Sunday, November 16, 2014

Goodbye, Uncle Buck

Today, my family and I said goodbye to our oldest livestock guardian dog, Buck (affectionately known as Uncle Buck).  Buck was a Great Pyrenees cross that we "rescued" from a pet situation - he was too much dog for his former owner.  We got him shortly after we started running sheep commercially 8 years ago.  Up until about a year ago, Buck was our most reliable dog.  We'll miss him.

The first lambing season with Buck was amazing.  We had another dog at that time - Scarlet - whose maternal instincts were so strong that she would steal lambs from their mothers.  Buck, who had never been through a lambing when we got him (he was 4 years old, we think), straightened Scarlet out immediately.  That spring, we had several snow storms during lambing.  When it would snow, we'd bring the sheep up close to a barn where they'd have cover.  Great horned owls would come into the trees in the pasture by the barn - and Buck would sit at the trunk of the tree and bark until the owls left.  And Buck loved the snow - he'd slide down hills like an otter!

As Buck grew older, he taught other dogs how to be lambing dogs.  Our current pair of dogs, Rosie and Reno, learned from him.  Somewhere, I have a photo of Uncle Buck with lambs climbing on him.  In many ways, he was a gentle soul.

But not in every way.  Buck could sense when people were not dog-lovers.  One of our landlords was terrified of large dogs, which Buck knew (and exploited).  When the girls were with me and someone Buck didn't know was around, Buck made sure he was always standing between the girls and the stranger.  And Buck NEVER allowed a coyote, another dog or a mountain lion to take a sheep - a pretty good legacy for a livestock guardian dog, I think!

About two years ago, we started noticing some behavioral changes in Buck.  We had him at the house protecting a small group of sheep - and one morning he was gone!  I drove the neighborhood, looking for him without success.  On the way to work, I got a call from a friend who has sheep about a mile away.  Buck had shown up at their place and jumped in with their sheep.  Their dog, knowing she had the night off, had slept on the porch.  Buck wouldn't let them feed the sheep!

Shortly after that incident, Buck started jumping the electric fence and wandering.  He'd always been able to jump the fence, but he usually stayed close to his flock.  Increasingly, he'd forget where his sheep were - and we'd get a call about a large white dog laying on someone's porch.  We decided to bring him home for good.  For the first several months, he was great about staying home - but then he discovered ways to get out of our home pastures.  His favorite past-time became chasing cyclists and laying under the neighbor's tree - humorous, but not good for our liability insurance!  One morning last summer, Buck jumped in the back of my truck as I was leaving to check sheep at another property.  When I arrived at the pasture, Reno (Buck's protege) jumped in the truck too.  I snapped a photo - it's one of my favorite pictures of my dogs!

In the last month, Buck's health began to fail.  He started losing weight and losing hair.  At 12, he'd lived longer than most big dogs.  Last week, we decided that he was in too much pain and that we needed to put him to sleep.  This afternoon, we took him to one of the ranches we lease (and where we currently have sheep).  With his sheep all around him, Sami put him down.  Our landlords graciously allowed us to bury Uncle Buck on top of a hill under an old pear tree - where he'll always be able to watch over our flock.

One of the bargains we strike when we own animals is that we are responsible for their well-being - and for not letting them suffer.  All of us shed tears today - saying goodbye to a four-legged member of the family is never easy.  I'm grateful that Buck was part of our family for so long - and for the incredible service he provided.  Thank you, Uncle Buck.

1 comment:

  1. Such a sweet story...I can relate so well to the care of our livestock and dogs, from beginning to end.