One More Thing in the Garden

This is another good thing that turned up in the garden.

dog in a flower bed

You may know that I have a small flock – three sheep and a goat, all of which were given to me.  When I first got them, I had one golden retriever mix, Shiner.  He was too old to go crazy chasing around, so I didn’t have to worry about him around the sheep.  When my daughter got a house, Shiner went to live with her, so for a while I had no dogs at all!  (This was very unusual for me – the only time in my life that I didn’t have a dog was the first two years we were married, and we lived in an apartment.)  I wanted to make sure that any new dog would not attack the sheep, so we picked a very young border collie mix from the animal shelter, and that was Harper.

dog and heron

Here Harper is trying to figure out how to get the immature little blue heron.

One morning I thought I saw a polar bear walking around outside the sheep pen, and I ran up there.  But it was just a Great Pyrenees mix – very old and slow and quiet, so I didn’t worry about him.  He just stared at the sheep, as if he wasn’t sure what they were, but he felt drawn to them.  Sheep are not very common around here, so I don’t think he would have ever seen any before; he was just feeling the effect of generations of breeding!

He started showing up more often, and pretty soon, every day when we went to take the sheep and goat out, he would walk slowly out of the woods, position himself about 20 feet from me, and just lay down.  He never bothered the other animals and he never begged, he just seemed happy to be with us. When I put the sheep back in the pen, he went back into the woods.  We were never sure who he belonged to, and we didn’t know his name, so we just started calling him Big Dog.

For a short while we had a new neighbor, who let his five dogs run all over the neighborhood.  They were over at our place all the time, and I was really worried about them deciding to attack the sheep.  If they ran up, Big Dog would jump up and chase them and bark until they ran back home.  Books about sheep suggest that you get a dog like a Great Pyrenees or an Anatolian Mastiff to be a livestock guardian, so I felt like I was getting the benefits of a guardian dog without having had to choose, buy, or train one!

That neighbor and all his dogs left and we went back to enjoying our peaceful afternoons.  We started seeing Big Dog in the mornings too, and we heard him on patrol at night, barking at deer.   One day my husband realized he had been at our place non-stop about a month.  He reached down and petted him, and realized that under all that fur, he was very skinny!  We started feeding him that day.

I asked some of the neighbors about him, and they all said essentially the same thing – they have seen him around for years, don’t know who he belongs to, but they know who he definitely does not belong to.  Most people keep their dogs within a fenced area and don’t just let them run loose.

Here is what I think happened – there were some people down the road who had about seven acres, which they kept very brushy and trashy.  They had some old trailers in the back, and I know they had a lot of dogs.  I think Big Dog originally lived there.  The people sold out, and I think they just left without this dog.  I remember hearing someone whistling out in the woods one day, but they never called a name – I think they were just sort of half-heartedly looking.

I am happy to keep him.  He’s a great dog – has a calm disposition, doesn’t demand attention, comes when I whistle.  He digs a lot but fortunately I don’t care about that.  We’ve been feeding him regularly but he is still pretty skinny.  He’s been showing a lot more energy than before, so maybe he’s not as old as I thought, maybe he was just hungry.  We need to come up with an actual name, though!

We name all our dogs for Texas towns or counties.  Here are some names we’re considering – which do you think fits him best? Or do you have a better suggestion?