the lower pastures in the winter. Cows are held close to home in order to calve them out in the spring, where we can watch them. That year there was one cow we planned to sell because she was crazy when she had a calf. She would try to kill anything that approached her, including people. We handled her very carefully.
The winter Penny came to live with us the crazy cow calved in our shed. I cautiously worked the calf away from her and ear-tagged it. Needless to say, the cow was trying to get at me through the fence the entire time. I crawled from fence to gate to fence, trying to get her moving down the alleyway and out into the pasture. As the cow finally started down the alleyway, I glanced up. Then I froze in fear! My handicapped son, Eric had crawled into her path. I knew he was dead! There was nothing I could l to stop it! The cow saw him at the same time and charged, tearing hunks out of the sod. That little six month old puppy stood over Eric, biting the cow on the nose over and over, holding her off.
I ran outside the alleyway until I reached them. Grabbing Eric’s leg I yanked him to me under the fence. He was safe! Untouched! The puppy was trembling from head to toe. What I saw that day in that beautiful, tiny, shaking, bundle of fur was courage and a heart the size of Montana.
Just two weeks later I came home after visiting my mother, who lives just down the hill from us. John, still incapacitated by his injury, had fallen asleep while baby-sitting. The door was ajar and two year old Burt was gone. I panicked; running up and down the stream, sobbing and screaming for him. l took some time for me to realize the pup was missing, too. And even more time for me to calm down enough to listen. I heard faint barking coming from the direction of the hay stack. Looking up, I saw the pup running back and forth on the hay. Scrambling to the top, my heart sank! Nothing! Penny grabbed my pants leg, tugging me toward a crack in the hay. Throwing myself down, near the dark crevice, I could hear faint crying. Once again that six month old puppy had given me back my son.
Penny lived with us for only two years. She had one litter when she was much too young, by our neighbor’s cattle dog. I gave the puppies to a man who was passing through the country wanting stock dogs. He returned the next year with a standing offer to buy any pups she would ever produce. Her puppies had been sold in Missouri, where they had turned out to be exceptional stock dogs. It isn’t surprising that she was a producer, because she was a fine stockdog in her own right. Though never formally trained, Penny just seemed to know what we wanted. She was a fine cattle dog, worked with Aussie eye, was a strong header and heeler, and would gather any pasture, leaving nothing behind.
The last time we saw her, she was headed back to the house after moving some cattle into a pasture across the road from our place. When she didn’t come home, we looked for her with flashlights late into that blizzardy night. When the snow melted we found her not far from where we had last seen her. Our veterinarian suspected poison, but we’ll never know.
As so often happens, the Williams did not realize that what they had in this pup was a rare treasure. Attempts to replace her were disappointing. It’s a story I’ve heard over and over again, all over this vast country of ours. Most of these Australian Shepherd ranch dogs died out about 15 years ago when Border Collies became popular. I keep hoping and looking. Somewhere, someplace, out on some ranch, there just has to be some of these protective, strong instinct, cattle working, intelligent Australian Shepherds left.
These unknown, ranch dogs must be found and added to our working Aussie lines in order to preserve this type of Aussie. This pup was by Zephyr’s Jesse Stahl and out of LJ’s Blue Carrie. Both Jesse and Carrie go back to Las Rocosa Charlie Glass. Jesse Stahl goes back to Windsongs Dark Delight. If you have any leads for me to follow, please write to me: Dana Mackenzie, Ivan Star Route 102, Breckenridge, Texas 76424.
There are still working lines of Australian Shepherds left, where puppies like this one are available. But they are few and far between. The last few years many Aussies have been bred for conformation (appearance) only. The result has been a dilution of characteristics such as working ability, desire to work, protectiveness and agility. The only way to be sure you are getting a working dog is to see both parents or a full sibling work the type of stock you intend to work with your pup. If you like what you see, buy your pup.
(Working Aussie Source note: Dana’s address has changed but both she and Betty Williams still have working Aussies.)
This article was originally published in the April/May 1995 issue of Ranch Dog Trainer Magazine