Today was the last day. We have been putting this off for weeks, and the time has arrived. Sally lived on this 19th-century Kentucky demonstration farm for more years than any employee can remember. It feels like she has always been here, watching over the various sheep and goats that come and go on this farm.
The manager was out sick, so I volunteered to take Sally to the veterinarian? Was it because I am single and have nothing to do on my day off? No, I am just another human to Sally. With the sheep, that is another story. She knows each one by name. I can call a particular name. And she would run right to that sheep and herd it home to the pen. She showed this ability to many children on field trips. She amazed us with her intelligence and agility. She knew exactly the time the sheep needed out of the pen. No matter which employee worked that day, she would wait at the gate in rain or snow.
Our veterinarian told us that Sally must be some kind of Australian shepherd mix more from her behaviors and intelligence than her looks. The typical Australian’s have a mottled fur coat and those strange yet beautiful blue eyes. Sally had none of these markings. She had the build of a standard Australian, but she was solid black and had light brown eyes almost golden in the daylight. Several years ago, one employee trained her to bring the cows up to the barn. She reluctantly did her daily chore each evening. Cows were below her, calling in life. As soon as they got close to the barn, she would take off trotting back to her sheep and goats and bring them into their fold.
She was a special pet to the employees on this farm. When her animals were up for the night, she would eat and then find a place to sleep in the horse barn. Interesting because she was skittish around mules and horses. Sally never bothered the geese on the farm. Maybe years before, she had been pecked enough to make her keep her distance. On the original farm, the geese, guinea hens, and chickens would roam free during the day and keep the gardens free of bugs. We tell one story to the visitors how the farm children always carried a stout stick with them to beat the geese away or snakes.
A month ago, Sally tripped and fell when herding the sheep. She limped for days and would not even try to herd. Our veterinarian took ex-rays and said, “No broken bone or displaced hip. But, (I hate it when any doctor uses the ‘but’ word, it always spells trouble.) She has a tumor on her hip next to the spine and it is growing. She is in pain and will need to be euthanized soon.”
We were in shock and could hardly believe that Sally would no longer be on the farm. The manager decided that this was the date. How unlucky for me to take her the 20 miles to town and the vet. I would not be wearing my farm costume with the bonnet. I hoped she would recognize my voice. I was driving the company truck with Sally sitting up front, just as friendly and alert as always. She slowly laid down and put her head on my lap. “Oh, Sally, this is not good for my heart. I am the one taking you to your demise, and now you’re loving on me. Come on, gal; this is not fair.”
While we were sitting in the waiting room, a man and his son entered dragging what looked like a Great Pyrenees. Neither father nor son looked happy. Maybe they were here for the same reason. Sally and I sat across the room, dejected.
I said, “Beautiful dog you have. Is it a pure Pyrenees? They are good with sheep.”
The father said. “That is what they say but a house pet he is not. We are the third family that he has had, and he is still as wild as a buck.”
I said, “That is a shame.”
The boy said, “No, the shame is that he has torn up every lawn chair, bush and flower bed we have in our yard. He chews shoes, umbrellas, name it, he can destroy it quickly. Our cousins had him before us. They had to replace their swimming pool liner that cost thousands of dollars.”
“He sounds like a handful for sure. What is he here for today?”
The father said, “We are getting rid of him. No one wants him.”
“Really? Have you tried to give him away?”
They both laughed. Then the father said, “Everyone we know in and around Henry County has seen and read all about the dirty tricks he had pulled. My daughter posted them all with photos and video on social media. So when I posted that I would give the dog away, my phone went silent, crickets. One guy texted me and said, ‘Good Luck.'”
The assistant called for Sally. I gave her one last hug from all of us at the farm and took another photo. I stood up and saluted her goodbye as they walked her limping into the back room.
I remained there, and I could not walk out that door. I had the crazy notion of asking that man for his dog. I have not talked with the manager about another dog. No one has even suggested that we replace Sally. What would they say if I brought a troublesome dog on the farm? What would the insurance company do if he bit a visitor or employee? Before I knew it out of my mouth came the words that I would regret for a long time.
“Would you be willing to donate her to the 1850 Smithfield Family Farm?”
The son jumped up, “For sure. When today, I hope?”
“Well, as you just saw, we are saying goodbye to our sheepdog, who has cancer.”
“Do you have papers on him? What is his name?”
The man said, “We are not sure who was the first owner. A vet in the past had him fixed, trying to calm him down. It did not work. We have his shot records for the past three years.”
The son said, “We call him Buster because he busted everything. I guess he has had different names in the past.”
I walked over to him and let him smell me, with Sally’s sent on my clothes. He did not pay much attention, nor growl, no adverse reactions to another dog’s smell.
“Is he usually this calm with strangers?”
“Yes, he ignores them, unless they try to hold him down. Then he will growl. We have never had him bite anyone, but we have only had him for eight months.”
The father said, “We can’t afford his destructive habits. He dug under the fence and tore up my neighbor’s flower bed. We had to replace it this week. That was the last straw for us.”
I thought of calling the company manager. I paused, knowing she would say no. She always says no. She believes that an idea from an employee, even a cost-saving idea, is suspicious. All wonderful suggestions have to come from the board of directors, even though they do not work on this antique farm. They make their annual visit for the fancy board meeting, eat their finger foods, watch their video, and pass down new safety rules for us to follow.
It shocked me when out of my mouth came these words. “I want to try Buster on our farm. Hopefully, he will calm down and behave when he has a job with sheep. Do you know if he has ever been around sheep or cattle?”
The son said, “He is five years old, and no one has mentioned that he came from a farm.”
“Miss Connor, you can pull the truck around back.”
“If you donate him, give me those papers and follow me to the farm. We will go to the back gate, and you can let him off there. Don’t tell your daughter where you donated him. Or he will be back in your front yard the next day. And I will search for a new job.”
I took his leash, looked into that eager face, and said, “Buster, your new life begins today as a farm dog.”
We walked to the sheep pen, and I locked him inside. He sniffed around, sat down on the dry hay, and watched me.
The next morning the staff and Buster gathered in the pasture to speak our tributes and pray for the protection of all our animals. We placed a wooden cross over her grave. “RIP Sally, 2015, Boundless devotion to her sheep.”