A Dog For Jared

Old-fashioned Black and Tan English Shepherd

During the summer of my twenty-fourth year, I earned my living by working as camp tender on a Montana sheep ranch. The great western ranges, unlike other sheep countries of the time, were devoid of sheep fence. As a result, we herded sheep every day of the year except during the winter when we kept them in feed lots. The summer range was in the higher altitudes. The high plateaus and mountain meadows furnished green grass during those months when the lower ranges were dry. It was up on the summer range in August of that same year that I opened the door of a herder’s sheep wagon to find him lying in a pool of his own blood. His dog, a female named Sugar, laid stretched out over her owner’s body. She growled at me when I moved to investigate the scene. But from what I could tell from the wagon’s door, the dead herder was holding the pistol he had used to take his own life. I retreated down the mountain and informed the ranch owner who in turn called the local sheriff.

The owner of the ranch where I worked was originally from Tennessee. He had a particular breed of dog he insisted that his herders use. He had brought these dogs with him from back East. Each dog had a glossy black coat, a tan spot above each eye, and a tan bar across the chest. When the ranch owner, sheriff and I returned to the herder’s camp, the black and tan dog named Sugar had to be forcibly taken from her owner’s side. We placed the herder’s body in the sheriff’s car and carried him down the long, rocky trail out of the mountains. Behind the car, we towed the herder’s sheep-wagon. Sugar trotted alone and unapproachable at the rear of the sad procession. Her head she held low, her tail she held low, and her eyes had a distant, hollow look. That night at the ranch, Sugar parked herself under her late handler’s sheep-wagon, where she stayed for three days. She refused meals, and barely drank any water. She put off all who approached, laying with head on paws and eyes cast downward. Once she had been one of the ranch’s best trained dogs, but now she refused to work. In those times, a working dog who didn’t perform wasn’t usually kept around for long. But to the ranch owner’s credit, he took pity upon the broken-hearted dog. He retired her but continued to provide for her well-being.

A few years passed, and I met a nice girl who agreed to marry me. We had a son named Jared. On Christmas Day of his second year, Jared got his first bicycle. He loved his red bike and worked earnestly to learn to ride it. Four months shy of Jared’s third birthday, I remember it was a Wednesday, the toddler came up missing. As you might expect, my wife was beside herself. She came to find me, and I immediately dropped what I was doing to help in the search for our son Jared. We looked high and low. As I stood in the door yard of our small cottage, desperate and out of options, I saw the strange sight of Sugar running towards me. The black and tan dog was older now, probably five or six years old. She rarely left the overgrown confines of the same sheep-wagon where her late handler had taken his own life. And yet here she came to where I stood. She barked repeatedly. I wasn’t sure what to make of her behavior, but her tone grew desperate, and she was emphatic. Finally, I followed her to the ranch’s machine shed, where she led me inside. There, in the back of the room, she took me to a place where some of the machinery had fallen over. Jared’s red bike lay there, next to the tumbled metal equipment. And there under the weight of the machinery lay Jared, unconscious and bleeding. The toddler had toppled the metal gear upon himself while riding his bike.

Later at the hospital, the doctor told us that if we hadn’t found Jared when we did, he likely would have perished. Even so, he stayed in the hospital for several weeks while his small body recovered from the crushing injuries. After Jared returned home, I went back to my duties as camp tender of the ranch. That first night I came back home from work, I returned to find Sugar in our cottage. The black and tan dog was lying on the floor at Jared’s feet. Somehow, my wife had persuaded her to vacate her sheep-wagon and join our family. Her eyes had brightened, and her body language had improved. In Jared, it seemed that Sugar had found a new mission in life. And for nearly a decade, Sugar raised Jared, as his constant companion and protector. She would accept no other condition than to be always by his side. In return, Jared loved Sugar like a boy should love his dog, and in her old age he tended her until her final day.

The Old-fashioned Black and Tan English Shepherd is a breed of working dog native to the United States. The Old-fashioned Black and Tan English Shepherd is considered one of the most versatile of all herding dogs and is not only capable of working with any species of livestock, but also of hunting, tracking, search-and-rescue, agility, competitive obedience, companionship, and personal protection/guard dog duty.